Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote Uncle Tom's Cabin in order to demonstrate the “living dramatic reality” of slavery. The novel protests the horrors of this institution: the way it degrades black men and women and gives absolute power to slaveowners and thereby corrupts them. The novel portrays and explores various “kinds” of slavery. The Shelbys treat Uncle Tom and other slaves as part of a separate, “childlike” addition to the family. Augustine St. Clare allows his slaves the run of the household, understands the evil of the institution, but feels he cannot stop it—until it’s too late. Simon Legree, the cruelest of all of the slave masters depicted, works his slaves as hard as possible, dominating them so fully that he often kills them. Miss Ophelia, who does not own slaves and represents Northern anti-slavery abolitionist views, has trouble even touching the black girl Topsy, whom she tutors. Through these various depictions, Beecher Stowe argues that all forms of slavery, “benevolent” or not, lead to immorality among blacks and whites, and an unchristian life, and further points out that slavery is a complex system, involving Northern business interests as well as Southern ownership.
At the same time, Stowe's conception of race can feel out of sync with contemporary values, and, at its worst, racist itself. In particular, Uncle Tom's love of his masters has been interpreted, by some, as a misplaced loyalty to a dominant white culture. An understanding of slavery in Uncle Tom's Cabin requires at least some separation of the author's anti-slavery message from the attitudes and language of her time and place. But it is certainly not incorrect to argue that while Beecher Stowe was strongly anti-slavery she did not in fact believe that the races were created equal.
Slavery and Race ThemeTracker
Slavery and Race Quotes in Uncle Tom's Cabin
Lor bless ye, yes! These critters an’t like white folks, you know; they gets over things, only manage right.
How easy white folks al’us does things!
Uncle Tom was a sort of patriarch in religious matters . . . . Having, naturally, an organization in which the morale was strongly predominant, together with a greater breadth and cultivation of mind than obtained among his companions . . . .
This is God’s curse on slavery!—a bitter, bitter, most accursed thing!—a curse to the master and a curse to the slave! I was a fool to think I could make anything good out of such a deadly evil.
You ought to be ashamed, John! Poor, homeless, houseless creatures! It’s a shameful, wicked, abominable law, and I’ll break it, for one, the first time I get a chance . . . .
But you haven’t got us. We don’t own your laws; we don’t own your country; we stand here as free, under God’s sky, as you are; and, by the great God that made us, we’ll fight for our liberty till we die.
On this abstract question of slavery there can, as I think, be but one opinion. Planters, who have money to make by it—clergymen, who have planters to please—politicians, who want to rule by it—may warp and bend language . . . they can press nature and the Bible . . . into their service; but, after all, neither they nor the world believe in it one particle the more.
But, of course, I didn’t want you to confess things you didn’t do . . . that’s telling a lie, just as much as the other.
Now, I’m principled against emancipating, in any case. Keep a Negro under the care of a master, and he does well enough . . . but set them free, and they get lazy, and won’t work, and take to drinking . . . .
O, Mas’r! don’t bring this great sin on your soul. It will hurt you more than ‘twill me! Do the worst you can, my troubles’ll be over soon; but, if ye don’t repent, yours won’t never end!
I trust that the development of Africa is to be essentially a Christian one. If not a dominant and commanding race, they are, at least, an affectionate, magnanimous, and forgiving one.
A day of grace is yet held out to us. Both North and South have been guilty before God; and the Christian church has a heavy account to answer . . . .For, not surer is the eternal law by which the millstone sinks in the ocean, than that stronger law, by which injustice and cruelty shall bring on nations the wrath of Almighty God!