For book club last month we read The Help. As I had already read it, it was decided I should read Uncle Tom’s Cabin instead.
You can find a plot overview here.
I found this novel to be very confronting. Obviously the treatment of the slaves is appalling, but the narrator clearly feels superior to the slaves. The fact that it appears to be unintentional just makes it worse. There is a lot of talk about their child like, simple ways. I know we’re not meant to judge with modern eyes behaviour from the past, but I am surprised there is not more outrage about this novel.
It is very Victorian in style. What I mean by that is long sentences, lots of authorial intrusion and lots of description. Some sections even reminded me of L M Montgomery (of Anne of Green Gables fame) particularly the bits about Eva. Montgomery wrote after Harriet Beecher Stowe and I do wonder if she had read and been influenced by Uncle Tom’s Cabin (must look it up in the journals).
However, having said all of that, I did think the structure of the novel was clever. There appears to be examples of the different types of slave owners; kind but still prepared to sell their slaves, generous and taking steps to free his slaves, but dying prematurely and leaving them to their fates as chattels and mean – treating his slaves as stock. One extremely disturbing point was the slave owner who ‘farmed’ his slaves – breeding slave children that he could raise and sell. I guess that is the logical conclusion of owning someone, but it is repellent.
I was also surprised by the amount of religion in the novel. Both sides used religion to bolster their arguments and Uncle Tom was a Jesus figure.
I can see how this novel would have galvanised the anti-slavery movement and I am glad that I have read it, but I can’t say that I enjoyed it and I will think carefully about to whom I recommend it.
More reviews …
Here is a whole page of contemporary reviews …