Home > african american news, african american politics > The Reality of Uncle Tom’s Cabin: Why Reading Is Fundamental

The Reality of Uncle Tom’s Cabin: Why Reading Is Fundamental

Elliot Millner

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.

  1. Carmon
    September 12, 2011 at 3:12 pm

    I agree with you on this. I read the book about four years ago and it was very moving. Uncle Tom was a very noble character and any man should be proud to be called an Uncle Tom. It is sad how one person can read the book or hear about it and turn this character into someone that he was not. He was not a coward, he was not weak. Stowe did an awesome job with this book. The book is long, but the writing style is very fluid. I would recommend that everyone read it for themselves.

  2. December 22, 2011 at 8:37 pm

    In todays society the word phase “Uncle Tom” was expressed to me in my youth

    that an Uncle was subservient, ignorant , and weak. A person who could not or would not speak for themsevles.

    I lost a job with over 25 years of service in trusting and beliving that my Union had my best interest.

    I come to realize that my Union was working in the best interest of my employer.

    I think before a person such as Uncle Tom the character as portrayed in the book, each individual should check themsevles to seeing if they portray such character, that depicts some one who is insecure and lacks self confidence.

    I beleive that all of us who have journied this life have had to mature to a level of confidence.

    However its those who remain in ingnorance that keeps the dispicable taboo of being an Uncle Tom.

  3. Axiomatic
    January 9, 2012 at 4:12 pm

    Exactly Right! I thought all elementary students had to read the book, and indeed, the character represented – to me – a bit if irony, as this “poor runaway slave” had more moral compass than all the entire white world.

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