The most famous work known today written to reveal the evils of slavery was Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Stowe, a white woman, met many slaves escaping to freedom to the North and wrote her novel based on the stories she heard from those who lived them.
The story revolves around two individuals, Tom who was sold away from his family and the master he had known his entire life and Eliza who flees from her master in order to keep her son and save him from being sold to a heartless trader. In one scene, Stowe writes of a minor character Tom encounters. In it, the woman, a slave, finds her infant sold right out of her hands and deems suicide the only option:
The woman had been sitting with her baby in her arms, now wrapped in a heavy sleep….
When the boat, creaking, and groaning, and puffing, had loosed from the wharf, and was beginning slowly to strain herself along, the woman returned to her old seat. The trader was sitting there, the child was gone!
“Why, why, where?” she began, in bewildered surprise.
“Lucy,” said the trader, “your child’s gone; you may as well know it first as last. You see, I know’d you couldn’t take him down south; and I got a chance to sell him to a first-rate family, that’ll raise him better than you can.” ……
But the woman did not scream. The shot had passed too straight and direct through the heart, for cry or tear….
At midnight, Tom waked, with a sudden start. Something black passed quickly by him to the side of the boat, and he heard a splash in the water. No one else saw or heard anything. He raised his head, the woman’s place was vacant! He got up, and sought about him in vain. The poor bleeding heart was still, at last, and the river rippled and dimpled just as brightly as if it had not closed above it.
A slave is being sold, but the trader does not what the baby. He sells the baby to another, but waits until he can steal the child from the mother with less drama. He doesn’t care about her pain. He wants to avoid the tears and screams. He just wants the baby gone and the money in his pocket.
All the time, another slave is being transported and watches the whole episode. He is the only one who sees the woman loss all heart and jumps in the river. He is a wise man who knows that resistance is futile in his position, but he will be able to influence the thoughts of others through peaceful means. His heart is heavy for the woman who gives up on life instead of pushing forward.
The Dark Side
The cruel results of slavery was explored while not casting the entire institution in a dark light. Stowe explored the kind slave owners and their situation of tied hands against the larger voice of the institution that cried out for harsh treatment and laws that kept the slave bound in a state of darkness. Her novel exploded on the American scene in 1852 and became one of the most talked about piece of fiction works. Abolitionists embraced the story and used it as their flag to show the cruelty slavery inflicted on people who had minds, hearts, and souls.
Books Helped the Fight Against Slavery
Through the written word, slavery was fought. Though fought on the battlefield where blood was spilled, it was also fought through the mighty pen. Politicians wrote out powerful speeches that were spoken from platforms such as the corner in a small town all the way to the stage in Congress. Ministers wrote sermons that reverberated throughout the nation supporting both sides of the conflict. Every day people wrote essays discussing the religious and scientific support for their side.
The voices of the fugitive slaves were heard through their own accounts giving life to the debate that was darker than most realized. Even fiction had the power to move the common man as it dramatized the life of a slave to a point where even the reader of the works was pulled in and felt emotion at every point of the story. Political pamphlets, sermons, and fictional works helped to propel the nation to a conflict that would forever change the nation and end a peculiar tradition that had become unique to America.