Harriet Beecher Stowe us history/Napp Name: Biography: At a Glance – Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin made a greater impact on the course of United States history than any other



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Harriet Beecher Stowe

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Biography:

At a Glance –
Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin made a greater impact on the course of United States history than any other. Although many of Stowe’s books had more literary merit, Uncle Tom’s Cabin was her most significant work. It hardened antislavery sentiment in the North while convincing the South that extremists were intent upon destroying its “peculiar institution.”

~ Glencoe American Biographies
So this is the little lady who started our big war!” said Abraham Lincoln while greeting Harriet Beecher Stowe in 1862. The President was clearly exaggerating. The petite woman from New England was no warmonger. But her novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin had certainly played a key role in convincing both North and South that the slavery issue was leading the two regions to an “irrepressible conflict.”
Although she would become one of the most famous writers of the nineteenth century, Harriet Beecher Stowe lived much of her life in the shadow of better-known family members. Her father, Lyman Beecher, and her brothers were noted speakers and social reformers, and her sister opened a school for women.
Stowe was living in Brunswick, Maine, with her husband and seven children when she began writing Uncle Tom’s Cabin in 1850. She had observed slavery in Kentucky, but had no firsthand experience of either plantation slavery or of the deep South. The passage of The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 and the promptings of her antislavery family, however, moved her to write a novel in serial form for an antislavery newspaper.
Recounting the life of an enslaved man she named Uncle Tom, Stowe began by describing his death. She finished the tale at one sitting and wrote the ending on brown grocery wrap after running out of writing paper. She then wrote the earlier chapters and sent them off to the newspaper. The publisher decided to combine the stories into a book, but he complained that the text was too long. Stowe replied that she had not written the book; it had written itself.
Uncle Tom’s Cabin appeared in book form in 1852 and sold 10,000 copies in its first week. Charges soon appeared in the North as well as in the South that the tale misrepresented slavery. The melodrama of Uncle Tom’s fate at the hands of the vicious slaveholder Simon Legree (who was Northern-born) and the escape to freedom by George and Eliza, however, assured a sympathetic readership in much of the North.
In 1853 Harriet Beecher Stowe published A Key to Uncle Tom’s Cabin in which she documented her portrayal of slavery by citing facts about the treatment of enslaved African Americans in the South. This book received little attention, but her next novel about slavery, Dred: A Tale of the Great Dismal Swamp, was another bestseller. She then turned to writing about her native New England. Stowe wrote an average of nearly a book a year following Uncle Tom’s Cabin until her death in 1896. None of her other works, however, matched Uncle Tom’s Cabin in either immediate impact of in long-term significance.

Questions:

  1. Why did Stowe write Uncle Tom’s Cabin? ________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

  2. What was the public reaction to Stowe’s novel? ________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

  3. Why were Uncle Tom’s Cabin and Dred bestsellers? ________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

  4. Do you believe that Harriet Beecher Stowe changed U.S. history? Prove your answer. ________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

  5. How can a novel, a work of fiction, change people’s minds about social issues? ________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

  6. Was President Lincoln right – Did Harriet Beecher Stowe start the Civil War? Prove your answer. ________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

  7. Identify other books that have impacted people’s beliefs and values. ________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Tom stepped upon the block, gave a few anxious looks round; …almost in a moment came the final thump of the hammer…as the auctioneer announced his price, and Tom…had a master!” ~ Uncle Tom’s Cabin

Harriet Beecher Stowe’s

Uncle Tom’s Cabin
The following excerpt tells about how Tom is ordered by his owner, Simon Legree, to whip another slave named Lucy. Lucy has not been able to pick enough cotton, so Tom has been putting some of his cotton into Lucy’s basket. Two other slaves inform Legree about this and

Legree orders Tom to whip Lucy. Tom refuses and is punished for his refusal.


“And now,” said Legree, “come here, you Tom. You see, I telled ye I didn’t buy ye jest for the common work; I mean to promote ye, and make a driver of ye; and to-night ye may jest as well begin to get yer hand in. Now, ye jest take this yer gal and flog her; ye’ve seen enough on’t to know how.”

I beg Mas’r’s pardon,” said Tom; “hopes Mas’r won’t set me at that. It’s what I an’t used to, -- never did, -- and can’t do, no way possible.”
"Ye’ll larn a pretty smart chance of things ye never did know, before I’ve done with ye!” said Legree, taking up a cowhide, and striking Tom a heavy blow cross the cheek, and following up the infliction by a shower of blows.
There!” he said, as he stopped to rest; “now, will ye tell me ye can’t do it?”


“Yes, Mas’r,” said Tom, putting up his hand, to wipe the blood, that trickled down his face. “I'm willin’ to work, night and day, and work while there’s life and breath in me; but this yer thing I can’t feel it right to do; -- and, Mas’r, I never shall do it, -- never!”

Tom had a remarkably smooth, soft voice, and a habitually respectful manner, that had given Legree an idea that he would be cowardly, and easily subdued. When he spoke these last words, a thrill of amazement went through every one; the poor woman clasped her hands, and said, “O Lord!” and every one involuntarily looked at each other and drew in their breath, as if to prepare for the storm that was about to burst.
Legree looked stupefied and confounded; but at last burst forth, -- “What! ye blasted black beast! tell me ye don’t think it right to do what I tell ye! What have any of you cussed cattle to do with thinking what’s right? I’ll put a stop to it! Why, what do ye think ye are? May be ye think ye’r a gentleman master, Tom, to be a telling your master what’s right, and what ain’t! So you pretend it’s wrong to flog the gal!”
I think so, Mas’r,” said Tom; “the poor crittur’s sick and feeble; ’t would be downright cruel, and it’s what I never will do, nor begin to. Mas’r, if you mean to kill me, kill me; but, as to my raising my hand agin any one here, I never shall, -- I’ll die first!”
Tom spoke in a mild voice, but with a decision that could not be mistaken. Legree shook with anger; his greenish eyes glared fiercely, and his very whiskers seemed to curl with passion; but, like some ferocious beast, that plays with its victim before he devours it, he kept back his strong impulse to proceed to immediate violence, and broke out into bitter raillery.
Well, here’s a pious dog, at last, let down among us sinners! -- a saint, a gentleman, and no less, to talk to us sinners about our sins! Powerful holy critter, he must be! Here, you rascal, you make believe to be so pious, -- didn’t you never hear, out of yer Bible, ‘Servants, obey yer masters’? An’t I yer master? Didn’t I pay down twelve hundred dollars, cash, for all there is inside yer old cussed black shell? An’t yer mine, now, body and soul?” he said, giving Tom a violent kick with his heavy boot; “tell me!”
In the very depth of physical suffering, bowed by brutal oppression, this question shot a gleam of joy and triumph through Tom’s soul. He suddenly stretched himself up, and, looking earnestly to heaven, while the tears and blood that flowed down his face mingled, he exclaimed, “No! no! no! my soul an’t yours, Mas’r! You haven't bought it, -- ye can’t buy it! It’s been bought and paid for, by one that is able to keep it; -- no matter, no matter, you can’t harm me!”
I can’t!” said Legree, with a sneer; “we’ll see, -- we’ll see! Here, Sambo, Quimbo, give this dog such a breakin’ in as he won’t get over, this month!”
The two gigantic negroes that now laid hold of Tom, with fiendish exultation in their faces, might have formed no unapt personification of powers of darkness. The poor woman screamed with apprehension, and all rose, as by a general impulse, while they dragged him unresisting from the place.

Critical Thinking Questions:

1. What feelings and emotions was Stowe trying to appeal to in her readers? ________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

2. Did Tom do the right thing in refusing to listen to his master? Explain your answer! ________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

3. How might this novel have affected popular opinion of slavery? ________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

4. Name a novel (or movie based on a novel) that you believe could impact today’s society the way that Uncle Tom’s Cabin did in the 1850s. How and Why? Explain! ________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________


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