Published in the early 1850’s, Uncle Tom’s Cabin had a huge impact on our nation and contributed to the tension over slavery. It was written by Harriet Beecher Stowe, a woman who was involved in religious and feminist causes. Stowe’s influence on the northern states was remarkable. Her fictional novel about slave life of her current time has been thought to be one of the main things that led up to the Civil War. The purpose of writing it, as is often said, was to expose the evils of slavery to the North where many were unaware of just what went on in the rest of the country. The book was remarkably successful and sold 300,000 copies by the end of its first year. It is even rumored that upon President Lincoln’s meeting Stowe, Lincoln said, “So this is the little lady who made this big war.”
There is no doubt among most historians that Stowe’s book affected many people’s views on slavery; but one question that is being asked today is whether the book was historically accurate. Some think believe it recorded exactly the sort of things that went on among slaves and their owners while other people say that Stowe made an elaborate exaggeration of the evils of slavery just so she could prove her point. Was Uncle Tom’s Cabin close to the truth? An examination of current work on the history of the U.S. should reveal the merits of Stowe’s writing.
The general consensus among historical accounts of slavery is that southern slave owners mostly considered slaves as less of a person than they themselves were. They still viewed slaves as people, but not on the same level as them. Irwin Unger describes the system of slavery like many slaves have who have since written about it. Unger says that slaves were in a “system that denied them their humanity” (Unger 309). Slave owners were racist, he says. They were viewed as inferior. He writes, “It was [this] mark of inferiority that affected all black men and women and did not disappear even when black people secured their freedom” (Unger 309). According to Unger, “it was illegal to teach slaves to read and write” (Unger 309). Owners saw it as unnecessary for them and did not want slaves to become more equal with the free people. A conversation between Eva and her mother in Stowe’s book reveals this view of slaves as inferior along with slaves not being taught t...
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...r the South being justified in seeing the book as “an attack on white Southerners or Southern society as the root cause of the evils of slavery,” it seems that they were not justified. Overall, Stowe was attacking the institution of slavery and not the South per se. It is no surprise that the South would feel like Stowe was attacking them, though. The South is where the harshest slave conditions were. Their whole agricultural set up depended on slavery for survival. But Stowe was not attacking Southerners, only the slavery that they were permitting.
Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, for centuries to come will be seen as a huge contributing factor to the occurrence of the U.S. Civil War when it happened. As people’s views change about things over long periods of time, what people believe about the moral rightness of the institution called slavery may also change. It is possible that slavery could one day be counted by the majority as proper. Uncle Tom’s Cabin could find itself on center stage in importance again in a debate over slavery. Until then, it is safe to say that its impact on society was massive in its time and will now be studied as a great contribution to our history.
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