The 19th century’s best-selling novel

Uncle Tom's Cabin Literature Reading Writing Books Novels


Since I was never forced to read Uncle Tom’s Cabin in high school, I decided to make the effort. As a story, it moves forward consistently and is engaging. Most of the characters enjoy happy endings. As a historical document, however, it is sad and disturbing.

Suspect rumor has it that when Abraham Lincoln first met Harriet Beecher Stowe, the book’s author, he said something like: “So this is the little lady who started this great war.” Indeed, Stowe’s story was the best-selling novel of the 19th century and the second best-selling book after The Bible. It shows slavery in all its naked horror and no doubt galvanized many a timid abolitionist.

Uncle Tom’s constant religiosity didn’t bother me. But Stowe’s racism, her clear-cut, assured racism, ruined the book for me, especially because it was coming from a supposedly enlightened abolitionist. The passage above is not the story’s status quo.

I guess the novel’s place in high school reading lists is valid in that it teaches kids about being tragically wrong as a society.  It’s just sad and disturbing that there’s no better book with which to do it.

Read Bogotá, June 2013.


  1. khronikos

    Thanks for linking to us! The post “Women and the Power of Persuasion in the Nineteenth Century” provides one explanation for why Stowe’s work should be part of the classics canon not only for what it teaches us about race relations and the horrors of slavery, but for what it reveals about women’s role in society generally and abolitionism specifically.

    Love the concept of your blog.

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