Harriet Beecher Stowe and slavery

A slave nurse with her mistress's son on her lap, 1850 (Copyright: Scanpix)A slave nurse with her mistress's son on her lap, 1850 (Copyright: Scanpix)

Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811–1896) was an American writer who, like very many other Americans, thought that slavery was wrong. In 1852 she wrote a novel called Uncle Tom's Cabin, which showed what life was like for the African-American slaves who worked in terrible conditions on the plantations in the southern states of the USA. It immediately became a bestseller, was turned into a play, and opened the eyes of millions of people, both in the USA and in Britain. The novel was translated into sixty languages before the Civil War!

Uncle Tom’s Cabin gave energy to the anti-slavery movements in the north of the USA and in Britain, and influenced the politicians who decided to put an end to the inhuman use of men, women and children. In the southern states, of course, the book made people very angry indeed, because the South depended on slave labor.

Slavery was one of the reasons why Americans fought the Civil War from 1861 to 1865, and during the war President Abraham Lincoln met Harriet Beecher Stowe. "So you're the little woman,” he said, “who wrote the book that made this great war!"

The slaves were freed when the war ended, but Harriet’s work was not finished. She founded schools for freed slaves, and wrote a number of other books.

 

Activity

 Correct the following sentences:

  1. All Americans thought that slavery should be stopped.
  2. African-American slaves were treated well.
  3. There was slavery in all the states of the USA.
  4. It was a long time before Uncle Tom’s Cabin was a success.
  5. Politicians did not read the novel.
  6. People in the southern states loved it.
  7. Lincoln met Harriet Beecher Stowe after the Civil War.
  8. Harriet Beecher Stowe did nothing for African-Americans after the war.
  9. Uncle Tom’s Cabin is her only book.
  10. It has been translated into sixteen languages.

 

Activities for the links below

1) The first link is a synopsis (sammendrag) of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Read it in order to get an idea of the plot. Then read it again and choose the right answers to the questions below.

a) What happens when Haley meets the slave catchers?
– They hand the escaped slaves over to him.
– They agree to try to find the escaped slaves.
– They persuade him to let the slaves go north.

b) A young mother loses her child because of Haley. What does she do?
– She kills him.
– She steals his money.
– She takes her own life.

c) What happens to Eliza and her son?
– Some Quakers help them.
– Some Quakers hand them over to Haley.
– Some Quakers send them away.

d) What do Tom and Eva do?
– They become good friends.
– They fall off the river boat and almost drown.
– They spoil Eva’s mother.

e) What happens to George and Eliza?
– Eliza shoots George.
– George kills another man and Eliza runs away.
– They are almost captured.

f) What happens to St Clare?
– He arranges to sell his slaves.
– He becomes a better person and wants to help his slaves.
– He sells Tom to Legree.

g) After he is beaten, what does Tom do?
– He finds inner strength.
– He loses his faith.
– He runs away and hides.

h) Why does George Shelby come to Legree’s property?
– To buy Cassy and Emmeline.
– To buy Tom.
– To free Tom

2) Now go to the second link and make the journey. Imagine you are a slave in 1850 who wants to escape to Canada with the help of the Underground Railway. Follow the links and, as you make the journey, make brief notes on the places you visit and the people who help you. Then write up your notes in a short speech you are going to make when you reach Canada. Remember: it has to be short! That means about 150 words.