Uncle Tom's Cabin


Harriet Beecher Stowe

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Uncle Tom's Cabin: Style 1 key example

Chapter 7: The Mother’s Struggle
Explanation and Analysis:

Uncle Tom's Cabin's style is formal, sentimental, and melodramatic. At the time of the novel's publication, most American citizens were unaware of the hardships African Americans faced while living under the system of slavery. Beecher Stowe was an active abolitionist and opposed the institution of slavery; she explicitly wrote the novel Uncle Tom's Cabin to be an anti-slavery tract—essentially a sermon in the form of a novel meant to convince a Christian audience of slavery's moral wrong. Because of this intention, Beecher Stowe writes with purpose, using specific language that will appeal to the reader's emotions throughout the novel. In turn, Beecher Stowe places the reader in a certain frame of mind and mood, allowing them to better understand and empathize with the novel's characters. 

Uncle Tom's Cabin is written from the point of view of an omniscient narrator, and this narrator often provides commentary that is either critical or ironic. Occasionally, Beecher Stowe uses the second-person perspective in the form of a direct address to the reader. In Chapter 7, for example, the narrator declares: 

If it were your Harry, mother, or your Willie, that were going to be torn from you by a brutal trader, to-morrow morning,—if you had seen the man, and heard that the papers were signed and delivered, and you had only from twelve o’clock till morning to make good your escape,—how fast could you walk? How many miles could you make in those few brief hours, with the darling at your bosom,—the little sleepy head on your shoulder,—the small, soft arms trustingly holding on to your neck?

This direct appeal to the reader to place themselves in the position of someone who is enslaved—in this case Eliza, who is horrified to learn her son has been sold—is another example of pathos. In the passage above, Beecher Stowe not only uses the second person but also provides vivid details that strike the reader's imagination, allowing them to feel as though they are experiencing slavery's horrors for themselves. All in all, Stowe's mission was successful; Uncle Tom's Cabin galvanized readers upon publication, garnering praise from abolitionists while igniting protest from slavery's defenders.