Themes in Uncle Tom's Cabin

The theme of a novel is the general vision of life or the more explicit proposition about human experience that the literary work conveys. There is a special variety of theme known as a moral, an exhortation to good behavior that may take the form of a maxim, a proverbial formula that tells us how to get along in life.


Harriet Beecher Stowe



Occasionally an author may use a wise and articulate character as a spokesperson who addresses us either through the narrator’s exposition or in dialogue within a framework of objective dramatization.

The Evil of Slavery

Stowe's main target is to show the evils of slavery in the black people's life, in their family and in their community. She wrote Uncle Tom's Cabin after the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 was passed. This law restricts the northerners to help the runaway slaves. Stowe's anguish is expressed in the form of a novel which directly attacks the law and the institution that protect the sinful slavery that does not count the humanity. Her utmost effort is to convince the then reader of her time that slavery is evil, sin, unchristian and intolerable in the civilized society.

The slaves at the houses of Mr. Shelby and St. Clares were treated well and kindly. But, Stowe wants to depict the reality of kind masters that though they did not torture the slaves they did not speak for their rights and their freedom either. The kind master's ability to bear the slavery make them hypocritical and morally weak. These masters also did not hesitate to take the advantage of slavery system at the time of necessity. Mr. Shelby, to undue his debt, destroys Tom’s family by selling the humble Tom. Tom has to live away from his wife and children for the sake of his master's personal interest. His familial bond was not counted. Though Mrs. Shelby promised Eliza not to sell her son, she could not keep her promise. Knowing the fact, Eliza ran away with her son and with much struggle and difficulty she reached the Free State. When Uncle Tom was sold at the hand of Simon Legree, the worst and the hideous condition of slavery is depicted in the novel. The dull and harsh setting of the south and the cruel heart of Simon Legree contribute a lot in the suffering of slaves. The humble and obeying slaves suffer beatings, sexual abuse, and even murder. Uncle Tom has to die because he helps other slaves in the plantation and his moral virtue irritates Simon Legree.

Stowe wants to present her notion that slavery is wrong in the best of circumstances and in the worst of cases it is nightmarish and inhuman. So, in any situation, slavery is always wrong, evil, and inhuman practice.

Slavery & Christian Values

Stowe wrote the novel, especially for the Christian reader to justify the fact that the slavery system and principle of Christianity oppose each other. She wants to convey that all the Christian should not tolerate the system of slavery. Stowe portrays the more a character is religious the more he or she hates slavery and goes against it. Eva, the most morally faultless white character in the novel does not understand why people would see a difference between blacks and whites. Whereas the morally degraded, nonreligious Simon Legree follows slavery as his own code of conduct. He tortures the slaves and when Uncle Tom goes against his will, not to read the Bible, he thrashes him to death. Stowe wants to prove that Christianity carries the theme of universal love. So, if all people put it into practice, it would be almost impossible for one race to be dominated by another.  Christianity, as intolerant of slavery, can be used as the combat against slavery. 

Women's Moral Power

Stowe wrote Uncle Tom's Cabin before the progression of the women's rights movement of the late 1800s. Still we can find some traces of early feminism in her novel. The novel depicts some women as morally conscientious, committed, and courageous than men. During the course of the novel, the reader finds many cases of perfect mature women, mothers and wives who find redemption for their morally inferior husbands or sons. For examples, Mrs. Bird, St. Clare's mother, Legree's mother, and, to a lesser extent, Mrs. Shelby. The novel also reveals black women in a very positive light. Eliza is shown as a strong mother, a brave woman to save her son from slavery and a capable lady to face any difficulty to rescue her son. In some cases, some women's immoral act, like Prue in her drunkenness and Cassy's infanticide is justified in the light of slavery's evil effect. The novel tries to convince the female reader to use their inherent and natural sense of goodness to fight against the social evil like slavery.