Uncle Tom's Cabin takes place in the mid-19th century and opens in Kentucky, the location of the Shelby plantation and titular cabin. There are two other primary locations in the novel: the St. Clare household in New Orleans and the derelict plantation owned by Simon Legree. These three settings provide contrasting depictions of slavery, though, despite their differences, Beecher Stowe ultimately argues that any and all forms of slavery is unjust.
Beecher Stowe was writing during a time of intense debate over the institution of slavery. The recent passing of the Fugitive Slave Act in 1850 required slaves to be returned to their owners, even if they were found in free states. Only Canada offered protection for runaway slaves. In the novel, Canada becomes an important location, as George, Eliza, and Harry escape for the country, a journey that represents a transition from danger into safety and imprisonment to freedom.
The rise of social and moral reforms during the mid-1800s also contributed to Beecher Stowe's writing of Uncle Tom's Cabin. The growth of the abolitionist movement put pressure on Southern enslavers and increasing conflict between northern and southern interests led to the Civil War. In the novel, the North represents freedom while the South symbolizes slavery and oppression. Eliza and George travel north to Canada in order to gain legal freedom while Tom traverses deeper South, moving from the Shelby estate in Kentucky to Louisiana, where he is eventually killed by Simon Legree.
Another important location in the novel is the titular cabin. When Tom is alive, his cabin represents comfort and domesticity, since it is where he and his enslaved companions gather to meet and pray. At the very end of the novel, it becomes a symbol of hope and faith when George Shelby, Jr. frees his slaves and tells them to "think of your freedom, every time you see Uncle Tom's Cabin; and let it be a memorial to put you all in mind to follow in his steps, and be as honest and faithful and Christian as he was."