Monday, December 12, 2011

Uncle Tom's Cabin.

Growing up - a child of the 1950's - I loved to watch The Twilight Zone. However, for reasons I never quite understood, we were never able to watch the program at home, but could watch it whenever we visited my cousins.

One of the scarier episodes, from my perspective, was the one entitled Time Enough at Last, starring Burgess Meredith as a bookworm who finally has the time to read all the books he wants after an "H-Bomb Capable of Total Destruction" leaves him the sole survivor of a nuclear war.

His character,Henry Bemis winds up at a public library with enough books to last a life time. While sorting the books, his glasses fall from his face, completely shattering, and leaving him virtually blind and unable to read.

I suppose, if I were to find myself the sole survivor after an Apocalypse, I'd make make my home in a public I understand the frustration of Henry Bemis.

For me, the closest think to living in a public library is my being able to access more than 36,000 free ebooks from Project Gutenberg. The ebooks are available as mobi, so I can download them to my PC and transfer the books to my Kindle at my convenience.

I've just finished reading Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe; I'm currently reading Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass by Frederick Douglass.

Next on the list is The Narrative of William W. Brown, a Fugitive Slave by William Wells Brown .

I can see why Uncle Tom's Cabin was the best-selling novel of the 19th century. It's an extremely powerful work - a bit "sentimental" in sections, but it's theme extolling the power of Christian love brought tears to my eyes.

The book is one that I've known about nearly my entire life but was never encouraged to read.
Perhaps the answer to that question has something to do with my having grown up in the southern United States - an area of the country that didn't take kindly to the novel when it was published in 1852. The novel gives an accurate portrait of slave owners in the antebellum South, and we all know that the truth very often hurts.

Today, being called an "Uncle Tom" is considered an insult to most in the black community. It wasn't always that way. Frederick Douglas was a friend of Stowe's and spoke highly of the book.

From Slave narratives and Uncle Tom's Cabin :

"It is ironic that the book which contributed most to the anti-slavery cause should have gained the reputation it has today as a racist work. Uncle Tom, though he defies white authority to save his fellow slaves, is the model of Christian humility. He is forgiving in the face of absolute brutality and suffers countless indignities with patience. Though this endeared him to whites and helped them see the evils of slavery, it also encouraged the image of the submissive, childlike black man -- an idea exaggerated in theatrical productions of Uncle Tom's Cabin. Many of these showed Uncle Tom as a groveling, subservient character, and included blackface mistrel shows between scenes.

Like most white writers of her day, Harriet Beecher Stowe could not escape the racism of the time. Because of this, her work has some serious flaws, which in turn have helped perpetuate damaging images of African Americans. However, the book, within its genre of romance, was enormously complex in character and in its plots. The book outraged the South, and in the long run, that is its significance."

Many credit Uncle Tom's Cabin with fueling the abolitionist cause and help bring about the Civil War. Perhaps the pro-life movement today could use our own Harriet Beecher Stowe and our own Uncle Tom's Cabin.

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