The Little Woman Who Made the Great War

Upon meeting Harriet Beecher Stowe in 1862, Abraham Lincoln supposedly said “Is this the little woman who made this great war?”

I found a secondhand paperback edition of Stowe’s novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin awhile back and decided to read it since it is one of the key books in U.S. history.  It’s actually pretty short, 180 pages in this version.  It’s an easy, straightforward read in a simple style, perhaps too simple for today’s tastes, but is extremely effective in conveying its anti-slavery message.   The first novel with a black hero, it’s really about family, both legal families and people we treat as family in the moral sense.

Elisa on ice

Elisa on the ice floes

Simon Legree

Tom and Simon Legree

Before reading this, the only image I had was Eliza fleeing across the Ohio River ice floes with her child to reach Ohio, but that’s only part of the story.  It involves several storylines and I didn’t realize this was the introduction of the villain Simon Legree.

The book’s notes comment on the contemporary expression “an Uncle Tom” as being an overly humble and subservient black.  This is far too simplistic.  Tom is a decent man who is a product of his times — morally superior to his masters, but he has no way of realizing that.  He simply does what he thinks is right, and that’s not a bad trait to copy.

By the way, there is a Harriet Beecher Stowe Center, which “uses Stowe’s life and work to inspire YOU to change your world.”

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