“Uncle Tom’s Cabin”

Harriet Beecher Stowe

This, along with “Frankenstein, was my “book I should have read long ago” pick for a recent trip to Italy. To appreciate it you have to get around all the baggage attached to the story and to the phrase “Uncle Tom”, but I’m glad I finally read it.

I wouldn’t call Stowe a great writer. The book sentimental and full of melodrama, stereotypes, and speechifying, and she was no Twain when it comes to rendering dialect. But the characters — both good and bad — are memorable and interesting and the strong religious element is moving. It’s a powerful document about slavery, which is a part of our history that we seem afraid to explore in depth.

While there’s no room to doubt that it’s an anti-slavery novel, Stowe allows her pro-slavery characters their arguments and she shines a light on Northern hypocrisy about slavery. She shows the immorality of both “good” slave owners and harsh ones and, within the bounds of 18th century propriety, doesn’t ignore the sexual aspect of slavery.