2013 Challenges, Books, The Classics Club

Book 211: Uncle Tom’s Cabin – Harriet Beecher Stowe

Stowe, Harriet Beecher - Uncle Tom's CabinThis was a surprising read and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Unlike many of the ‘classics’ I’ve read the writing style and even the vernacular speech patterns were easy to read and kept the story constantly moving forward. This book counts for my Mount TBR and Back to the Classics reading challenges and is also on my Classics’ Club List.

I didn’t have to read this in school and I’m actually glad I didn’t. I know if it was a requirement to read this in high school I would not have had a good reaction to it. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I was an above average student when I applied myself, but I just would not have found this book interesting or a good read. And, to be honest, I’m a little shocked I did find it as interesting as I did with the strong basis in religion the author clearly had. But somehow it wasn’t so overpowering that it turned me off from the story/novel so well done.

If there was one part to the book that I really didn’t like it was the splitting of the story into two parts. It did make a lot of sense at the end, but I felt the split could have been better expounded. We didn’t hear from half the main characters for what felt like 2/3 of the book. It was probably closer to half but it felt so much longer. I understand why Stowe did this and the ending was perfectly tied together, but it just felt so weird while it was happening.

There were many great quotes from the novel and I encourage you to check them out below. But there were two that stood out to me and really made me question society as they are still incredibly pertinent today:

“You send thousands of dollars to foreign missions; but could you endure to have the heathen sent into your towns and villages, and give your time, and thoughts, and money, to raise them to the Christian standard?” (358)

“We are the more obvious oppressors of the negro; but the unchristian prejudice of the north is an oppressor almost equally severe.” (358)

This idea that we need to aid those further away from us is a major point of contention with me. I think that those in need closest to you will feel the most impact of what you can do for them; add in that the overhead costs are significantly lower and it’s a win-win. The second quote is a bit more troublesome and a bit more pervasive in today’s society. It has a lot more to do with repressed racism and societal/institutional racism and that’s clearly still evident today with what’s been going on in the news.

Recommendation: I think this is a great abolitionist novel, but on top of that it’s a good story with strong and diverse characters. You spend your time reading the book worrying about the characters that you’re not reading about which shows a great attachment to the numerous characters and personalities Stowe wrote.

Opening Line: “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.”

Closing Line: “Not by combining together, to protect injustice and cruelty, and making a common capital of sin, is this Union to be saved,–but by repentance, justice and mercy; for, not surer is the eternal law by which the millstone sinks in the ocean, than that stronger law, by which injustice and cruelty shall bring on nations the wrath of Almighty God!” (Whited out.)

Additional Quotes from Uncle Tom’s Cabin
“‘This is God’s curse on slavery!–a bitter, bitter, most accursed thing!–a curse to the master and a curse to the slave! I was a fool to think I could make anything good out of such a deadly evil. It is a sin to hold a slave under laws like ours,–I always felt it was,–I always thought so when I was a girl,–I thought so still more after I joined the church; but I thought I could gild it over,–I thought, by kindness, and care, and instruction, I could make the condition of mine better than freedom–fool that I was!'” (38)

“Sublime is the dominion of the mind over the body, that, for a time, can make flesh and nerve impregnable, and string the sinews like steel, so that the weak become so mighty.” (56)

“There are in this world blessed souls, whose sorrows all spring up into joys for others; whose earthly hopes, laid in the grave with many tears, are the seed from which spring healing flowers and balm for the desolate and the distressed.” (99)

“There is not on earth a more merciless exactor of love from others than a thoroughly selfish woman; and the more unlovely she grows, the more jealously and scrupulously she exacts love, to the uttermost farthing.” (176)

“I am one of the sort that lives by throwing stones at other people’s glass houses, but I never mean to put up one for them to stone.” (208)

“‘Religion! Is what you hear at church, religion? Is that which can bend and turn, and descend and ascend, to fit every crooked phase of selfish, worldly society, religion? Is that religion which is less scrupulous, less generous, less just, less considerate for man, than even my own ungodly, worldly, blinded nature? No! When I look for a religion, I must look for something above me, and not something beneath.” (208)

“The writer has given only a faint shadow, a dim picture, of the anguish and despair that are, at this very moment, riving thousands of hearts, shattering thousands of families, and driving a helpless and sensitive race to frenzy and despair. There are those living who know the mothers whom this accursed traffic has driven to the murder of their children; and themselves seeking in death a shelter from woes more dreaded than death. Nothing of tragedy can be written, can be spoken, can be conceived, that equals the frightful reality of scenes daily and hourly acting on our shores, beneath the shadow of American law, and the shadow of the cross of Christ.” (504)

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17 thoughts on “Book 211: Uncle Tom’s Cabin – Harriet Beecher Stowe”

  1. I’ve been looking forward to your review of this book. I read it a year or two ago and liked it, but I did find it a bit too preachy. I can’t say that is a criticism of the book considering the time it was written, just a personal thing. I’m not used to being confronted by God too often I guess. It is certainly interesting, well written and quite enlightening I think. It must have been a powerful book for the time it was written although I’m not really too ‘up’ on the history of that time in America.

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    1. I was concerned going in that the religion might be so overpowering I wouldn’t want to finish it, but thankfully it wasn’t. I’ve read political works that were much more preachy than this one! And I’m with you this must have had a huge impact when it was published and I was tempted to go look up the reviews and news articles and popular culture feedback to the novel. What struck me most was how she did not go easy on the northern states and handed down judgement on their complacency in equality to the southern states in their active participation!

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      1. I haven’t read it in a VERY long time. I read it when I was 16 or 17, I think. I’d be interested to see what 20 years of experiences has done to change (or not, as the case may be) my reading of it.

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  2. This is definitely one I want to read at some point.

    I have to disagree with you though about it being better to help those who are nearer, at least in terms of monetary contributions. A donation of $100 dollars has a much bigger impact in areas of the world with high levels of severe poverty than it does in the United States. There are certainly reasons to give locally (and I try to do some of both), but improved efficiency is not one of them.

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    1. I don’t disagree with the amount of poverty or the impact of the $100. However, unless you’re giving directly to a small nonprofit in one of those countries the overhead costs for fundraising and the myriad other costs often completely nullify a donation of a smaller caliber. The same issues apply when working with local charities, but often you’re able to do something very specific. As a professional fundraiser the number of times I’ve looked into projects students at the college I work at are supporting I’ve found really questionable practices and tracing how much money actually gets to the programs/reliefs is difficult if not impossible.

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      1. I forgot about your experience as a fundraiser! Giving effectively is definitely a big issue. While it wasn’t the point of the book, reading Poor Economics gave me a number of examples of organizations that are rigorous about testing the effectiveness of their work. There’s also an interesting website, givewell.org, that tries to find particularly effective organizations to donate to.

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        1. Took me forever to find this comment and I’ll email you the same information just in case, but you should check out this weeks This American Life (Act 1).There was a fascinating discussion for the first half of the program about what we were discussing.

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          1. Thanks for tracking this comment down and sharing! Just listened to the episode this morning.

            I’ve been hearing arguments that it might be best to give money directly for a while now and thought that it was an interesting idea, but have had a hard time overcoming my skepticism about it. But now it has This American Life verification!

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  3. I need to reread this one for my 1001 challenge. I like this book. Read it in college and luckily my teacher who was cool didn’t ruin it for me. When Lincoln met Stowe he said, “So you’re the little lady who started this war.”

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  4. I read this book a long long time ago…when I was in my early teens. I recall weeping over it, and drenching the pages with tears. I loved it! However, I really think I should read it again, for except for a few incidents I do not really recall much of it.

    Am glad you liked the book. Apparently, this one was a real sensation during the pre-American Civil War. And this is something I learnt from Gone with the Wind. 😀

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    1. I vaguely knew that it had caused a bit of an uproar, but I’m still not quite sure the full impact. I can easily see why you were moved to tears there were a few instances where I wanted to just shut the book and leave it.

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