Today's Racial Tensions and Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe
In trying to get a perspective on today's racial issues, I felt it a good idea to get a fresh look at the institution of slavery in America, and so I read Uncle Tom's Cabin, a book written by Harriet Beecher Stowe that helped foment the Civil War. She was a daughter of a famous mid-19th century preacher, and she was an abolitionist who was very familiar with the personal stories of many slaves. I wanted to see slavery on a very personal level through the day-to-day lives and philosophies of the willing and unwilling participants. What were the kind masters like, the cruel masters, the various types of slaves, the bystanders, the North, the South? I wanted to see the motives and the rationales for slavery from these various perspectives and how Christianity fit into the picture.
I thought that the book delivered. It had a flowing, elegant style. The characters were well-drawn and seemed real, the stories were intricate and believable, and the plots fascinating, especially regarding the attempted escapes. It was a painful to read, at times, when you saw the slaves up close, their plight, their dreams, their families broken-up, as well as the astounding depravity of some of the owners. Some of characters were noble in the face of extreme suffering, such as Uncle Tom, and some were cruel beyond measure, like Simon Legree, the slave owner. Others tolerated slavery and rationalized it as a service to a race not prepared to take care of itself (because of what slavery made them into). All aspects of slavery and slave-owning were addressed and rationales explored in fascinating stories that were composites of corresponding real-life dramas. It was clear that all but the most wretched of owners had a troubled conscience about the state of affairs, and well they should. It was also clear that slavery was so settled-in and ingrained that the culture was taken for granted by most people. From the perspective of our time, it seems unbelievable that it ever took root.
Christianity, of course, was also a major theme in the book. The verses of Scripture are directly and indirectly woven into the fabric of the book throughout, in direct quotes, partial quotes, and paraphrases. Also, the power of Scripture is shown in the noble witness of Uncle Tom who was after the character of Christ, one "of whom the world was not worthy" according to the Book of Hebrews. He was painted as a patient and loving "suffering servant" whose testimony was love and the spread of the Gospel even towards his enemies in the midst of his misery. Scriptures are also referred to in defense of slavery, but the case was not strong at all. How could God be in favor of slavery when much of the Old Treatment is about freeing His people from physical bondage in Egypt and much of the New Testament is about freeing God's people from their sin? A rhetorical question for sure!
Uncle Tom's Cabin was haunting to say the least, and should be convicting for our present society in general that it took a book like this and the subsequent Civil War to end slavery.