Slavery in the Novel “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”

How realistically and credibly does Stowe present slavery? Stowe presents slavery in the only way she knows how, by using the facts. Several sources of other works in American literature contrast on to how Stowe presents slavery in her novel “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.” The elements of slavery are driven through the reflections of theme, characterization, and setting to show that the way slavery is presented is not contradicting.

Through the character of Mrs. Shelby, Stowe seems to use her opposition against slavery the most. Mrs. Shelby’s character realizes that slavery is unfair, unjust, and most of all unchristian. This theme of opposition of slavery can be compared to that of Henry David Thoreau, a transcendentalist in early American history. Thoreau was the author of a book entitled “Civil Disobedience” in which he expressed his views against slavery and the way the government did nothing to put an end to it.

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I bring up Thoreau because he was like Mrs. Shelby in a way. They both sided with the slaves, rather than go with the majority to say that slavery was a just cause. Deep down, morally, they knew it was wrong to control the life of another human being and not give them the freedom in which God intended for all. Thoreau tried to fight slavery in different ways than Mrs. Shelby, but they both had the same intent, to treat everyone equal regardless of their skin color. Thoreau went to the source of the problem, the government. This is where Thoreau was able to try and get through to a higher authority. He did this by gathering protests in Massachusetts where a slave was being held for fleeing from the south for a chance at freedom.

Where as Mrs. Shelby posses the same ideas as Thoreau, but she helps slaves in other ways. Mrs. Shelby does in fact go against the government though, at this point in “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” she helps slaves try to escape to Canada where they will be free of their slave owners. One example of this is when Mrs. Shelby distracts the slave traders to allow more time for Eliza to escape further away (Heath Anthology P. 2316).

It was at this point that Mrs. Shelby, in contrast to Eliza, never has had the courage to denounce slavery. This was realistic because it was an example of the Underground Railroad, which was a secret network of people who helped runaway slaves find safety in the north to Canada. In addition to the Connection of slavery in this novel, it reflects that of Frederick Douglas’ characterization with Tom from “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.” Frederick Douglas was an American slave who escaped the south. Douglas wrote a folk song called “Steal Away To Jesus” which told a story of slaves escaping to the north away from slavery (P. 2655).

This is also similar to Eliza running off to Canada. Another similar aspect of Douglas’ experiences and Stowe’s novel deals with the opportunity to learn to read. Douglas was a slave who had the chance to learn to read and write just like Tom did in Stowe’s novel. Douglas saw that he had the chance to learn to read, so he took it before he had to move on to another slave owner (P. 1780). Douglas learns to read from a white mistress related to his slave owner (P. 1776).

This was similar to how Tom learned to read in the novel. Both of these characters had a huge advantage over the other slaves by being able to read and write. They were able to use their newly found talents to teach others. Stowe realistically presents slavery, because every aspect of it is true and has been backed up by several sources. She shows the truth and evidence to what slaves had to go through in America.


  1. All sources cited for this essay were taken from The Heath Anthology of American Literature in which they were cited by the page number.

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