"From his deepest soul, he that hour loosed and parted from every hope in the life that now is, and offered his own will an unquestioning sacrifice to the Infinite. Tom looked up to the silent, ever-living stars,--types of the angelic hosts who ever look down on man; and the solitude of the night rung with the triumphant words of a hymn, which he had sung often in happier days, but never with such feeling as now."
Let me tell you what's wrong with Uncle Tom's Cabin, because it's one of those books people feel the need to hate. Uncle Tom's Cabin is not gorgeously written. It sermonizes frequently. The book reinforces some terrible black stereotypes: the 'happy darky', the 'picanniny', the tragically beautiful mulatto, the Mammy nurse. Uncle Tom's Cabin draws on flat, melodramatic characters at the expense of human emotion. Uncle Tom's Cabin is terrifically unbalanced, terribly bigoted, and unredeemably out of date. It is less a classic than an artifact.
Now, let me tell you, please, why I loved reading it anyway.
Harriet Beecher Stowe was not an angel. She was simply a woman who saw that a thing was wrong in the world, and wanted to change it. She wasn't a great stateswoman or a practical reformer, and knew nothing really about how to, nuts and bolts wise, fix the problem of slavery. What she did know was the feeling of slavery. And for all that we now dismiss the book as sentimental, melodramatic and campy, it touched people when it was written - in fact, it was the second highest selling book after the Bible, and earned Stowe's reputation as one of the great abolitionists around the world. The book wounded people - people who did not know what to think were convinced by it, people who disagreed with Stowe were enraged by it. This book, in a way that few simple novels have been, is a mover of history.
And, the thing is, if you accept the sentimentality for what it is, and accept the book's shortcomings, this is still a really moving book. Tom is one of the most unabashedly Christ-like characters in the history of literature. Eva is a poignant, beautiful allegory of Christian thought. Legree channels the soul of evil in a way that is deeply disturbing. The trick is to think of this less as a novel about real people, and more like an allegory, a sort of Puritan version of the religious vision. The characters are types, sure - but that's because they represent ideas, not personalities. And you can feel the fervent hope of a woman who desperately wanted to do her part behind those ideas. It was an imperfect part, sure, and even bad in it's way, but it was noble and full of love. In some sense, the measure of a successful social movement is when we can look at it's founders and think they were backwards.