Uncle Tom’s Cabin has an intriguing relationship to the theme of violence. There is a lot of violence in this novel; as it shows, slavery was frequently a brutal institution, in which slaves were whipped, beaten, abused, starved, worked to death, sexually violated, and murdered. And yet this is a 19th century sentimental novel. The restraint of that genre, and of Victorian society, doesn’t force Stowe to whitewash the evils of slavery, but it does encourage her to lower the curtain sometimes, figuratively speaking, and take the reader away from the most intense scenes of violence.
Questions About Violence
In what contexts does violence appear in this novel? What kinds of violence are used and what purpose are they used for? What kinds of violence are obscured or avoided by the novel?
How do various characters respond to violence? How and why?
How does the narrator suggest readers respond to the novel’s violence? Why?
Tom continually suggests that it is wrong to respond to violence with violence. Is Stowe advocating a kind of pacifism? Are there other ways that we can interpret Tom’s turn-the-other-cheek philosophy in the context of the novel?
Chew on This
Although there are many kind masters and mistresses in Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Stowe suggests they are as guilty as Legree, because it is precisely their kindness that makes slavery appear acceptable and that allows Legree’s violence to continue.
Even though Stowe condemns violence committed against the body, she suggests that violence against the spirit is an even greater sin.