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Archive for book reviews

Uncle Tom’s Cabin: a review

I have just finished reading Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

If I were to sum up the crux of this book, I could say it in two words: emancipation and evangelism. Certainly, we are all aware of the former as being one of the main intents of this book. What is rarely discussed is its evangelical nature. Harriet Beecher Stowe is the sister of famed Brooklyn preacher Heny Ward Beecher and the Christian world view she brings to the text of these pages is very evident, and quite frankly, in our world that has turned so vehemently secular, refreshing.

Every argument she presents is done so in a context of a Christian mind set–in fact, she appeals to the heart of the Christian as a basis for her case for the dignity, humanity and equality of the black person. She doesn’t sugarcoat anything. She is quick to show of how even within certain churches of the age they tried to use scriptures twisted out of context to justify the activity of slavery.

What an amazing step in time this book was. And what a sobering and awful reminder of our past. Being 150 years removed, it’s easy to forget the cruelty of those days. Stowe’s account brings you as eye witness to the accounts of several slaves as they are ripped from their families and sold to good and evil masters. A great point Stowe makes is that in a system like slavery, in which the slave has no rights, their livelihood is dependent solely on the character of their master.

One critique I read on Uncle Tom’s Cabin is the steady use of the ‘n’ word. This, they proclaim, is the reason why it cannot be read in the public schools. Nonsense! The ‘n’ word is used in context as the vernacular of the day, and while demeaning, there were other books littered with profanity that were part of my required reading growing up. No, I suspect it is the evangelical nature of the book that has kept it from being part of the high school curriculum. Every chapter, it seems, shared the gospel. Stowe solidly makes the case that a man’s character cannot truly change without the transformative nature of Christ. We see this in the lives of Uncle Tom for sure, but Augustine, Miss Ophilia, Cassy, and even Topsy.

Now to get to the main point of this essay. When I first heard the epithet “Uncle Tom” being used it was in context of a black person disregarding their heritage and acting like a white person. Having grown up in predominantly black neighborhood, I heard this phrase thrown around all the time. Lately, it’s instantly the label pinned to any black conservative, the accusation being that if they hold on to free market ideals, that somehow they are cowtowing to the slave holding republican– in a sense they are weaklings used by right wingers.

Having just read the book, I scratch my head and wonder, have these people making these charges of Uncle Tom even read the book? Yes, by their mischaracterized idea of what an Uncle Tom is, it surely is an insult, but the uncle Tom of Stowe’s account is nothing like that. Stowe portrayed him as the ultimate virtue of Christian character. He believed in the forgiveness of every man, including his persecutor. The accusation is that Tom embraced slavery as his lot in life and was unquestionably subservient to white man.

This is not the same Tom that I read. Yes, Tom respected the authority over him, as described in Colossians. But when presented with the chance to be free, Tom quickly embraced it, and even when the opportunity for freedom fell flat due to the untimely death of a tender-hearted master, he continued to ask of it and long for it.

The idea that Tom was weak, not willing to stand for anything but the slave owner’s will, obviously does not take in account the final chapters. The reason for Tom’s brutal beatings was because he wouldn’t do certain things he felt immoral. In fact, Legree was ready to make Tom chief overseer of all the slaves, as long as he was willing to “tow the line.” Quite the contrast from today’s modern portrayal!

In reality, though Tom’s life was a tragic one, he showed more strength in character and christian virtue than any of the white owners above him. “Uncle Tom” shouldn’t be a slander, if taken in the context of Stowe’s writings, but rather a term of endearment. In reality, by labeling black conservatives as “Uncle Toms”, these detractors are unknowingly attributing to them that same moral fortitude.

Having concluded with the reading, I often thought that this would make a great movie. Unfortunately, I do not trust Hollywood to do it correctly. The whole point of Stowe’s writing was to appeal to the Christian man. I would want any movie made from this writing to include the heavy Christian doctrine. Hollywood famously either disregards Christianity, misrepresents it, or mocks it. A lot of the text was building a case against slavery, written in a time where such activities were legal. These elements certainly could be downplayed or dropped for today’s world, however, I think it important to emphasize and showcase our sordid past, lest we be tempted to fall into it once again.

A movie of Uncle Tom would be epic and powerful, if done properly. The problem with most Christian movie houses, is they lack the budget to put together a quality project. The problem with most Hollywood outfits is that they lack the willingness to produce a Christian film. My hopes for such a film will have to remain as just that. However, if such a project does go underway, let me know, I’d be happy to work as art director or concept artist. (contact form available above.)

In conclusion, regardless of your religious affiliation, I highly recommend the book, and it would be hard not to read it and not be moved. A great step into history, a great portrayal of humanity.