The Reality of Uncle Tom’s Cabin: Why Reading Is Fundamental
In this recent Op-Ed piece, the author provides an excellent account of how Uncle Tom’s Cabin, by Harriet Beecher Stowe, went from being considered by proponents of slavery as one of the most dangerous books written, to having one of its main characters, Uncle Tom, become synonymous with cowardly, traitorous behavior.
Uncle Tom’s Cabin caused quite a bit of confusion for me when I read it back in middle school. I had already become familiar with the common usage of the term “Uncle Tom” as it pertained to a Black male, but in reading the book, I couldn’t match what I was reading with the meaning given to the term. Was I missing something, or was I just such a ‘Uncle Tom’ that I didn’t even recognize what was wrong with Tom’s actions in the book? So, if ‘Uncle Tom’ was what people now used the term to describe, then wouldn’t that mean that the things he represented, such as being willing to sacrifice himself for others, and being unwilling to “snitch” on his friends, were negative characteristics?
It has become popular nowadays for people to say that they realize that the term ‘Uncle Tom’ isn’t an accurate reflection of the man represented in the book. To be honest, having never seen a play version of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, I was unaware of the way that Uncle Tom had been represented over the years (in typical ‘Sambo fashion), which probably had a lot to do with the lasting view of the character from the book. However, if you actually do a little bit of digging, you’ll find that many of these people who claim to have such an enlightened view of Uncle Tom, have still never actually read the book. Ask them about different characters or situations, and you’ll likely get back a blank stare.
It is better to read something and come up with a unique opinion, than to simply repeat what you hear others saying because it sounds good. That is the definition of ignorance and being a follower. If more of us had actually read the book, then maybe Uncle Tom’s name wouldn’t have been dragged through the mud for all these years, and come to be defined by the work of others who had no desire to promote the idea of a Black male heroic figure.