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Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Uncle Tom's Cabin: A Symbol of Freedom

Uncle Tom's Cabin cover
Near of the end of the novel, Master George returns to his Kentucky farm from Legree's plantation, having found Tom beaten and close to death.  After Tom dies, George threatens to sue Legree, though such an action is not plausible.  Upon his return, George details the death of Tom and resolves to grant his slaves their freedom, telling them to thank Tom for the gesture.  Ultimately, the title edifice comes to symbolize that freedom.

Uncle Tom's Cabin is described earlier in the novel as a small log cabin adjacent to the main house and covered with a miscellaneous floral arrangement.  Though the inhabitants are enslaved, within the four walls of the cabin, there is much freedom to be enjoyed there.  The Shelby family is no intrusive and allows the slaves some autonomy.  Having a small farm and not a major plantation, slave labor is at a minimum.  The inhabitants of the cabin are allowed to have parties, prayer meetings, and make music.  It is here that Tom is taught to read and write.  Interestingly, Master George as a young boy prefers to hang out at Uncle Tom's Cabin.  Tom and his fellow laborers are more familial than servile in their relationship with George.  Nevertheless, according to the system, they are still slaves and subject to being sold at any time.  The financial troubles of Mr Shelby prove that even with a "good master," slaves are susceptible to the evils of slavery.

After the death of Tom, which follows the death of Mr. Shelby, George retrieves Tom's body and gives him a proper burial.  He proceeds to go home, where he tells the slaves they are free and will receive wages for their labor.  He also reminds them to use the cabin as a reminder of their freedom.

"It was on his grave, my friends, that I resolved, before God, that I would never own another slave, while it was possible to free him; that nobody, through me, should ever run the risk of being parted from home and friends, and dying on a lonely plantation, as he died. So, when you rejoice in your freedom, think that you owe it to that good old soul, and pay it back in kindness to his wife and children. Think of your freedom, every time you see UNCLE TOM'S CABIN; and let it be a memorial to put you all in mind to follow in his steps, and be honest and faithful and Christian as he was" (Ch. 44).

Once a symbol of enslavement, Uncle Tom's Cabin has become a relic of freedom.

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