Uncle Tom’s Cabin Quiz

I’m conducting an informal poll here. Ready? Here we go:

Without looking it up on the Internet (or anywhere else), can you tell me what Uncle Tom’s Cabin is about?

Can you tell me anything about the eponymous character?

If you read the book, when did you do so? In school or on your own?

Based on your existing knowledge of the book, what opinion do you have of it?

Answers in the comments, please. And no peeking!

21 Responses

  1. It’s about an optimistic (“think of your mercies” — I won’t try to reproduce the book’s attempt at dialect) and honorable slave who through no fault of his own goes from barely-tolerable to not-great to downright horrible masters, and is finally beaten to death. (Oops, spoiler.)

    Read the book on my own at about age ten.

    It’s morally simplistic, but it was intended to be; it was written for people who did not think that slaves were human. No question it packs a punch.

  2. I only saw the movie, back in high school. According to the movie: Uncle Tom is an educated slave, in that he can read, write, and do arithmetic, and when his current master gets into debt he has to sell him off, and after being sold to a few other farms he is eventually beaten to death by his worst master ever, JUST as his old master’s son gets there to buy him back.

    It was weird watching it and seeing that there may have been *nice* slave masters in that time/place, since all other books I’d read on the subject said it was all a big horrible mess (I’m a yankee from North NJ). On the other hand, it’s fiction, so who the hell knows either way.

  3. Never read it, have heard other people’s interpretations of it, but would not claim to know diddly about it.

    Figured your poll needs some honest “no clue” responses to be accurate, so I spoke up instead of remaining silent like I normally would if I knew nothing. ;)

  4. Um… all I know is from the little Siamese children’s performance of it in “The King and I”. Which may not be *strictly* accurate lol. There’s an evil slave owner called Simon Legree, a slave called, er, Uncle Tom? And a little girl called Topsy who “just growed”? I vaguely remember the performance including some inexplicable ascending-into-heaven so someone probably dies. (Sometimes the weird shit floating around in my head is just frightening!) I think you can put me down as a firm “haven’t read it” and as vaguely believing it had some kind of influence on American public opinion at the time (and I’m kind of numb and vague about the timescale, too – vaguely mid-nineteenth century??) by making white people empathise a bit with black people? Doesn’t really register on the European consciousness much, I’m afraid ::ducks and runs to wikipedia it::

  5. Never read it, but from hearing blacks point fingers using his name since forever, he seems to be a man who toadied to white guys. Sort of a black Benedict Arnold or something.

    I dunno. I’m probably way off.

    Now I want to go look at Wikipedia …

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  7. I read it on my own back when I was a kid. It was about uncle tom, but it also told the story of a few other people as well–the one I remember (although not by name) is the woman with the small baby who tried to cross over to canada on a bridge of ice and the ice winds up cracking into peices and the girl and the baby drown.

    I remember that even way back then as a small kid, I payed way more attention to that storyline than I did to the uncle tom story line. I think I could associate with the woman’s desperation a lot more than I could somebody who keeps trying so hard and getting beaten for it.

    and i guess that was my major critique as a kid–even I knew that nobody is that unfailingly submissive. at some point, uncle tom’s gonna cut eyes at a master or pass some food to a kid or *something*.

    I always appreciated ralph ellison’s version of “uncle tom” in battle royale–where the grandpa says he put his head in the lion’s mouth so that his grandson could beat the lion to death.

  8. Without looking it up on the Internet (or anywhere else), can you tell me what Uncle Tom’s Cabin is about?

    it follows several years in the life of, i think, two groups of slaves; uncle tom, and a mulatto family. i’m not remembering the details, but the mulatto family runs away and gets seperated but eventually wins their way to freedom because of their mixture of superior white blood, and uncle tom lives the life of a faithful dog and dies horribly in some way.

    Can you tell me anything about the eponymous character?

    see above. he’s one of those characters that, even aside from the racial component, makes you want to throw your book across the room because he’s so boringly, annoyingly passive.

    If you read the book, when did you do so? In school or on your own?

    13 yrs old. my sister was a junior and taking a class on american protest lit and we had gone to china for a semester and brought our books with us. we didn’t have any other access to english language lit besides our schoolbooks, so i tore through everything she had. i.e. no credit to me.

    Based on your existing knowledge of the book, what opinion do you have of it?

    even at the time, when i was very unconscious of racial issues, i was shocked at how downright racist the book was. no one ever talked about this with regard to the book so i was completely unprepared for it. i remember going to my dad and saying, “but this is so racist!’ i don’t remember his response but it didn’t lead to much of a discussion.

    to this day i still don’t know if the common mainstream understanding of the book is that it’s a mass of racist propaganda, and that’s why no one talks about it, or if most people just really aren’t aware of the author’s philosophy on race.

    but right after i read it, we got to go see a, i think, russian (i.e. ussr) film production of uncle tom’s cabin, and they turned it into a communist fairytale. the end part, where uncle tom is at that horrible plantation with the dried up mulatto beauty, he and she and all the slaves get together and stage an uprising and take over the plantation. uncle tom dies fighting and the slaves form a just communal society or something like that. it was a long time ago, and subtitled in chinese, so i’m just guessing.

  9. I read “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” on my own.

    Okay. From memory. Here we go.

    Novel written against slavery by Harriet Beecher Stowe.

    (Lincoln was stated at the time as saying to her, “So, you are the little lady whose book started this big war [Civi War]?”)

    Okay, about the novel.

    Principle Characters:

    Simon Legree
    Topsy
    Eliza
    Slave Master and His Wife

    And the Protagonist:

    Uncle Tom

    Unlcle Tom was said slave who lived in his slave cabin away from the big massa house, who belonged to Slave Master who got into debt so against His Wife’s wishes he sold Uncle Tom, down the river to a succession of masters ending with Simon Legree, who was a cruel bastard who lusted after Eliza who incidentally had a baby. Eliza escaped the plantation, Uncle Tom aided her escape if I can remember, and Legree tried to beat it out of him, but Tom would not tell.

    Legree beat poor Tom to death.

    Eliza escaped with her baby across a frozen river, jumpimg from ice floe to ice floe to freedom.

    Oh.

    I almost forgot Topsy.

    I just remember her one line in this novel:

    “I’se specks I just growed.”

    On another note, Uncle Tom’s character is based on a real slave/man/person, by the name of Obediah (or it could be Jedediah) Henson.

    The essence I got from the novel was that Tom would rather suffer a horrible death rather than give away Eliza’s run for freedom.

    In other words, a man who will stand by his word, even in the face of savage torture and beating.

    A loyal and faithful person to the end.

    Meek, full of huge amounts of humility.

    On the other hand, Tom was a faithful servant to Slave Master, but, in the end it did him no good because greedy money-hungry Slave Master still sold Tom, and he wanted to buy Tom back but in the end it was too late, so greedy Slave Master had to live with that on his conscious until he probably died some lingering horrible death, whie crying out Tom’s name as he gasped his last breath.

  10. Hey, I remember the correct name Uncle Tom’s character was based on.

    Josiah Henson.

    (And Girl’s Scout honor, I did not peak!)

  11. Ok, I’m preparing to display my ignorance to all the internets!

    Without looking it up on the Internet (or anywhere else), can you tell me what Uncle Tom’s Cabin is about?

    I don’t know too much about it, except that it’s my impression that it was meant to be an anti-slavery narrative, but that the black characters in the text aren’t treated with true respect or allowed to be fully three-dimensional, well-developed personalities.

    Can you tell me anything about the eponymous character?

    Not really. I have the impression that the character is elderly. And I know “Uncle Tom” is a term that’s used to indicate a kind of subservient behavior towards white authority. I don’t know what it is about the character that inspired that usage, though.

    If you read the book, when did you do so? In school or on your own?

    I’ve never read it. I’ve read novels where the reading of it had something to do with the plot, but not the book itself.

    Based on your existing knowledge of the book, what opinion do you have of it?

    I believe that I’d find it a hard slog (based on how much I’ve failed to enjoy other works from the same period), and that I’d probably be annoyed with the author throughout much of it. I should probably read it anyway, though – my foundation in American lit is not what it should be.

  12. I read excerpts from this book during my Survey of American Literature class when I was 19. Because I didn’t read nearly the full of it, and because the class packed so much literature into so short a time to study it, I apologize in advance for my limited memory.

    What I recall:
    That it included some nasty stereotyping.
    That the writer wrote herself into the book as one of the “nice white people” who helps one of the characters in the story line.
    The main character is forced from what I guess is supposed to be a “nice master” to a series of different people, the last of which had a reputation for “going through” slaves in about two years by starving and abusing them.
    There was a strong presence of Christianity, shown by the main character especially.

    As for my opinion on it, I don’t think I can really say without going back and reading it in full. I know that from what I read, it left me with kind of a bitter taste in my mouth due to it’s simplistic characterization. There was other anit-slavery literature from that time period that I read and liked a lot more, but I’d have to go back and look up what it was.

  13. I was supposed to read it at school, but I didn’t – we studied so little to do with black history, I think I kind of resented that this was the only thing. I was well aware of the negative stereotype of “Uncle Tom” – fawning and subservient – and I didn’t want anything to do with that.

    I remember the teachers telling us this book was a turning point in terms of how slaves were viewed.(I live in the UK, by the way.)

  14. I’ve only heard the story from “The King and I”, so this is probably hugely inaccurate.

    I remember it had to do with a woman and her child and their trying to escape. I think they got to freedom. Uncle Tom was hardly even mentioned. I remember the way it was told oddly mimiced the sub-plot of the illegal/wrong love affair of one of the King’s daughters.

    As for Uncle Tom, I’ve mostly heard it used as an insult, indicating someone who colluded with his oppressors.

  15. I used to find it simplistic and it is often said that it (like the Spanish/Cuban Gertrudis Gomez de Avellaneda’s _Sab_ is at least as much about the situation of women as it is about slavery). However: as noted above, Tom is killed because he will not rat on another slave, so he’s not really a wuss, and the book certainly does not skimp on showing the violence of the whole system.

  16. I never read it. Since we’re not supposed to look it up for this poll, my impression of what it’s about is that it’s a smarmy romanticized portrayal of the hardships of slavery and the characters the author portrayed became stereotypes of black folks. White folks tell me that it is the best story evah about race!!!1 Maybe it’s good, I dunno, but I would rather read about black folks outta the mouths of black folks, as in written directed and acted in our own stories kthx.

    Are you going to tell us what this poll is all about and give us your impression?

  17. Everything I learned about Uncle Tom’s Cabin I learned from the King and I, in which a white woman “teaches” the King of Siam about the evils of slavery in America.

    And either the king’s kids or his harem (I can’t remember which) do an adaptation which is almost fully included in the movie.

    So, what I know about Uncle Tom’s Cabin: there’s a character named Eliza (“Poor Eliza! Run! Run!) An evil dude named Simon, and some dogs.

  18. To be honest, I liked the story of Eliza way better than that of Uncle Tom. I read the book on my own sometime in college after a friend gave it to me. I didn’t come away from the novel hating Uncle Tom on principle as I think some people do after reading the novel. His character was created to make a point — even if a slave did love being a slave, did love serving his master, did all his work, good heart, asexual, God-fearing and fiercely loyal, the institution of slavery destroys humanity on both sides of the relationship. And in Eliza’s story, what can be characterized as the human spirit — the idea of liberty, of motherhood, of freedom — can be preserved only by escaping slavery. It’s a very simplistic view of how the slavery problem and all of its vestiges would be solved; but you have to remember that this book was written from a white perspective.

  19. Without looking it up on the Internet (or anywhere else), can you tell me what Uncle Tom’s Cabin is about?
    Something about slavery.

    Can you tell me anything about the eponymous character?
    He’s a man, with one or more nieces or nephews (possibly metaphorical), and a cabin.

    If you read the book, when did you do so? In school or on your own?
    Never read it.

    Based on your existing knowledge of the book, what opinion do you have of it?
    I know it’s an Important Book In American History, but beyond that nothing.

  20. (Came here on your link from Making Light and scanned the front page, though I’ve been by several times before and see you on FemSF)

    1 – Uncle Tom’s Cabin is about a young slave couple who are trying to escape and so they can be together.

    2 – Uncle Tom: has a cabin. Turns the young couple in (they were hiding in his cabin?)

    3 – Never read it. Picked stuff up from history books and “The King and I” movie.

    4 – I know it was extremely influential in getting Northern White people to empathize with the sufferings of enslaved blacks, and work for abolition. Most books I’ve read from the 1800s have been too dry and old-fashioned for me, though, so I don’t have much hope of liking it.

  21. Oh, hell, I screwed that up royally. I guess I should go read the book. Cripes. ::embarassed::

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