Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe

Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe

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Human cruelty was constantly present during the antebellum period. It is a vital part of America’s culture and it must be reiterated to new generations. In the novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Harriet Beecher Stowe recaps human cruelty through portraying the alteration in Mr. Shelby, affects the readers’ emotions by displaying views from various characters and demonstrates continuous separation of families during the antebellum period.
Mr. Shelby’s dynamic character is constantly modified in the first third of the book. In the beginning of the novel he is depicted as a protagonist due to the absence of the real protagonist, Uncle Tom, whose character is introduced in the later stages of the novel. Stowe illustrates him as a noble man by stating, “Mr. Shelby had the appearance of a gentleman” (2). This is one of the first lines in the novel and it abets the reader to envision him as fine, respectable person. Establishing him as a positive person at the start of the novel is vital for the plot of the story, (as) because later on in the book Stowe displays the dramatic negative changes in Mr. Shelby that come to him (due to his involvement in a slave trade) because he is involved in a slave trade. The author also establishes Mr. Haley as the antagonist at the commencement of the novel by introducing Haley’s foul dialect. Mr. Haley frequently says “nigger” (2) and mispronounces words as “valeyable” (2). Stowe utilizes this technique for the purpose of contrasting Mr. Haley to Mr. Shelby and further confirming that Mr. Shelby is a positive character. As the novel develops Mr. Shelby transforms into a shameless person. After a lengthy conversation with his wife he states, “I have agreed to sell Tom and Harry both; and I don’t know why I am to be rated as if I were a monster for doing what everyone does every day” (41). This statement portrays Shelby’s bemused state of mind. He is no longer the noble man he used to be. He does not seem to feel ignominious about dealing Tom and Harry’s lives away.
The author also utilizes Mr. Shelby and other characters to display diverse views about life during the antebellum period, therefore, impacting the readers’ emotions. The most notable instance that alternates one’s feelings to melancholy is Stowe’s description of Mr. and Mrs Shelby’s feelings after a spiteful conversation with Mr.

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Haley. “Mr. and Mrs. Shelby both felt annoyed and degraded by the familiar impudence of the trader, and yet both saw the absolute necessity of putting a constraint on their feelings” (71). The author attempts to compare the Shelbys to slaves because they do not possess freedom. Even though the Shelbys do not want to be around the trader, they are forced to accommodate him. This displays the truly malevolent world during the times of slavery. Another instance that affects the readers’ feelings is the numerous filial relationships that are present. The most vital relationship is that of Harry and Eliza. Stowe exposes this strong bond between a child and mother at the start of the novel when she states, “There needed only a glance from the child [Harry] to her [Eliza] to identify her as its mother” (4). This statement demonstrates the depth of a mother-son relationship. Harriet utilizes it to show just how damaging a separation of the two would be, therefore, placing the readers into a pitiful state.
Just as a vast amount of filial relationships are present in Uncle Tom’s Cabin, numerous family relationships were broken in the book and in real life during the antebellum period. The novel portrays these terrifying events through the eyes of Tom as he witnesses a fourteen year old boy being sold away and apart from his sixty year old mother. “Couldn’t dey leave me one” (138), cries the disheartened mother as her baby is being taken away. This particular phrase magnifies the effect of the story, because it portrays the austere ways of traders. Also it exposes the fact that her other children were taken away and traded as well, which further displays the cruelty of slave traders. Yet another example of a torn relationship that Stowe provides is John being alienated from his wife and probably his whole life. “… a black woman came running wildly up the plank, darted into the crowd, flew up to where the slave gang sat, and threw her arms round that unfortunate piece of merchandise before enumerated, ‘John, aged thirty,’and, with sobs and tears, bemoaned him as her husband” (142), is how the author describes this melancholy moment. This sub-story provides the reader with a genuine, authentic view of just how harsh the separation between families was and how cruel the traders were to human beings. It also provides the readers with an idea of how few people who witnessed these callous processes ever put even a minimal effort to stop these harsh events.
The alteration in Mr. Shelby, the separation of multiple families and friends and the glum emotions toggled in the readers’ minds is all cunningly used by Harriet Beecher Stowe to depict the harsh world around her. All these things, perhaps, could have been avoided if people were a little more caring and concerned with those around them. This is the reason for the few last sentences of chapter thirteen, which describe how life immediately shifts to normal as soon as the dramatic scene of a family separation is over.
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