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“The book, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, is thought of as a fantastic, even fanatic, representation of Southern life, most memorable for its emotional oversimplification of the complexities of the slave system,” says Gossett (4). Harriet Beecher Stowe describes her own experiences or ones that she has witnessed in the past through the text in her novel. She grew up in Cincinnati where she had a very close look at slavery. Located on the Ohio River across from the slave state of Kentucky, the city was filled with former slaves and slaveholders. In conversation with black women who worked as servants in her home, Stowe heard many stories of slave life that found their way into the book. Some of the novel was based on her reading of abolitionist books and pamphlets, the rest came straight from her own observations of black Cincinnatians with personal experience of slavery.
She uses the characters to represent popular ideas of her time, a time when slavery was the biggest issue that people were dealing with. Uncle Tom’s Cabin was an unexpected factor in the dispute between the North and South. The book sold more than 300,000 copies during the first year of publication, taking thousands of people, even our nation’s leaders, by surprise.
Mr. Shelby is a Kentucky plantation owner who is forced by debt to sell two of his slaves to a trader named Haley. Uncle Tom, the manager of the plantation, understands why he must be sold. The other slave marked for sale is Harry, a four-year-old. His mother, Mrs. Shelby’s servant, Eliza, overhears the news and runs away with the little boy. She makes her way up to the Ohio River, the boundary with the free state of Ohio. In Ohio, Eliza is sheltered by a series of kind people. At a Quaker settlement, she is reunited with her husband, George Harris. George’s master abused him even though George was intelligent and hard-working, and he had decided to escape. The couple is not safe even in the North, though. They are followed by Marks and Loker, slave-catchers in partnership with the trader, Haley. They make there way up
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to Sandusky, so that they can catch a ferry for Canada, where slavery is forbidden and American laws do not apply. Meanwhile, Uncle Tom is headed down the river, deeper into slavery. On the boat, he makes friends with Eva St. Clare, a beautiful and religious white child. After Tom rescues Eva from near drowning, Eva’s father, Augustine St. Clare, buys him. Life in the household is carefree. Another person living in the house is Ophelia, St. Clare’s cousin from Vermont who just moved to New Orleans. She and Augustine argue long and hard about slavery, he defending it, and she opposing it. Augustine buys Topsy for Ophelia to raise, in order to test her theories about education. Topsy is bright and energetic, but has no sense of right and wrong. Ophelia is almost ready to give up on her when little Eva shows her how to reach Topsy. Tom and Eva study the Bible together and share a belief in a loving God. But Eva becomes ill and dies. Her death, and her example, transforms the lives of many of the people around her. Even her father becomes more religious. Unfortunately he is accidentally killed before he can fulfill his promise to Eva to free Tom, and Tom is sold again. This time Tom is not so lucky. He is bought by Simon Legree, the owner of an isolated plantation on the Red River. Legree is cruel, and his plantation is a living hell for his slaves. They are worked so hard that they have no time to think or feel, and Legree sets them against each other. Tom almost loses his faith in God, but recovers it and continues his work among the other slaves. He becomes friends with Cassy, a good but despairing woman who has been Legree’s mistress. Cassy arranges for her and Emmeline, the girl who has been chosen as Legree’s next mistress, to escape, and she urges Tom to join them. He will not, but he allows himself to be brutally beaten by Legree rather than reveal what he knows about the women’s whereabouts. The Shelby’s son,
George, arrives