Uncle Tom’s Cabin was an American novel published in 1852. It was an anti-slavery work written by Harriet Beecher Stowe that highlighted the miserable plight of the slaves in the American South. The novel also advocated an end to slavery – in doing so it became a key piece of the abolitionist literature and movement.
The novel is also said to have played a role in bringing about the Civil War that ultimately ended slavery in the United States.
The novel was first published in serial form in an abolitionist periodical, The National Era. The first installment was published on June 5, 1851 and subsequent installments continued to be published over the next 40 weeks. During its publication, the novel became immensely popular so much so that Stowe was immediately contacted by publishers to have the work turned into a book.
Stowe consented and the novel was published in book form in March, 1852. It became a bestseller in no time, with 300,000 copies sold in the first year of publication alone.
Uncle Tom’s Cabin became a major success and sensation right after its publication. It was published in London in 1852 and soon sold more than 1 million copies in Great Britain. Back in United States, one edition after edition was sold out and the book became the second best-selling work in the United States after Bible.
The novel became a vital piece of the abolitionist movement in the North. It especially highlighted the ills of slavery which, the Northerners argued, were contrary to the spirit of liberty and freedom on which United States was founded. The South, on the other hand, was shocked at the publication of the novel and denounced it in bitter terms. Southern critics called the novel childish, immature and removed from the realities of the pro-slavery South.
Uncle Tom’s Cabin narrates the events in the lives of several African-American slaves in the South. Notable among these characters is Uncle Tom, an elderly slave. Uncle Tom is depicted as someone who firmly adheres to his principles in the face of bitter persecution at the hands of his masters.
The novel also depicts several other characters and the miseries endured by the slaves, such as the separation between slave mothers and their children. The novel also takes up Christian themes as supportive of the abolitionist movement, citing Christian love as the key to overcoming pro-slavery ideas.
Uncle Tom’s Cabin has left a deep and enduring mark on American culture. At the time of its publication, slavery was a divisive issue between the American North and the South. The novel strengthened the argument of the anti-slavery Northerners while stoking the resentment of the pro-slavery Southerners.
It attracted the bitter ire of the South and is believed to have played a notable role in consolidating the North in opposing slavery. Even in the South, the novel dented support for slavery and aroused humane sentiments towards the slaves among some.