Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin
Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin may never be seen as a great literary work, because of its didactic nature, but it will always be known as great literature because of the reflection of the past and the impact on the present. Harriet Beecher Stowe seemed destined to write great protest novels like Uncle Tom’s Cabin: her father was Lyman Beecher, a prominent evangelical preacher, and her siblings were preachers and social reformers. Born in 1811 in Litchfeild, Connecticut, Stowe moved with her family at the age of twenty-one to Cincinnati. During the eighteen years she lived there she was exposed to slavery. Although her only personal contact with the south was a brief trip to Kentucky she knew freed and fugitive slaves in Cincinnati. She also had friends who participated in the Underground Railroad. She learned about slave life by talking to these people and reading antislavery tracts. She began writing while still living in Cincinnati. In 1836, she married Calvin Ellis Stowe, a distinguished bible scholar and theological professor, and they had seven children. After marrying, Stowe continued to write supplementing her husbands limited earnings.
In 1850, the United States congress voted to pass the Fugitive Slave Law, which prohibited Northerners from helping runaway slaves and required them to return the slaves to their owners in the south. Stowe having moved to Brunswick, Maine with her family had been planing to write a protest of slavery since her experiences in Cincinnati. The passage of the fugitive slave law proved a powerful catalyst. She began working on Uncle Toms Cabin and published it first in serial form in the abolitionist magazine The National Era. The first installment appeared on June 5, 1851, but before the serial could be completed, the novel come out in a two-volume set in 1852. The book became an immediate and extraordinary success, selling over one million copies in America and England before the year was out. Thus, Stowe became the most famous American female writer of her day.
Because his Kentucky plantation was overrun by debt, Mr. Shelby made plans to sell one of his slaves to his chief creditor; a New Orleans slave dealer named Haley. While they were discussing the transaction, Eliza’s child, Harry, came into the room. Haley wanted to buy Harry to, but at first Shelby was unwilling to part with the child. Eliza listened to enough of the conversation to be frightened. She confided her fears to George Harris, her husband, a slave on an adjoining plantation. After supper in the cabin of Uncle Tom and his wife, Aunt Chloe, the Shelby slaves gathered for a meeting. They sang songs, and young George Shelby, who had eaten his supper there, read from the Bible. In the big house, Mr. Shelby signed the papers making Uncle Tom and little Harry the property of Haley. Eliza, learning her child’s fate from some remarks of Mr. Shelby to his wife,...