.Critical Book Review: Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin


Uncle Tom's Cabin is the story of the trials and tribulations of slaves in Kentucky a few years prior to the dawn of the Civil War. Although there are many characters in this novel, all with their own adventures and character, the book mostly focuses on two slaves, Uncle Tom and Eliza.
Uncle Tom and Eliza both worked for "Mas'r Shelby" on his plantation in Kentucky near the Kentucky-Ohio border. Tom is the most trusted and loyal of Shelby's slaves. He has risen to become respected by Shelby and as well become a pillar in the small slave community on the plantation. Eliza is the servant of Mrs. Shelby, a kind hearted lady, and is very much respected by the Shelby's also. In the beginning of the book, we are told of Eliza's husband, George Harris, being taken away from his position at a textile mill, where he invented a machine for cleaning hemp fiber, and brought back to normal slave life on his plantation. George's master, who can in no way be compared to the kindness of the Shelby's, tells George that he will not be able to see his wife, Eliza, again. Angry with his master, he escapes the plantation and heads to Canada, leaving his wife and son, Harry, behind at the Shelby plantation, only assuring his wife that they shall meet up again in Canada and be free.
Meanwhile, Arthur Shelby, the owner of the plantation, is having to make some difficult choices. It turns out that he is in debt to a cruel slave-trader, Mr. Haley, and unless he pays him, Mr. Haley will take the Shelby plantation. Not having a lot of money on hand, Shelby reluctantly sells Tom and Harry, Eliza's son, away to Mr. Haley to pay off his debt. Unbeknownst to Mr. Haley and Shelby, Eliza is hidden in the closet eavesdropping on their conversation. After hearing the terrible news, Eliza is heartbroken. She could not believe that Mr. Shelby would elect to sell her son to another man. Soon, as in most communities, the news filters throughout the plantation. Tom, although obviously horrified, takes the news with a certain calmness, claiming that his master had to do what he had to do, and if it meant his sale, he would be sold. The slaves aren't the only ones appalled by the actions taken by Mr. Shelby. Emily Shelby, Arthur's wife, is aghast of the sale of Tom and Harry and also by the ensuing tearing apart of the two families.
At the same time, Eliza is packing her bags and escaping the plantation. She attempts to get Tom to go with her but he refuses. She runs to a house down by the Ohio River and asks for help getting across to Ohio. Unfortunately for Eliza, the river is clogged with ice and no boats (except for a boat carrying barrels over that night) would be able to take her across. Back at the plantation, Mr. Haley is extremely angry at the situation. His rightful property had fled from him. Haley and two of Shelby's slaves, Andy and Sam, go out searching for Eliza. During the search Sam rides ahead a little bit and searches for Eliza, hoping to alert her before she can be caught. After passing right by a window, Sam looks in and sees Eliza in the room. After "conveniently" losing his hat, he makes a lot of loud noise which alerts Eliza to the conditions at hand. She runs away from the house and down to the river. In an act of panic and pure courage, Eliza bounds across the river, jumping from ice palette to ice palette, all the way cutting her feet and slipping. It seems an act of God that our heroine makes it across the river safely. She is helped up the bank on the other side by a kind man and directed to the house of Senator Bird. Ironically, when Eliza arrives at the house, Mr. and Mrs. Bird are having a discussion on the actions that Mr. Bird would take if a runaway slave in need of help would show up at his doorstep. That day he had just voted