Study Guide

Uncle Tom's Cabin Suffering

By Harriet Beecher Stowe


In order to convince her readers that slavery is morally wrong, Stowe must depict all the different ways in which slaves suffer. Uncle Tom’s Cabin describes the obvious forms of physical suffering that accompany slavery: brutal whippings and beatings, rape and sexual violation, and even murder. But it also shows the less visceral forms of suffering, such as the separation of families and the degradation of the human spirit. Although these are the most intense kinds of suffering in the novel, Stowe also makes it clear that masters "suffer" from slavery in another way: it makes them callous and un-Christian and it interferes with the proper running of their households. While the "suffering" of white masters is not at all comparable to the plight of the slaves, it’s an important part of the case against slavery that Stowe is building. If she can prove that every American "suffers" from slavery in some way, she can convince people to reject it.

Questions About Suffering

  1. Which characters suffer in this novel and how? Which character suffers the most? Which character suffers the least? How does suffering make Stowe’s case against slavery?
  2. Stowe implies several times in the text that those who suffer will be blessed, a reference to the Beatitudes in the Bible (blessed are those who weep). What does she mean by this within the context of this book?

Chew on This

Although Stowe suggests it is wrong to make people suffer through slavery, she contradicts herself by also suggesting that suffering is a purifying spiritual process.

Even though suffering is a form of purification for several characters in Uncle Tom’s Cabin, it is also the cause of bitterness, anguish, and exile from Christian truths. It is thus a double-edged sword.