Item description for Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe...
Overview A devoutly Christian slave becomes separated from his wife and family when he is sold to the brutal planter, Simon Legree
Publishers Description In Which the Reader Is Introduced to a Man of Humanity
Late in the afternoon of a chilly day in February, two gentlemen were sitting alone over their wine, in a well-furnished dining parlor, in the town of P-------, in Kentucky. There were no servants present, and the gentlemen, with chairs closely approaching, seemed to be discussing some subject with great earnestness.
For convenience sake, we have said, hitherto, two "gentlemen." One of the parties, however, when critically examined, did not seem, strictly speaking, to come under the species. He was a short, thick-set man, with coarse, commonplace features, and that swaggering air of pretension which marks a low man who is trying to elbow his way upward in the world. He was much over-dressed, in a gaudy vest of many colors, a blue neckerchief, bedropped gayly with yellow spots, and arranged with a flaunting tie, quite in keeping with the general air of the man. His hands, large and coarse, were plentifully bedecked with rings; and he wore a heavy gold watch-chain, with a bundle of seals of portentous size, and a great variety of colors, attached to it, --which, in the ardor of conversation, he was in the habit of flourishing and jingling with evident satisfaction. His conversation was in free and easy defiance of Murray's Grammar, and was garnished at convenient intervals with various profane expressions, which not even the desire to be graphic in our account shall induce us to transcribe.
His companion, Mr. Shelby, had the appearance of a gentleman; and the arrangements of the house, and the general air of the housekeeping, indicated easy, and even opulent circumstances. As we before stated, the two were in the midst of anearnest conversation.
"That is the way I should arrange the matter," said Mr. Shelby.
"I can't make trade that way--I positively can't, Mr. Shelby," said the other, holding up a glass of wine between his eye and the light.
"Why, the fact is, Haley, Tom is an uncommon fellow; he is certainly worth that sum anywhere, --steady, honest, capable, manages my whole farm like a clock."
"You mean honest, as niggers go," said Haley, helping himself to a glass of brandy.
"No; I mean, really, Tom is a good, steady, sensible, pious fellow. He got religion at a camp-meeting, four years ago; and I believe he really "did "get it. I've trusted him, since then, with everything I have, --money, house, horses, --and let him come and go round the country; and I always found him true and square in everything."
"Some folks don't believe there is pious niggers, Shelby," said Haley, with a candid flourish of his hand, "but "I do." I had a fellow, now, in this yer last lot I took to Orleans--'t was as good as a meetin, now, really, to hear that critter pray; and he was quite gentle and quiet like. He fetched me a good sum, too, for I bought him cheap of a man that was 'bliged to sell out; so I realized six hundred on him. Yes, I consider religion a valeyable thing in a nigger, when it's the genuine article, and no mistake."
"Well, Tom's got the real article, if ever a fellow had," rejoined the other. "Why, last fall, I let him go to Cincinnati alone, to do business for me, and bring home five hundred dollars. 'Tom, ' says I to him, 'I trust you because I think you're a Christian--I know you wouldn't cheat.' Tom comes back, sure enough; I knew he would. Some low fellows, they say, said to him--Tom,why don't you make tracks for Canada?' 'Ah, master trusted me, and I couldn't, '--they told me about it. I am sorry to part with Tom, I must say. You ought to let him cover the whole balance of the debt; and you would, Haley, if you had any conscience."
"Well, I've got just as much conscience as any man in business can afford to keep, --just a little, you know, to swear by, as 't were," said the trader, jocularly; "and, then, I'm ready to do anything in reason to 'blige friends; but this yer, you see, is a leetle too hard on a fellow--a leetle too hard." The trader sighed contemplatively, and poured out some more brandy.
"Well, then, Haley, how will you trade?" said Mr. Shelby, after an uneasy interval of silence.
"Well, haven't you a boy or gal that you could throw in with Tom?"
"Hum --none that I could well spare; to tell the truth, it's only hard necessity makes me willing to sell at all. I don't like parting with any of my hands, that's a fact."
Here the door opened, and a small quadroon boy, between four and five years of age, entered the room. There was something in his appearance remarkably beautiful and engaging. His black hair, fine as floss silk, hung in glossy curls about his round, dimpled face, while a pair of large dark eyes, full of fire and softness, looked out from beneath the rich, long lashes, as he peered curiously into the apartment. A gay robe of scarlet and yellow plaid, carefully made and neatly fitted, set off to advantage the dark and rich style of his beauty; and a certain comic air of assurance, blended with bashfulness, showed that he had been not unused to being petted and noticed by his master.
"Hulloa, Jim Crow " said Mr. Shelby, whistling,and snapping a bunch of raisins towards him, "pick that up, now "
The child scampered, with all his little strength, after the prize, while his master laughed.
"Come here, Jim Crow," said he. The child came up, and the master patted the curly head, and chucked him under the chin.
"Now, Jim, show this gentleman how you can dance and sing." The boy commenced one of those wild, grotesque songs common among the negroes, in a rich, clear voice, accompanying his singing with many comic evolutions of the hands, feet, and whole body, all in perfect time to the music.
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Studio: Harper Perennial
Est. Packaging Dimensions: Length: 1" Width: 4.25" Height: 7" Weight: 0.6 lbs.
Release Date Jan 1, 2002
Publisher Harper Collins Publishers
ISBN 0060806184 ISBN13 9780060806187
Availability 0 units.
More About Harriet Beecher Stowe
The Modern Library has played a significant role in American cultural life for the better part of a century. The series was founded in 1917 by the publishers Boni and Liveright and eight years later acquired by Bennett Cerf and Donald Klopfer. It provided the foundation for their next publishing venture, Random House. The Modern Library has been a staple of the American book trade, providing readers with affordable hardbound editions of important works of literature and thought. For the Modern Library's seventy-fifth anniversary, Random House redesigned the series, restoring as its emblem the running torch-bearer created by Lucian Bernhard in 1925 and refurbishing jackets, bindings, and type, as well as inaugurating a new program of selecting titles. The Modern Library continues to provide the world's best books, at the best prices.
Harriet Beecher Stowe was born in 1811 and died in 1896.
Reviews - What do customers think about Uncle Tom's Cabin?
book May 12, 2010
This book has to be read to understand the impact it had on America. Words alone cannot describe the emotions one feels when reading it
Surprisingly Great Apr 21, 2010
There can hardly be an American who does not know Uncle Tom's Cabin's historical importance, and the same goes for millions worldwide. It did much to solidify Northern anti-slavery sentiment and has been seriously credited with making the Civil War inevitable - supposedly even by Lincoln himself. However, though America's greatest bestseller ever on release, it now seems as if fewer and fewer people actually read it. This is unfortunate, because its significance alone makes it essential, but it is also an incredible story and well worth reading in itself.
Those reading for historical perspective will have many assumptions confirmed but also be very surprised. Most obviously and importantly, it is easy to see why the book moved so many and emboldened abolitionists. It is easily one of the most profoundly emotional and pathos-drenched works ever; only the truly inhuman will not be moved, and many will cry. The characters seem supremely real, and we care for them as if they are our intimates. Harriet Beecher Stowe writes accurately and precisely of slavery's many evils. Much of what she says is so gut-wrenching as to be near-unbearable. Reading it is emotionally distressing and even at times almost physically painful; when something is this hard to even read, we simply cannot imagine what it must have been like to live. To think such suffering and inhumanity existed in America barely a century and a half ago truly astounds. There are many accounts of American slavery, from ones written by slaves to meticulously researched historical accounts, but perhaps no other is as deeply stirring. Even now we cannot read Uncle without being strongly moved; how much stronger must the effect have been when the evils described were current! I re-read it shortly after Barack Obama was elected, as many others doubtless did, and was affected more strongly and deeply than ever, moved almost to tears by the striking contrast and how far America has come.
All this is if anything even more moving than inevitably high expectations would suggest, yet much of the book surprises because it is rarely or never mentioned in popular accounts. The biggest revelation may be that the story itself is excellent - not only moving but deftly plotted, superbly executed, and often thought-provoking. There is even a surprising amount of humor amid all the tragedy, St. Clare's wife being one of American literature's greatest comic creations. Deeply engrossing, Uncle pulls us in immediately and never lets go despite being a long, winding tale with a plethora of characters and many substantial subplots. Stowe's ability to handle and tie them together in a well-executed conclusion is truly stunning, especially in that this was her first novel. Indeed, inconceivable as it is, Stowe was no artist in the usual sense but an activist writing for practical ends. Such works of course almost never have any real literary or even entertainment value and are inevitably short-lived; this is why virtually everything else she wrote has been forgotten. However, Uncle is an astounding exception; unlike nearly all other such works, it does not come off as a hopelessly dated, artless tract. Though written without an eye to literature - nay, many would say, without literary skill - and for no purpose other than to reach everyday people, it remains an immense literary monument that has earned the admiration of uber-literary writers like Leo Tolstoy and Henry James. It has had many critics, quite a few of them scathing, but survived them all. Its many admirers still cannot pinpoint just what makes it so successful, but successful it certainly is.
I submit that its greatest virtue is moving verisimilitude. Characterization is a big part; even minor characters - indeed even evil ones - are drawn so well, with such individuality and lifelikeness, that we will remember them long after reading. Many - Tom, Simon Legree, Little Eva - have long been archetypes. However, the realism is stunning throughout; Stowe made the Southern slavery system that few Northerners had seen come alive as if they had known it all their lives, and the same is still remarkably true for us though such a world cannot now be even imagined. She is very visceral, sparing no pains to show just how hard and demeaning slavery was mentally as well as physically; much of Uncle's immediacy comes from this central fact. However, she goes considerably beyond this to vividly convey all aspects of the Old South; everything from landscape to dialect is detailed believably and memorably. This is all the more incredible in that Stowe saw very little of this herself, and it gives Uncle great historical value even aside from the perversely fascinating slavery peek.
This last, though, is certainly noteworthy. Popular slavery depictions now imply that slavery was homogenous in the South, but there were great differences - generally speaking, the farther South, the harsher and more ubiquitous. Many works focus on only one or a few aspects, but Stowe made sure to include all. Uncle begins in Kentucky, where slavery was most mild, and shows everything from its darkest Deep South facets to its New Orleans base where millions of slaves were brought and sold. We see the great diversity that existed in how slaves were treated and thought of as well as how they worked and interacted among themselves. Almost as importantly, Stowe makes clear that those directly involved in slavery were far from identical. Some truly thought of themselves as humane and even pious, generally treating slaves relatively well, others thought them subhuman and treated them accordingly, and most fell somewhere between them. St. Clare symbolizes this last; such a person probably never existed, as Stowe surely knew, but he is important for showing how one could have slaves while being as aware as anyone of slavery's evils and treating slaves as well as conditions allowed - could indeed even have them for a basically philanthropic purpose. Very few actually did this, but St. Clare is extremely valuable because he in many ways sees slavery more fully than anyone else in Uncle and criticizes accordingly.
Here we get a good idea of just how thought-provoking the book is. It of course has many anti-slavery arguments - from theological to philosophical to political, a nuanced depiction of slavery's varying effect on politicians being one of its many overlooked strengths -, but they are now thankfully moot in America. However, though almost never credited for it, the book goes far deeper. For instance, St. Clare's critique goes well beyond slavery to include capitalism itself; so diverse is Uncle that Marx could easily be added to its long, varied admirers list. More fundamentally, very few works are so fully aware of human evil. Stowe believed all acts were forgivable and should be forgiven but was as starkly cognizant of humanity's inhumanity as any existential pessimist. Uncle presents human life as a near-unbroken series of miseries brought on mainly by avoidable cruelty and lack of empathy. Stoe indeed thought this force so strong that it could not be overcome; all one could do was piously submit. Death is the only escape and heaven the only redemption; this seems distinctly unfair on earth but is worth it in the end, as the latter is eternal, the former but a passing phase. This was the main Christian strand until the Renaissance, and it is all too easy to see how a sensitive, pious soul in a slaveowning country could turn to it. Thus, though somewhat paradoxical in that it looked to the past, Uncle was very far ahead of its time philosophically - far more so than in regard to slavery, where it only fanned flames. Such a bleak view of human life was not even remotely common in art or philosophy for several decades, becoming standard only after World War I. Stowe essentially saw worldly existence just as existentialists, nihilists, and other despair agents later saw it, but firm Christianity allowed her to bear it. This faith of course disappeared, opening a vast, gaping abyss that she managed to keep closed - an abyss that shows no sign of closing, leaving millions pining for a relative tranquility that seems nearly as unimaginable as American slavery. The character of St. Clare himself is also extremely forward-looking, seeming to step out of a Wilde or Shaw play forty years before one existed.
As this suggests, though the fact is otherwise perhaps most stunning of all, Uncle has no hint of anything like a Civil War. Stowe of course wanted slavery ended but was Christian in the true and rare sense and had no taste for violence, whether it a Civil War or a slave uprising. She in fact wanted slaves to freely, piously, and - as much as was possible - uncomplainingly submit to slavery's evils and wanted abolitionists to appeal to Southerners' hearts and minds rather than attack or even force them to end slavery. Though clearly an unflinching realist in that she saw slavery for what it was and was unafraid to say so, she was startlingly optimistic and had a very positive view of human nature. This is clear even in the Preface, where she boldly states that she has no hard feelings toward those who uphold slavery, even saying they are often some of the best people she knows. She actually thought they were simply misled and did not see their unintended evil and that, if they could be made to, they would voluntarily end slavery.
All this is clear in many ways - not least in the ending, where she allows the young, quick-tempered George a short act of violence that nearly everyone will find justified but in which she closes with an appeal to end slavery non-violently. Indeed, she does not even seem to conceive of violence as a solution. This is also present in innumerable references to God's Providence, Christian piety, eternal reward in heaven, forgiveness, refusal to judge, etc.; though rarely noted, Uncle is perhaps the most truly Christian of all novels. In contrast to the Apocalyptic, fire and brimstone streak that has sometimes flared up in Christianity and has now reached a fever pitch, Stowe and like-minded abolitionists focused on Jesus' essential message of mercy, pity, peace, and love. Conservatives have of course monopolized Christianity, especially in political terms, but Uncle is a stunning reminder that it was until very recently American liberalism's driving force. Jesus constantly said that the poor, weak, meek, etc. are blessed and under God's special protection, that they will be rewarded eternally for earthly trials, and that they should endure such trials peacefully - resisting not evil, turning the other check, etc. Very few Christians now point such things out, or even seem aware of them, but they epitomized Christianity for Stowe and her ilk and are Uncle's very essence. World wars, genocide, biological terrorism, and a host of other horrors have made such thinking seem near-laughably naïve, and other parts of the book - especially the Victorian sentimentalism of which Little Eva is the apotheosis - also seem somewhat dated. Even so, Uncle remains of immense importance for showing how strict Christianity was not only the underpinning that let the book speak so powerfully to so many but also the prime mover of liberalism itself.
Uncle Tom himself of course epitomizes this gap between expectations, the book's reality, and later history. He is Stowe's ideal slave; that he is also a master's ideal slave - at least in theory - may be ironic, and Stowe's treatment of blacks throughout is perhaps best described as condescending. Perhaps most offensive of all is that she thought it impossible for blacks to integrate into American society, assuming that a Christian republic should be made for them in Africa if they were freed. This comes across in the novel, though more subtly than other beliefs. All this infuriated many twentieth century black authors and intellectuals, and "Uncle Tom" became a byword for blacks thought to have sold out to whites. This in many ways makes Uncle more worth reading than ever and certainly more interesting. Needless to say, such reaction was absolutely unthinkable at the time; the book was almost liberalism's height, and anyone told it would some day be condemned as conservative would have likely been too shocked to laugh. This issue is far too complex to even outline, much less decide, in a review. Suffice it to say that these later views have great legitimacy, whether or not one agrees; this is the kind of thing all must decide for themselves. However, it is important to realize a few things. First, Tom was a genuine hero to Stowe; she certainly did not mean to be degrading or stereotypical but made Tom the exemplar in a book with many white characters. Many others thought the same. That later blacks would prefer a Malcolm X-like revolutionary is very understandable, but precious few whites of the era - certainly not Stowe - could have even conceived of one. It is also worth noting that the book would not have had the success and impact it did - and may even have backfired - if Tom were otherwise portrayed. There may be much to regret in his depiction and Uncle's presentation of blacks overall, but this is arguably best seen as proof of society's liberalizing rather than a fault of the book or Stowe.
Stowe's Preface looks forward to a time when "sketches similar to these shall be valuable only as memorials of what has long ceased to be." Uncle is certainly that, invaluable historically both for what it shows of a thankfully long-past era and for its own significance. In addition, it has achieved a transcendent importance that probably no one else could have foreseen; more than just a literary landmark, it is a towering Americana monument - socially, culturally, politically, and otherwise priceless. Every American should read it, as should anyone anywhere who is at all interested in slavery's dark history, Americana, or the few books that have quite literally changed the world.
As for this edition, it has Stowe's Preface, a short bibliography, and a scholarly Afterword. This last is particularly excellent and all the more valuable for being written in the 1960s at the civil rights movement's height. It gives substantial background on Stowe, the novel, and the historical context but also examines Uncle in terms of current events, which makes it all the more interesting a century later. Other quality versions exist, but anyone who comes across this will have a great one.
passionate voice Jun 8, 2009
This is one of those books that everybody knows about, but few actually read. I am definitely glad that I read it and enjoyed it tremendously. Yes, it is rather preachy, and dramatic, but understanding the purpose of the book in that era, and the author's personal background, I would say that this is an example of author's passionate devotion to speak out against the injustice. And because it is an easy, entertaining read, its attraction to common readers probabley produced more powerful impact in the society. I highly recommend this book.
My perspective on Uncle Tom's Cabin Jun 4, 2008
I jumped into this book mainly to work on reading lists that i had seen it appear on. I did have the vague idea that most people do of what it is about, but would of been hard pressed to really give any serious detail of the story before hand. So after a little research i jumped in, and this was my experience. While the novel overall was good, i must admit that I was very glad when it was finally finished. The tale follows several different characters and the different fates that they have according to the choices they have made. The characters are very well drawn out, although today many would be considered somewhat stock. I think it will be a long time before I forget Tom, Eva, or St.Clare for instance. The tale does set up a brillant bit of emotional drama, and brings forth a moral tale in such a way i'm almost shocked that it was so popular. In today's society I can't imagine that a story with such strong overtone's would be successful. The writing today is still clear and fairly easy to read. The quality of the prose and the sentances to have their moments as well. Sometimes the religion and the moralizing does come on very strongly, but along with the sentimentalness one can forgive the author when realizing the massive evil insitution she was facing. This is probably not a book that the average reader will read for kicks. However, from a literary and historical perspective it is quite great. It is slightly scary to imagine where the world would have been without it as well.
A towering, very important American classic Dec 29, 2007
For whatever reasons, I'm one of those who, over the years, never gave "Uncle Tom's Cabin" much thought. I'm afraid I dismissed the book based on the derogatory cliche of describing a complacent black man as an Uncle Tom. What a pleasure to find how wrong I was.
Although the style of narration, the punctuation style of the day and the evolution of contractions, compound words and other bits of syntax show this book to be from the mid 1800s, "Uncle Tom's Cabin" is a modern novel. It is largely without the stifling level of detail offered in other books of the time, and it pushes the concept of omniscient narrator (perhaps along the lines of Vonnegut in "Breakfast of Champions") to a level that would likely be absurd in another story and purpose.
And Harriet Beecher Stowe did have a purpose - a daring, countervailing, completely forward-thinking challenge to the complacency of the day. The action of the story concludes in the second-to-last chapter. In the last chapter, called simply "Concluding Remarks," Stowe, referring to herself in third person, explains how she came to write the book, and in so doing pulls the reader beyond the realm of fiction in order to cap off her sermon. And a 500-page sermon is exactly what "Uncle Tom's Cabin" was and is.
To quote Stowe from the last chapter, "For many years of her life, the author avoided all reading upon or allusion to the subject of slavery, considering it as too painful to be inquired into, and one which advancing light and civilization would certainly live down. But, since the legislative act of 1850, when she heard, with perfect surprise and consternation, Christian and humane people actually recommending the remanding escaped fugitives into slavery, as a duty binding on good citizens,- when she heard, on all hands, from kind compassionate and estimable people, in the free states of the North, deliberation and discussions as to what Christian duty could be on his head,- she could only think, These men and Christians cannot know what slavery is; if they did, such a question could never be open for discussion. And from this arose a desire to exhibit it in a LIVING DRAMATIC REALITY [emphasis the author's]. She has endeavored to show it fairly, in the best and worst phases. In its BEST [emphasis the author's] aspect, she has, perhaps, been successful; but, oh! Who shall say what yet remains untold in that valley and shadow of death, that lies the other side?"
Within the narrative arts can be found a gray area between complete fiction and straightforwrad documenting. Within this area itself is a fine line of storytelling that sheds the fluff factor of fiction and the yawn factor of documentation. A story told along this line is not only compelling but offers to the receiver of the story a glimpse of what a life in the world depicted by the story must have been like. Or at the very least might have been like. This glimpse, whatever else it is, will be visceral, allowing the reader an actual emotional link. Finding this line is hard, staying on it harder and pulling off a finished work while remaining true to the line harder still. This is what Stowe did, a century before such a point of view emerged again in Americam media.
As such, Stowe explains that many of the characters are based on real people - yes, there really was a man as horrible as Simon Legree - and that most of the events in the book were based on true events known to her personally or through trusted reporting. This novelizing of reality was so compelling the book would be translated into twenty-two languages.
It would be relatively easy to take sentences and paragraphs out of context and reach the conclusion that Stowe decried slavery while holding the black race paternalistically. It's very possible to find any number of passages and label them as apologetic and paternalistic. There is, in fact, paternalism throughout the story, but this is a reflection of America ten years before the Civil War; and by the end of Stowe's "Concluding Remarks" this paternalism is gone.
I would describe the main apologist, St. Clare, who is keenly aware of the state of his own culture, as more of a rationalist. By making this character so, Stowe is able to open our eyes, as she opened many eyes of the day, to the subtler forms of defacto slavry - not at all to excuse slavery in general as some kind of natural order, but to bear witness to those toiling in other forms of captured work.
In 1851 the scullery maid of an English country home was not a slave, of course. Her employment was voluntary, after all, and at the end of a year she would have a few schillings to her name. But economically, perhaps even geographically, her freedom was largely unavailable to her, and so while not a slave under the law, the other side of her employment was the delivery of herself to twelve- or fifteen-hour days of scrubbing pots and pans. The delivery of herself to, at the end of any of those days, climbing three or four flights of a rear stairs to a garret; to a social life limited to the kitchen staff, which itself was a hierarchy that lorded over her; to little hope of marriage, if that's what she wanted, or to any sort of a life she might call her own. Why? To keep from starving to death.
And think about this today. Are you watching a 27" color TV with full remote that cost $199? Do you honestly think that set could have been made, boxed, shipped to a port in Asia, shipped by boat to the US, shipped by train and truck to your local StuffMart and sold to you profitably for one or two day's wages while every worker along the way was treated fairly? Do you care?
For the vast majority of those reading this review slavery is an abstracted and distant topic. It is a practice from a long ago past that might be given two meetings in a high school American History class, a cursory survey from which students might understand the concept of the economics of buying, selling and breeding human beings, from which they might be encouraged to imagine the suffering implicit to such practices.
Stowe's great achievment in writing "Uncle Tom's Cabin" was to belie the nuts and bolts, the mere logistics and schematics of slavery. She established for the reader the point of view of the slave, of a human life set against the legally sanctioned bureaucracy of slavery. She successfully depicted a person - an individual, a human being - sold as a product, warehoused as a product, transported as a product, and then set to use as an organic machine that was discarded and replaced when it broke. More to the point, she allows us glimpses into the inner lives, thoughts and prayers of those sold, warehoused, transported and used up while their ties to family and place, while their smallest hopes, are given credence only as an afterthought that may never coalesce. Only if, after having purchased a brother or a mother, there should be enough money remaining to buy the sister or the child. Only if it should be convenient and expedient for the planter to do so, only if it should strike that planter's fancy one particular afternoon but not another.
This book is as meaningful today, in new ways, as it was in 1851, and that is wholly remarkable.