“Uncle Tom’s Cabin” was abolitionist propaganda, but it was also a brilliant novel that intertwined the stories of a host of memorable characters: the long-suffering slave Uncle Tom, the sadistic overseer Simon Legree, the defiant fugitive George Harris, the antic slave girl Topsy, the conscience-stricken slave owner Augustine St. Clare, and a teeming cast of abolitionists, Southerners and African-Americans. By presenting an array of emotive story lines””e.g., the bonding of Uncle Tom with St. Clare’s saintly daughter Eva, Tom’s fatal persecution at a Louisiana plantation, and the dramatic flight of the Harris family to freedom in the North””the author Harriet Beecher Stowe rendered American slavery as a soul-destroying system of grinding injustice and, for the first time in American literature, depicted slaves as complex, heroic and emotionally nuanced individuals.
The novel shocked Americans North and South not just with its heart-rending portrayal of slavery’s cruelty but with its attention to such subversive themes as interracial sex, cross-racial friendship and black rage. “Wherever it goes, prejudice is disarmed, opposition is removed, and the hearts of all are touched with a new and strange feeling, to which they before were strangers,” declared an editorialist in Washington’s National Era newspaper.
In the first year after its release in 1852, “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” sold 310,000 copies in the United States, triple the number of its nearest rivals; it sold one million copies in Britain alone.
Read it all (especially appropriate in light of the previous blog entry–KSH).