Uncle Tom's Cabin


Harriet Beecher Stowe

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Uncle Tom's Cabin: Similes 3 key examples

Definition of Simile
A simile is a figure of speech that directly compares two unlike things. To make the comparison, similes most often use the connecting words "like" or "as," but can also... read full definition
A simile is a figure of speech that directly compares two unlike things. To make the comparison, similes most often use the connecting words "like... read full definition
A simile is a figure of speech that directly compares two unlike things. To make the comparison, similes most often... read full definition
Chapter 3: The Husband and Father
Explanation and Analysis—Bitter as Wormwood:

In Chapter 3, George uses a simile to describe his life to Eliza after his master forces him to leave his factory job and return to the plantation:

My life is bitter as wormwood; the very life is burning out of me. I’m a poor, miserable, forlorn drudge; I shall only drag you down with me, that’s all.

In the passage above, George makes an unexpected comparison and likens his life to wormwood, a striking example of simile. Wormwood refers to a bitter herb that can be poisonous. This comparison is not only a creative way of describing George's unhappiness but also a way to dramatize that unhappiness. Working on the plantation (where he has fewer freedoms than the factory) makes George feel even more restricted and inhuman. George also uses a metaphor when he tells Eliza that his life is "burning out." The image of a flame being extinguished, representing a transition from death to life, suggests death or a lack of vitality. 

These vivid assertions underscore the severe psychological, physical, and emotional toll life as a slave has taken on George, as well as the overall injustice of George's adversity. Overtime, slavery has drained the life out of him, in this instance literally eating away at his soul. Beecher Stowe uses this figurative language to allow the reader to gain access to George's thoughts and emotions. This, in turn, allows the reader to better understand George's motivations for running away from the plantation. This was important, as Beecher Stowe wanted readers to see just how cruel slavery was, especially in light of the recent Fugitive Slave Act. Many northerners had misconceived notions about slavery, and Beecher Stowe wrote purposefully in order to counter such beliefs. 

Chapter 13: The Quaker Settlement
Explanation and Analysis—Fears like Fog:

In Chapter 13, the narrator uses a simile to describe George’s experience being around the Quakers who take him in: 

It was the first time that ever George had sat down on equal terms at any white man's table; and he sat down, at first, with some constraint, and awkwardness; but they all exhaled and went off like fog, in the genial morning rays of this simple overflowing kindness.

Beecher Stowe uses figurative language to underscore the negative effect racism and life as a slave has had on George's psyche. Like fog, this fear is all-pervasive and offers no light, representing despair and suffering. George's anxieties seem to nearly overtake him, but the "overflowing kindness" and sense of welcome and respect he receives from the Quakers literally dissolves his worries. The Quakers' kindness, moreover, is depicted as a powerful presence and a literal force that cuts through George's despair. In turn, Beecher Stowe offers a lesson to her readers about the importance of generosity. 

The descriptive physical depiction of George's mental state also allows the reader to gain insight into his emotions, which was also part of Beecher Stowe's persuasive strategy. Beecher Stowe makes an appeal to the reader's emotions time and time again in the novel, especially when it comes to the plight of the novel's enslaved characters. Beecher Stowe knew many of her readers were northerners who had mistaken notions about what slavery was like. Many of them believed it was a relatively harmless system. Through the use of figurative language like the simile above, Beecher Stowe underscores the fact that it was a destructive and evil force. 

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Chapter 40: The Martyr
Explanation and Analysis—Tom's Death:

Beecher Stowe uses vivid imagery and figurative language to emphasize and foreshadow Tom's death throughout Chapter 40, which is fittingly titled "The Martyr." In the passage below, note how Beecher Stowe uses simile to underscore Uncle Tom’s intense emotions once he hears he is to be murdered:

The savage words none of them reached that ear!—a higher voice there was saying, “Fear not them that kill the body, and, after that, have no more that they can do.” Nerve and bone of that poor man’s body vibrated to those words, as if touched by the finger of God; and he felt the strength of a thousand souls in one. As he passed along, the trees and bushes, the huts of his servitude, the whole scene of his degradation, seemed to whirl by him as the landscape by the rushing car.

The narrator compares Tom's reaction to the feeling of being touched by "the finger of God." The physical, anatomical description in the phrase "nerve and bone" is visceral and speaks to the violence of the threat against Tom's life. Tom's death is a crucial moment in the narrative and is the novel's climax. His refusal to obey Legree symbolizes his Christian faith and goodness, and in that moment, he becomes a martyr. 

In turn, Beecher Stowe's religious tone and melodramatic language is part of her persuasive strategy, as she was appealing to a religious audience. At the very end of the novel, Uncle Tom's death becomes a source of inspiration for the abolitionist cause. Inspired by Tom's sacrifice, George Shelby vows to free his slaves, a promise he fulfills once he returns to the Shelby plantation.

Another instance of foreshadowing occurs again in Chapter 40 when Tom overhears Simon Legree tell Sam and Quimbo to fetch him: 

Tom heard the message with a forewarning heart; for he knew all the plan of the fugitives’ escape, and the place of their present concealment;—he knew the deadly character of the man he had to deal with, and his despotic power. But he felt strong in God to meet death, rather than betray the helpless.

The phrase "forewarning heart" immediately suggests to the reader that Tom is aware he is in danger. Once again, Beecher Stowe uses this phrase to foreshadow Tom's death in a memorable way. 

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