Friday, 21 June 2013

Nineteenth Century America, Race and Slavery

Part 1

You know the books that people always say that you should read? Books that will supposedly make you feel humble and fill you with a sense of gratitude because life is (comparably) so easy today? Well one of the many that I have repeatedly been told that I should read is Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe. Last autumn, I did. 

I'm glad I read it. As you may know, the subjects of the novel are both serious and unpleasant, the key themes being slavery and racism. However, Stowe represents many other horrific issues connected with these themes: the separation of families, sexism, rape, needless violence, heartbreak, pain and death. It's hardly a light read.

The novel is undoubtedly engaging and its characters strong. Stowe makes many, many  significant and well portrayed points about the injustice and horrors of slavery and racism. There are some amazingly insightful lines in Uncle Tom's Cabin that I will add to my favourite quotes page (which I will make after this post). 

However... Uncle Tom's Cabin seems to receive as much criticism as it does praise and it is not hard to see why. Despite my admiration for the novel, I do consider it, at times, to be overly sentimental. The protagonist Tom and the almost equally famous Eva are too good; their patience, morality and submission in the face of such immeasurable injustice I found distanced me from the characters rather than connected me to them. The characters Topsy and Miss Ophelia, though imperfect, are far more convincing and represent the novels themes in a much more believable and relatable way. 

Another problem which I (and I know others) have found with the novel are the condescending descriptions of the black characters- Stowe can, hypocritically, be seen to adhere to and endorse stereotypes of black people. 

That said, I would certainly recommend reading the novel. If you are a student, it is an excellent text to write on; there are many significant, controversial themes that are intriguing to explore and research. I would recommend the 'Oxford World Classics' edition that is pictured as it has very, very useful explanatory notes that uncover unfamiliar language, bible passages and name places. Though I have not said much about the plot as I do not want to give away any spoilers for people who have not read it, I found the novel to be very fast-paced, engaging and, at many times, touching. 

If you have read Uncle Tom's Cabin, what did you think? Do you share my views on Uncle Tom and Eva or did you connect with the characters? 

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