Uncle Tom's Cabin
Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory
It’s important to remember that the novel isn’t just titled Uncle Tom – it’s titled Uncle Tom’s Cabin, which makes the cabin the most important symbol around. Tom’s cabin, however, isn’t in the novel for very long. In Chapter Four, with the rather obvious title "An Evening in Uncle Tom’s Cabin," we get a sense of the domestic tranquility and religious piety that exist in the cabin. When circumstances permit – when their master is kind enough, or if they could be freed – slaves like Tom and Chloe can create a perfect 19th century household, faithful, hardworking, and principled. At the end of the novel, young George Shelby turns the cabin into an even more obvious symbol when he tells his freed slaves to look at it and remember the sacrifice Uncle Tom made, which (indirectly) brought about their freedom.
After Tom leaves the Shelbys, the cabin exists in the mind of the reader as a point of contrast for the other places he lives and the other households that we see. The cabin’s humble piety contrasts with the lavish indulgence of the Shelby’s big house or the St. Clare mansion. It also contrasts with the rude wooden shack that Tom occupies on Legree’s plantation and the cotton gin shed where Tom lies dying. When he has a cabin, Tom, though a slave, exists as a human being with a home of his own; when he’s reduced to the gin shed, he’s being treated like just another piece of rusting machinery. The final point of contrast is the cottage where George, Eliza, and their family are reunited in Canada. Uncle Tom may not get back to his cabin, but freed slaves like him can create loving, harmonious households similar to it.