Symbols in Uncle Tom's Cabin

Symbols are objects, characters, figures, and colors which are used to represent abstract ideas or concepts in the literary works. A symbol resembles the allegorical sign only in representing something more than itself. Its relationship to the thing signified is natural in that it shares characteristics with the thing being symbolized or is derived from its history, or arouses in the reader's emotions appropriate to it.

Harriet Beecher Stowe

Eliza's Leap

When Eliza overheard the selling of little Harry and saw no way out to save him, she decided to run away from there. After her there were slave catchers. The situation was either do or die, so she took a great leap across the half frozen Ohio River. This scene serves as one of the best symbol in the novel. The leap from the south to the north bank of the river epitomizes the dramatic moment of the progression from slavery to the freedom. To receive the heavenly freedom, she had to risk her life along with her son Harry's life. She showed a great level of heroism in the journey to freedom. The Ohio River stands as a legally accepted division between the south and the north.

Uncle Tom's Cabin

At the end of the novel, when George Shelby lets his slaves go free, he tells them that whenever they look at Uncle Tom’s cabin they should remember their acquired freedom is all contributed by Uncle Tom. The freed slaves must dedicate their lives in the Christianity like Uncle Tom. The view of Uncle Tom's cabin in his area provides a regular reminder to him of the torture Tom underwent as a slave. The cabin stands as a metaphor for Uncle Tom's readiness to suffer and die but not to go against Christian values. He does not want to betray his fellow, but is ready to be beaten and killed by his cruel master. The cabin is the symbol of tolerance, peaceful revolt against slavery, the power of Christian love and the destructive power of slavery.


In Uncle Tom's Cabin Stowe uses two opposite geographies to present two different concepts of slavery and freedom. The North represents freedom and the South epitomizes the slavery and oppression. Two main stories dominate the plot of the novel: the exciting story of Eliza and George and the miserable story of Uncle Tom. The story of Eliza and George provides an escape narrative stating their journey to the Free State to the north, whereas the story of poor Uncle Tom serves as a slave narrative traveling into the deep south state where slavery is prevailed in its worst form. The action in the escape narrative travels progressively northward, with Canada, representing its endpoint and the attainment of freedom by the escaped slaves. The action in the slavery narrative moves gradually southward, with Tom's death occurring on Legree's plantation in rural Louisiana, far into the Deep South. These two opposite geographical splits embody the wide gulf between freedom and slavery.  Through this representation, Stowe uses the technique of parallelism and contrast in making her points clear to the readers.