- Uncle Tom’s Cabin is an anti-slavery novel covering the life of the lowly in the society. Published in 1852, the novel’s main theme is anti-slavery considering that at the time United States was recovering from slavery about 75 years after gaining its independence. In the novel, it is argued that emancipation without education is wrong. This forms the major difference between slavery in the novel and that occurring in the United States before gaining independence where the colonizers were not interested in the education of the locals. Education was introduced by missionaries in most regions though the role of missionaries in introducing slavery is also subject to discussion. The effect of slavery on families is the same in the novel as was witnessed during colonial times. The characters in the novel were used to bring out the author’s thoughts on slavery.
The relationship between masters/mistresses and the slaves is not presented as injured. Stowe says ‘whoever visits some of estates there, and witnesses the good-humored indulgence of some masters and mistresses, and the affectionate loyalty of some slaves…’ (p. 50). America was among the first countries to gain independence. There are limited differences between slavery there and in other countries considering that the colonial masters were the same using the same tactics to rule. However, comparing it with slavery in Africa, there was no slave trade among Americans as there was enough work to be done by American slaves in the region. African slaves were transported across the Atlantic Ocean to America to work in farms. Indentured servants were individuals who signed contracts to work for a specific number of years if they were transported to Virginia. They were equally exploited as in slave trade with their families suffering the same effects as those of enslaved ones.
- Stowe uses the characters in the novel to communicate ideas in regard to slavery. Augustine St. Clare is Eva’s father. He also briefly owns Tom. Stowe presents him as a contradictory character since he sees and understands what ought to be done but decides to adopt a different approach which is often wrong. Augustine knows that slavery is wrong. He is presented as a lazy man. Though he is strongly against slavery, he still needs slaves to do some work for him. He is therefore a hypocrite preaching water and taking wine. His actions are defended by the argument that he was heartbroken and missed a chance to live in the North where he would have a better chance to oppose slavery. Marie is Augustine’s wife in the novel. Marie is pro-slavery as she is presented as a woman who would not do anything for herself without the help of slaves. Augustine’s efforts to denounce slavery stands in jeopardy after foolishly marrying Marie.
Alfred St. Clare is Augustine’s twin brother in the novel. He supports slavery and believes that slaves should be brutally managed to ensure that the life of the master is good. Among the three, Augustine holds different opinion on slavery but cannot execute any change due to the attachment he has with his wife and his laziness. A conversation between Augustine and Miss Ophelia presents Augustine as a critical thinker. He argues that Christians are pretenders just hiding in religion and doing what is evil (Stowe 353). Augustine St. Clare is not always clear in the effects of slavery since he is at some point a hero for fighting it and in other sections a villain for practicing it. However, he yearns for a society where slaves would be free and be regarded as normal humans.
- After independence, real freedom was not attained in the United States and other countries across the world. What emerged was another class of citizens who exploited citizens with the gap between employers and employers continuing to widen. Defenders of slavery argued that slavery ensured that individuals who could not fend themselves and their families got a chance to do so. However, the approach was very wrong Slavery dehumanized the slaves and converted them into objects to meet the needs of the slave masters. In some cases, they were beaten, raped or even killed. The campaign against slavery was therefore not based on their ability to fend themselves but the cruelty of the whole process which needed to be curbed. In the novel, the Shelby family has an affectionate relationship with their slaves. To raise money to salvage his sinking empire, Shelby decides to sell one slave. This is a major ill of slavery where masters considered slaves their property having the ability to sell them. In St. Clare’s family, Alfred and Marie have similar opinions while Augustine holds different thoughts about slave trade. The assertion that slavery gave slaves a way of getting food, clothing and shelter was not true. The masters were using them for their personal and selfish gains.
- Stowe presents an argument that if slaves are treated well they won’t run away. Eliza Harris is Miss Shelby’s maid/slave. She is brave and intelligent. Her escape from the Shelby’s is prompted by the attempt to sell her son, an attempt which she accords full resistance. In a spectacular move, she crosses Ohio River taking advantage of patches of ice found on the water. This supports the statement since she could have stayed if the peace and existence of her son was not threatened. George Harris (the slave) is an innovative and intelligent young man. He invents a labor saving machine while working in a bagging company. Though his master is cruel, he endures the cruelty refusing to leave the family alone. The institution of slavery suppresses great minds such as George’s. Later in the novel, he is able to get education courtesy of his sister who returns as a rich widow. He settles in Liberia believing that he should not be suppressed by whites as they were equal in all measures. Considering the two slaves, slavery is viewed as lack of a better option in life with the two persevering up to the point when they cannot stand it longer.
- Slaves faced various obstacles including physical abuse, lack of medical attention, sexual harassment, poor living conditions among others. However, despite the challenges they faced, very few slaves had the courage to leave the homes of their masters and live on their own. The slaves were made to believe that they could not make it on their own with the masters ensuring that they relied on them for their shelter, food and clothing. The slaves were also intimidated facing harsh physical abuse if they contemplated leaving their masters’ homes and farms. The working conditions were also detrimental. In rice plantations, slaves contracted malaria and died because of lacking proper medical attention. Slave codes were established in the 18th century to further oppress the slaves. Slave codes determined the rights of slave owners and the state of the slaves. In all the states, slave owners were granted absolute powers over their slaves. The Fugitive Slave Act was passed by the US Congress in 1850. Earlier fugitive laws provided that slaves who tried to escape would be captured and be returned to their masters. The Fugitive law of 1850 provided that officials who failed to adhere to the earlier laws would be penalized. Anyone suspected to be a runaway slave was to be arrested and be taken back to their master. The Fugitive Act of 1850 was different to previous laws since it provided a penalty of $1000 which officials failing to adhere to the previous and new law would be penalized. From the novel, slave action was facilitated by attempts to pass the line where the slaves could persevere. Slaves could be prejudiced against each other slaves considering the way they were treated. Resistance was also curbed by being affectionate or overly brutal. Physical abuse suppressed slave action in some cases ensuring that they remained loyal to their masters.
- The Haitian Revolution (1791-1804) was prompted by increased brutality and slave labor as Haitians worked in plantations (Popkin 12-15). The Haitian revolution led to the birth of a new state. Toussaint L’Ouverture was one of the slaves leading the revolution which overthrew the French regime at the time. The revolution was as a result of slave uprising as the slaves refused to work on the 8000+ plantations which produced crops for export (Geggus 5). The American Underground Railroad was devised by Levi and Catherine with more than two thousand slaves having their escape through it. It was not a physical underground rail but a figurative way of describing the approach used to see the slaves get their way back to freedom. The abolitionists played a key role in the escapes ensuring that slaves got their freedom and reunited with their people. Therefore, both in the novel and the case studies presented, slaves resisted by running away from their masters when they felt they could not hold it any longer. In some cases, they needed an internal or external force to push them to resist the force of their masters and fight their way to freedom.
- Stowe was a white abolitionist with the ideas presented in the novel through the characters chosen presenting her ideas on slavery and ways to stop it. Abolitionists were pushing for the abolition of slave trade and set slaves free so they could be in a position to live normally and reunite with their families. One of the major differences between abolitionism and anti-slavery movement is that abolitionists (mainly women) rose to become significant figures in American politics pushing for the rights of women whom they argued had not realized the full taste of freedom. They later formed majority of feminists who pushed for women inclusion in public institutions and their participation in activities such as national elections. However, it is only in the early 20th century that women were allowed to participate fully with the effort being attributed to the feminists and other groups which fought for inclusion and equality regardless of gender or race. Abolitionists and anti-slavery movements used different methods to pass their message such as organizing riots which would ensure they addressed the right authority to convey their message. They also pushed for inclusion of all races in public positions to offer equality and inclusion.
- Stowe was among the few Northern Whites who were against slavery. In her work, she presents the different opinions held by people in America through her characters. Majority of the white were pro-slavery considering that they wanted people to work in their plantations. A few like Augustine St. Clare were against slavery but the situation they were in prevented them from taking any step to end it. The greed for cheap labor dominated the pro-slavery approaches. Majority of those who were supporting slavery felt that it was the right of the slave masters to get service from the slaves. The Fugitive Act of 1850 shows the attempts to ensure that slavery was not abolished. The Fugitive Act of 1850 provided that officials who violated the earlier laws to return runaway slaves would be penalized an amount up to $1000. In the Novel, Senator Bird and Mrs. Bird live in the free state of Ohio where most slaves passed on their way to Canada. Senator Bird helped in the passing of the Fugitive Slave Act which criminalized the act of runaway slaves. This presents the opinion of most westerners who viewed it as their right to be served by the slaves. Slaves were not united and so their ability to revolt against the oppressive rule was highly jeopardized. However, Mrs. Bird is the complete opposite in her character to Senator Bird. She strictly subscribes to Christian doctrines and feels it is her responsibility to assist anyone in trouble. It is on that basis that she tries to make her husband understand why the fugitive act is wrong on moral grounds. She holds that the slaves are similar to whites in the face of God and so they should be treated as such. Ophelia is an abolitionist from the North. She holds that slavery is wrong and should be treated as such. Slaves suffered physical abuse as the government through its laws allowed it. The Northern slaves were oppressed as the ones in the south.
- Unlike in the North, many southern Christians felt that slavery was not disallowed in the bible. In fact, Christianity seemed to support slavery considering that the teachings in the Old Testament presented men of God with slaves to serve them. Abraham had slaves. The commandments also approved of slavery with the concept being widely spread in early civilizations. Therefore, slavery could only be abolished on moral and humanitarian grounds and not from a Christian approach. In Stowe’s novel, Mrs. Bird tries to make her husband adopt a different approach based on moral acceptance to abolish it. She fails. According to Stowe, every aspect of slavery is wrong. However, considering that it was written after the passing of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, it shows she was more against the act of returning running away slaves to their masters. The idea is further presented in her work as she shows characters running away from their masters because of oppression (Eliza) and also to seek better opportunities in life (case of George Harris).
Geggus David Patrick, ‘Haitian Revolutionary Studies,’ Indiana: Indiana University Press, 2002. Print.
Popkin Jeremy, A Concise History of the Haitian Revolution. Oxford: John Wiley and Sons, 2002. Print.
Stowe Harriet Beecher, ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin; or, Life among the Lowly. Boston: John P. Jewitt Publishers, 1852. Print.