Uncle Toms Cabin
How Accurate
Few books can truly be said to have altered the course of history, and even fewer can be said to have started an entire war. Uncle Tom’s Cabin, written by Harriet Beecher Stowe was one novel to do both. Abraham Lincoln said to Harriet Beecher Stowe upon meeting her, “So this is the little lady who made this big war. Uncle Toms Cabin had a tremendous effect on early 19th century thoughts of slavery, stirring abolitionist support in the North. The novel is a realistic, although fictional, view of slavery with the images of brutal beatings and unfair slave practices. After reading Uncle Toms Cabin thousand of Northerners became impassioned for the anti-slavery cause. Uncle Tom’s Cabin helped eventually, to turn the tide of public opinion against slavery in the 19th century.

This controversial novel was initially written to question slavery, convince people of its immorality and to promote the abolitionist cause. The novels rendering of the slave holding South is not entirely an accurate interpretation of what it was like though. Beecher overexaggerated and overlooked several facts in novel, especially pertaining to the practice of slave trading. To have her readers empathize more with the slaves, Beecher put the worst stories in and the cruelest practices of the slave trade. Although most of Uncle Toms Cabin is very close to the reality of slavery, many aspects of the slave trade were portrayed inaccurately (Taylor).
One of the first miscalculated aspects of the slave trade is the reason for Southern states involvement in the interstate slave trade. Stowe depicted Kentuckys involvement in the slave trade due to the poor soil of the region and economic ties with the practice. She implied in the beginning half of the novel that many Kentuckians resorted to being bondmen in the slave trade due to the infertile land of the Bluegrass Region. On the contrary, Kentucky where the bulk of the slave trade was supposedly concentrated has long been blessed with great fertility. The high phosphorus content and the goodly depth of soil results in land favorable for cultivation (Levy). Stowes explanation for why Kentucky became involved in the slave trade was misguided.
She also inaccurately displays the importance of the slave trade in the Southern economy. She makes it out to be a big business and in common place among many traders. In the novel Stowe starts chapter ten with Tom about to be sold off to the slave trader Haley. His whole family knows that Tom has been traded and is devastated about the situation. Stowe comments on the hardships of slave life and the fear of being sold at a moments notice when she states in her narrative voice that many of the fugitives confessed themselves to have escaped from comparatively kind masters, and that they were induced to brave the perils of escape, in almost every case, by the desperate horror with which they regarded being sold South,–a doom which was hanging either over themselves or their husbands, their wives or children.She goes on to say that there is a lot of money to be made by the industry. In a later section she depicts a slave warehouse where she reiterates the fact that the slaves are horrified to be sold. She goes on to further saying that many slaves are sold many times in their lives for whatever reason. Briskness, alertness, and cheerfulness of appearance, especially before observers, are constantly enforced upon them, both by the hope of thereby getting a good master, and the fear of all that the driver may bring upon them if they prove unsalable. True, many Southerners relied on slaves for their livelihood and at the time the biggest business in the South was agriculture. But the actual amount of people that made money of slaves was less than Stowe depicts. Out of the $61 million invested on slave property in 1840s Virginia, the state brought in less than 3% profit on the investment capital (Levy). The truth of the matter was that slaves were not a good investment. An estimated 75% of the slave trade in the upper South was superannuated, sick, women in unfit condition for labor, and infants unable to work ( Taylor ). Bondmen werent that important, and in fact their numbers were seeing decrease at the time Stowe published Uncle Toms Cabin. The total percentage of bondmen in Kentucky population had stood at 24 percent of white males in 1830, but by 160 it saw its decrease to 19.5 percent. The South didnt rely on slavery for profit and the few that did didnt make that much money at it.
One of the incorrect stereotypes in Uncle Toms Cabin was the depiction of what the public thought of slave traders. One description of a trader in chapter 12 was “O, but nobody thinks anything of these traders! They are universally despised, –never received into any decent society.”. Stowes generalization of them is mostly true. The general public did not approve the slave trading business or, for that matter a majority of the prominent slave holders. One slave owner in Kentucky stated that, to be called such a lowly creature as a negro trader was the last word of opprobrium to be slung at a man. Stowe makes the readers think that Slave traders are the scum of the earth and that everyone hates them.
One of the inaccuracies that Stowe uses in Uncle Toms Cabin is why exactly a slave was sold. First of all she has Tom having three different owners throughout the course of the book. In one statistic it was shown that the average slave had one owner in their life, with less than 40% of the slave population having three or more masters in the course of their life (Taylor). One or more of the following factors dictated the sale of a servant: When such a sale was necessary to settle an estate. Much like that of St. Clares after he died, he didnt put anything in his will about them so Marie sold them to the warehouse. When a slaves delinquent behavior necessitated his or her disposal, they were also sold. When the owner was in dire need of money for the payment of debt, they were also sold. This is seen with Mr. Shelby at the beginning of the book. He owes a large sum of money to Haley so he is forced to sell Henry and Tom. Also when a captured fugitive slave is unclaimed for one year, or simple desire of material gain. Stowe had depicted two in one lifetime of a slave, this is an over exaggeration of the circumstances of trade (Levy). It wasnt a delicate issue, and owners didnt trade their slaves unless absolutely necessary.
Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote a stunning portrayal of slavery at the time she wrote the story, and in doing so included the worst stories she could find. Although she conveys many truths about certain aspects of the industry, she also overexaggerates what slave trading was like. She made traders out to be far crueler then many were. She also wrote about the importance of traders in the economy, although they had very little. Even though exaggerated the grim portrayals of slavery helped to fan support across the nation for abolitionism. So although she exaggerated her facts, Stowes rendition of slavery accomplished exactly what she had planned for it to do and thankfully too. Without this book we might not have awakened to the evils that the system promoted.

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