Uncle Tom’s Cabin - Racism and Ethics
Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852)
Written by the American, Harriet Beecher
Stowe (1811-96), pictured right, and set in the early 1850’s.
- A hugely influential anti-slavery book that led to the American Civil War.
- Criticized for Uncle Tomism, the servile obedience of the book’s main character,
Uncle Tom, a slave.
- The first million seller (the biggest seller in the nineteenth century)
- Made into films in 1927 and 1987.
It was the favourite book of...
1. Leo Tolstoy
(writer of War and Peace) - pictured
(the Nazi leader) - pictured right.
Uncle Tom, a good Christian slave in his late 40’s
Arthur and Mrs Shelby, Tom’s owner in Kentucky and his wife
George Shelby, Arthur’s son and Tom’s friend
Eliza, Mrs Shelby’s maid
Augustine St. Clare, Tom’s owner in New Orleans
Eva, St Clare’s daughter
Ophelia, St Clare’s cousin
Simon Legree, Tom’s owner in Louisiana
Cassy, a slave.
In the early 1850’s, the money problems of the kind slave owner, Arthur Shelby, threaten his
Much to his wife’s disgust, he sells two slaves to Mr Haley the slave trader:
- Harry (the young son of her maid, Eliza).
- middle-aged Uncle Tom (who has a wife, Aunt Chloe, and
Eliza finds out and warns Uncle Tom (pictured right in the 1987 film with Cassy - see below).
Although Tom stays behind out of loyalty to his new master, Eliza flees to the
North (where blacks are free) with Harry.
Chased by Haley and his men, they miraculously cross the frozen Ohio River (separating
Kentucky from the North).
Eliza and Harry are helped by:
- the Halliday family (who live in a Quaker settlement).
After Eliza is reunited with her husband,George (who has also escaped), the Quakers help
them to escape to Canada before Haley's slave hunters, Tom Loker and Mr.
Marks, can capture them.
Uncle Tom is taken away on the Mississippi steamboat to be sold, sadly leaving behind his:
- close friend (George, the Shelby’s young son).
Uncle Tom saves a five-year-old white girl, Eva St Clare, from drowning and her grateful father
Augustine St. Clare buys him for their home in New Orleans.
Uncle Tom is happy there and becomes particularly close to Eva, who is a devout Christian like him.
Augustine helps his cousin, Ophelia, to overcome her deep prejudice against blacks by buying
her an abused slave, Topsy (pictured right above in the 1927 film), to educate.
Eva grows very ill and dies, inspiring Ophelia, Topsy and her father to love
everyone, black or white.
Augustine decides to free Tom (Eva's dying request) but, before he can do so, he is killed trying to settle a
Augustine's cruel wife, Marie, sells Tom to a vicious plantation owner in Louisiana,
Emmeline is also bought to replace another slave ,Cassy, as Legree's
- was separated from her daughter.
- killed her second child (because she couldn’t stand losing another one).
Uncle Tom steadfastly:
- keeps his Christian faith.
- refuses to retaliate (despite the savage beatings of Legree and his men).
Uncle Tom dies, forgiving Legree.
Too late, George Selby arrives with money to buy Tom’s freedom, but he helps Emmeline and Cassy in their
Cassy discovers that Eliza is her long lost daughter.
Cassy (pictured right below in the 1927 film), and Emmeline travel to Canada, where they meet Eliza, George
and Harry. They all decide to live in Liberia, the African country created for former American
- returns to his father’s farm in Kentucky.
- buys the freedom of all the slaves there in honour of Tom’s memory.
He tells them to:
- remember Tom every time they see his cabin.
- lead a good Christian life like he did.
Lessons for racism and ethics
1. Morality before legality
Slavery is evil and so must be fought, even if it is legal (as it was in the Southern states).
The book shows the cruelty of slavery, leading to:
- the breaking up of families.
Senator Bird and his wife help Eliza and Harry in Ohio, even though it is illegal to
assist fugitive slaves.
Eliza (Margarita Fischer) is pictured right in the 1927 film.
2. The importance of love
Tom has enough humility to:
- selflessly give his love to others (like Cassy and Emmeline) .
- forgive his enemies (like Legree and his overseers).
Tom (James Lowe) is pictured right in the 1927 film.
3. Integrity inspires people
Uncle Tom’s character inspires George Shelby to beg for the freedom of the slaves at his father’s farm.
Tom Loker’s life is transformed by the love of the Quaker settlement that heals him physically and
4. It’s never too late to change
Ophelia loses her racial prejudice through:
This shows Ophelia that black people are equal human beings.
5. Faith is fantastic
Tom and Eva’s faith in God helps them become better people.
Tom keeps his faith, despite:
- the heartbreak of losing his wife and family.
Tom (James Lowe) and Eva (Virginia Grey) are pictured right in the 1927 film.
6. Motivate people by treating them well
One slave owner treats his slaves so well (like “men” not “dogs”)
that they don’t run away .
Arthur Shelby also gets the best from Tom by totally trusting him.
Tom (Avery Brooks) and Cassy (Paula Kelly) are pictured right in the 1987 film
7. Principle before profit
The book shows the depravity of:
- selling people like cattle.
- destroying their dignity and family life.
The evil slave trader, Mr. Haley, forces Arthur Selby to also give him Harry, Eliza's young son, for the price
he paid for Tom.
Key quotes on leadership and management
The number of those men who know how to use wholly irresponsible power humanely and generously is small.
Everybody knows this, and the slave knows it best of all.
Humanity, sir, I may say is the great pillar of my management, Mr Haley (explaining to Mr
Shelby that humanity is taking slave children whilst their parents are busy with something else)
Key quote on ethics
There is one thing that every individual can do – they can see to it that they feel right.
Key quote on business ethics
I’ve got just as much conscience as any man in business can afford to keep,
Key quote on workers
I’ll give ye all the work of my hands ... but my soul I won’t give up, Tom (to Legree, on
refusing to beat another slave)
Two literature websites to