Uncle Tom’s Legacy

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Words are powerful things sometimes they change the minds of a whole nation, sometimes they start wars.  Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe is such a book.

Simply written in the style of the characters (written contemporary with the events in the book) the story follows two threads, that of Uncle Tom a faithful slave sold by his reluctant master to pay of a debt and that of George and Eliza a couple that run away in the hope of creating a new life for themselves and their son Harry. 

All sorts of masters and situations face the characters in their bids for freedom.  It is easy to dismiss the event of the book as fiction but Harriet Beecher Stowe researched through personal experience, friends, family and media stories of the time to provide her with the events described.  She very clearly states that all events and characters in the book are from reality.  The Key to Uncle Tom’s cabin is a book she wrote soon after to provide case studies that informed her work. 

For me, the book spoke of three big themes:  slavery, freedom and faith.

Slavery (the ownership of another person as if property) in all it’s forms distorts owned and owner into the worst of humanity.  One to a lowly animal the other a cold-hearted managers and in the worst, psychopaths.  For the sake of both the slave and the master the practice of owning people can not be allowed.

Freedom is more than the ability to do what the like, it is the ownership of your own life and destiny. At the end of the book, young George Shelby asks his recent emancipated servant to remind themselves of how precious their freedom is, “Think of your freedom, every time you see Uncle Tom’s Cabin.”  I think that those of us living in peace and safety all our lives too often take our freedom for granted.  The ownership of our own lives is our most precious posession we have and Uncle Tom’s cabin can be a symbol to even us who’ve known nothing but being able to do our own minds.

At the very end Uncle Tom faces either rejecting of God and his standards or death.  By this time Tom had already dealt with a very low point in his life where he felt abandoned by God, but it was the realisation that his cruel owner can only own (and take) his life but can never own his soul.  This power of faith allowed Tom to accept the hardships of the now (of the short time) knowing that his future (forever) was secure.  Intellectually all Christians know this, but how many live a life of no fear?  I can tell you I don’t and Uncle Tom is my reminder that the worst that we can do to each other is nothing compared to the glory to come.

I picked it up…because I’d heard of it and was ready for a challenge, or so I thought.

I kept reading…because of the honesty of the story, the beauty (or at least the reality) of the character and the urgency of message the book was imparting.  I knew I had to stick it out and hear it all.

I would recommend it to… those who don’t mind being confronted with the truth of humanity the good and the bad.  Those who feel they need to be stirred either in their faith or their moral position.

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