Uncle Tom's Cabin
Contrasting Regions Theme
Uncle Tom’s Cabin plays with the complicated opposition between the North and South in 19th century America. Today’s readers assume that the North represents freedom, democracy, and righteousness, while the South represents slavery, oppression, and lazy decadence. While there is some truth in this – slavery was legal in the southern states and not in the northern ones – the real state of affairs was far more complicated. As this novel shows, the North is complicit in slavery in many ways, and has its own racist biases and prejudices. Due to the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, the North wasn’t a safe place for escaped slaves – they could only find security once they were out of the United States entirely, in Canada. (See "the North and the South" in "Symbols, Imagery, Allegory.")
Questions About Contrasting Regions
- How does Stowe characterize the North and northerners? What are the virtues and what are the faults of northern society?
- How does Stowe characterize the South and southerners? What are the virtues and what are the faults of southern society?
- Does Stowe suggest one region is more virtuous than the other? If so, when and in what way?
Chew on This
Although the South perpetuates slavery, the North is just as guilty because it allows the institution to exist due to its prejudices about black people.
Although people in the North condemn people in the South for their acceptance of slavery, Uncle Tom’s Cabin suggests that a single person’s involvement in slavery or in abolition is purely a matter of accidental geography – that is, where they happened to be born – and not their own personal fault. Thus, the book seems to suggest that, though slavery should be condemned, we should not hold people personally responsible for the institution.