Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe

I think the biggest reason I had for reading this book was the fuss it makes. When people get onto the subject of banning books, this one seems to pop up every time and I wanted to know why it would be on that list. I had tried to read it before, but had a lot of difficulty reading the dialect and gave up after the first few chapters. It was just one of those books that was too tiring to read after work. So, I bought the audio book. That made a huge difference. It’s still a long work, but it only took me a week or so to get through the 21+ hours. The story is compelling and the subject matter full of emotion and frankly, I think every American student should have to read it in a classroom situation, possibly in combination with a history lesson.

After having read it, I agree that there are some aspects of the book which could still have a negative impact, such as the stereotypes it probably helped create. That’s why I think it should be read in a classroom situation, because that’s a subject that needs to be discussed, especially with younger children who may not be able to distinguish stereotype from reality. Although I will say that even as a child I found those types of negative stereotypes ridiculous and unbelievable because they are overdone. However, on the whole, I see no reason for banning the book. The whole story is one long lesson in the wrong that was done and thinking back, I would have liked to have, as I said before, have this a part of my history lessons in school. It certainly would have driven the point home in a much more tangible way. Some of the things mentioned, such as whipping houses where the slaves were sent to be whipped, are so horrifying it beggars belief that so called civilized people could have thought of this as even remotely acceptable. That particular point was the worst of the whole story for me because it seems to take de-humanization to a whole new level. It’s bad enough to whip someone at all, but to send them out to be whipped by a “professional” is beyond belief. On the one hand, the owner can’t be bothered or doesn’t have the stomach to do it himself and on the other it’s like sending out a shoe to be mended, a thing to be dealt with by someone else. Horrifying and shameful. It makes me mad just thinking about it, but then I got mad after about a half a page and just stayed that way throughout the book. I can’t believe the things people can do to each other. Sometimes we really are a nasty race. Fortunately we are able to learn and grow as people and now recognize our faults and can better ourselves, otherwise what would be the point?

I won’t go into the story for this entry. It’s long and complicated with several lines running at once. Stowe obviously wanted to cover as many aspects of racism and slavery as possible to make her case against it. Tom is, of course, the central figure and supported by his belief in God throughout the good and the bad times. One of the things Stowe did well was to give some of her characters a halfway decent life, if only for a time. It kept the book from becoming too dark and too focused on evil and made it more palatable for the reader in that time. She gave the slaves a good range of characters that would have fit the white population just as well as the slaves showing them to be equal in all but their social position. Above all, Stowe’s story was a good one which it needed to be to catch people’s attention and sway their opinions. An out and out diatribe would have surely been disregarded and never have managed to motivate change and cause such a furore. So well done to Stowe, even if she wasn’t perfect and doesn’t fit today’s ideal. 5 out of 5 for a book every child should have to read in school.

1 comment:

Jeane said...

I read this so long ago all I remember is that it was about people treating each other in horrible ways, and the absolute lack of rights slaves had. I don't think it should be banned at all; terrible things happened in our history but ignoring them or pretending they didn't occur doesn't help any.