Any mind that is capable of a real sorrow is capable of good.― Harriet Beecher Stowe, Uncle Tom’s Cabin
In this book you get to see all sides of the issue of slavery. Harriet doesn’t portray all of the slave owners as thoroughly evil. They do have redeeming qualities even while they are participating in atrocities. She also doesn’t portray all the slaves as completely good people. Again people are people, so I think she does a good job not just painting everything in black and white, but showing all the areas of gray. Still, that said she really pounds her point home of illustrating the heart-rending evil of slavery. Even the slave owners who are kind to their slaves inevitably bring unimaginable sorrow and hurt upon their slaves… albeit unintentionally.
Tom was a pretty inspirational character, especially as you see his journey through all his trials and struggles. It’s not one downhill struggle, there are moments of light and relative happiness. Still it is ultimately a story of tragedy. Despite the tragedy and sorrow and suffering, Tom perseveres and ends up doing more to change the people around him due to his obstinate and deep belief in God and faith in his goodness. Given so many opportunities to be bitter, and hate, and rage against what others have done to him he is a true hero and through his kindness and goodness brings hope into lives of those who had none.
That said, I really really appreciated that Harriet doesn’t just show Tom, persevering in the face of suffering and choosing to love. She also shows characters who understandably have become bitter and resentful, and angry! Yes justifiably angry and hurt in so many ways. There’s George, Eliza’s husband, who renounces his country and his faith in God. After all, how can there be a God who cares if he allows such evil and hurt? Despite being a Christian herself, Harriet doesn’t shy away from the hard questions, and having characters that ask the hardest questions. Characters who are put through the hardest most awful situations. Some of them choose love, and some have a longer journey and struggle.
The main con I have is some of the ways that the author describes black versus white people. At times I think her tone is a bit condescending and forces stereotypes on certain races. That said, this book is a record of how people thought back then. Even Harriet Beecher Stowe, an abolitionist talks about people of different races in a way that comes across as condescending and rude.
- “The African, naturally patient, timid and unenterprising”
- “The negro, it must be remembered, is an exotic of the most gorgeous and superb countries of this world, and he has, deep in his heart, a passion for all that is splendid, rich, and fanciful; a passion which, rudely indulged by an untrained taste, draws on them the ridicule of the colder and more correct white race.”
“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.”
“The longest way must have its close – the gloomiest night will wear on to a morning.”
“Perhaps it is impossible for a person who does no good not to do harm.”
“It was the first time that ever George had sat down on equal terms at any white man’s table; and he sat down, at first, with some constraint, and awkwardness; but they all exhaled and went off like fog, in the genial morning rays of this simple overflowing kindness.
This indeed, was a home, – home, -a word that George had never yet known a meaning for; and a belief in God, and trust in His providence, began to encircle his heart, as, with a golden cloud of protection and confidence, dark, misanthropic, pining, atheistic doubts, and fierce despair, melted away before the light of a living Gospel, breathed in living faces, preached by a thousand unconscious acts of love and good-will, which, like the cup of cold water given in the name of a disciple, shall never lose their reward.”
“Have not many of us, in the weary way of life, felt, in some hours, how far easier it were to die than to live?
The martyr, when faced even by a death of bodily anguish and horror, finds in the very terror of his doom a strong stimulant and tonic. There is a vivid excitement, a thrill and fervor, which may carry through any crisis of suffering that is the birth-hour of eternal glory and rest.
But to live, to wear on, day after day, of mean, bitter, low, harassing servitude, every nerve dampened and depressed, every power of feeling gradually smothered, this long and wasting heart-martyrdom, this slow, daily bleeding away of the inward life, drop by drop, hour after hour, this is the true searching test of what there may be in man or woman.”
There’s a lot to unpack in this book, but overall it was worth reading. It’s so very very thought-provoking.