Uncle Tom’s Cabin

Harriet Beecher Stowe
Main Ideas

Key Facts

Main Ideas Key Facts

full title  Uncle Tom’s Cabin or, Life Among the Lowly

author  Harriet Beecher Stowe

type of work  Novel

genre  Anti-slavery novel, novel of social protest

language  English

time and place written  1850–1851; Brunswick, Maine

date of first publication  1851

publisher  The National Era (serial publication)

narrator  The narrator is sometimes omniscient—informed of the histories of the various characters unknown to other participants in the plot—and sometimes a plausible real person, reporting what he or she has perceived or experienced. In both modes, however, the narrator is far from objective and often lectures the reader.

point of view  The novel is told largely in the third person but often in the second. The narrative enters the minds of many of the characters but sympathizes mostly with the slaves in the book.

tone  Stowe’s attitude toward the story seems to be identical with that of the narrator.

tense  Past

setting (time)  Around the early 1850s

setting (place)  The American South (Kentucky and Louisiana). Eliza and George’s escape takes them through Ohio and several Northern Quaker settlements, then into Canada.

protagonist  Uncle Tom in the main narrative; Eliza and George Harris in the subplot

major conflict  Whether practiced by kind or cruel masters, slavery injects misery into the lives of Southern blacks, testing their courage and their faith.

rising action  Uncle Tom comes to live under increasingly evil masters; his faith begins to falter; while working at the Legree plantation, he encourages Cassy and Emmeline to escape; he refuses to compromise his values by helping Legree hunt them down

climax  The sequence of events surrounding Uncle Tom’s renewal of religious faith and his death, Chapters XXXVIII-LXI

falling action  George Shelby’s emancipation of his slaves in Chapter XLIII, which is motivated by his witnessing Tom’s death

themes  The evil of slavery; the incompatibility of slavery and Christian values; the moral power of women

motifs  Christ figures; idealized women; the supernatural

symbols  Uncle Tom’s cabin (the destructive power of slavery and the power of Christian love to defeat it); Eliza’s leap across the Ohio River (the transition from slavery to freedom); geography (North represents freedom, South represents slavery and oppression)

foreshadowing  Eva’s statement that she will soon join the angels foreshadows her death.