Below you will find five outstanding thesis statements for “Uncle Tom's Cabin” by Harriet Beecher Stowe that can be used as essay starters or paper topics. All five incorporate at least one of the themes in “Uncle Tom's Cabin” and are broad enough so that it will be easy to find textual support, yet narrow enough to provide a focused clear thesis statement. These thesis statements offer a short summary of “Uncle Tom's Cabin” by Harriet Beecher Stowe in terms of different elements that could be important in an essay. You are, of course, free to add your own analysis and understanding of the plot or themes to them for your essay. Using the essay topics below in conjunction with the list of important quotes from “Uncle Tom's Cabin” at the bottom of the page, you should have no trouble connecting with the text and writing an excellent essay. Before you begin, however, please get some useful tips and hints abouthow to use PaperStarter.comin the brief User's Guide…you'll be glad you did.
Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #1: Representations of Christianity in Uncle Tom’s Cabin
Throughout Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, there are many allusions to religion, specifically, Christianity. Tom is a devout Christian who refuses to lose his faith, even when Legree does his best to force him to turn from God. The more religious figures in the book are against slavery, an idea that is best portrayed by the conversion of Loker, both to Christianity and abolitionism. When Legree and his men kill Tom, he forgives them as he is dying, which in turn converts his men to Christianity. How would the inclusion of Christianity have affected the audience that Harriet Beecher Stowe was writing for? In what other ways does Stowe portray slavery and Christianity as incompatible?
Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #2: The Role of Women in Uncle Tom’s Cabin
The women in Uncle Tom’s Cabin are very powerful people, whether they are changing their own lives, or the lives of the people around them, and whether they are using their power for good or to further evil. In some cases, such as Mrs. St. Clare, the women inadvertently perpetrate evil, as Mrs. St. Clare denies her dead husband’s wishes, and sells Tom to Legree, despite Mr. St. Clare’s promise of freedom. However, most women in this story take control of things when the men seem to be making the wrong decisions. Mrs. Shelby fights with her husband over the sale of the slaves in the beginning because of the promise she’d made to Eliza that she would never split her family apart. Eliza decides to run away with her child to avoid having him sold into another home. In what other ways do the women in this story change the course of their lives through their own decisions?
Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #3: Mrs. Shelby and Marie St. Clare in Uncle Tom’s Cabin
Mrs. Shelby and Marie St. Clare have a lot in common, on the surface, in Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Both Shelby and St. Clare are slave owners, and both own Tom at one point in his life or another. However, while Shelby respects the slaves and hates to see them sold off, St. Clare deliberately goes against her husband’s wishes and sells Tom to the most vile man she can find. What do you suppose has created this difference in the women? Is it their relative difference in faith? Or is something larger at work here? What can be gleaned from the story by juxtaposing these two different women?
Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #4: The Presence of Evil in Uncle Tom’s Cabin
As each subsequent chapter unfolds, slavery is portrayed as progressively evil. The dissolution of the family when Shelby’s wife decides to sell them after Shelby’s death is only the first evil that occurs. The horrors that follow that decision only cement the readers’ view of slavery as an abomination. One of the more poignant moments of the book occurs when Eliza leaps across half of the Ohio River, into free territory, jumping from the evil that she has known into what she hopes will be a better life, free of the threat of slavery. Dig deep into the book and find a few metaphors and descriptions that portray slavery as the evil it is, and discuss the importance of these less obvious allusions to evil.
This list of important quotations from “Uncle Tom's Cabin” will help you work with the essay topics and thesis statements above by allowing you to support your claims. All of the important quotes from “Uncle Tom's Cabin” by Harriet Beecher Stowe listed here correspond, at least in some way, to the paper topics above and by themselves can give you great ideas for an essay by offering quotes and explanations about other themes, symbols, imagery, and motifs than those already mentioned and explained. Aside from the thesis statements for “Uncle Tom's Cabin” above, these quotes alone can act as essay questions or study questions as they are all relevant to the text in an important way. All quotes contain page numbers as well. Look at the bottom of the page to identify which edition of the text by Harriet Beecher Stowe they are referring to.
“And I lays it all to my management, sir; and humanity, sir, I may say is the great pillar of my management." (5)
“I won’t be taken Eliza, I’ll die first! I’ll be free or I’ll die!" (16)
“Now, John, I don’t know anything about politics, but I can read my Bible; and there I see that I must feed the hungry, clothe, the naked, and comfort the desolate; and that Bible I mean to follow." (69)
“But as to putting them on any sort of equality with us, you know, as if we could be compared, why, it' impossible! Now, St. Clare rally has talked to me as if keeping Mammy from her husband was like keeping me from mine. There's no comparing in this way. Mammy couldn't have the feelings that I should. It's a different thing altogether, – of course, it is, – and yet St. Clare pretends not to see it. And just as if Mammy could lover her little dirty babies as much as I love Eva!” (151)
'He hath made everything beautiful in its season' and he showed how all the orders and distinctions in society came from God, and that if it was so appropriate, you know, and beautiful, that some should be high and some low, and that some were born to rule and some to serve, and all that, you know; and he applied it so well to all this ridiculous fuss that is made about slavery, and he proved distinctly that the Bible was on our side, and supported all our institutions so convincingly. I only wish you'd heard him.” (158)
“It’s jest no use tryin’ to keep Miss Eva here. She’s got the Lord’s mark in her forehead." (240)
“I’ve always had a prejudice against negroes and it’s a fact, I never could bear to have that child touch me; but, I didn’t think she knew it." (246)
“Well, I’ll soon have that out of you. I have none o’yer bawling, praying, singing niggers on my place; so remember. Now mind yourself’ he said with a stamp and a fierce glance of his gray eye, directed at Tom, ‘I’m your church now! You understand,-you’ve got to be as I say." (293)
“Mas'r Legree, as ye bought me, I'll be a true and faithful servant to ye. I'll give ye all the work of my hands, all my time, all my strength; but my soul I won't give up to mortal man. I will hold on to the Lord, and put his commands before all,-die or live; you may be sure on 't. Mas'r Legree, I an't a grain afeard to die. I'd as soon die as not. Ye may whip me, starve me, burn me,-it'll only send me sooner where I want to go.” (330)
Source: Stow, Harriet. Uncle Tom's Cabin. Hertfordshire, London: Wordsworth Editions Limited, 2002.
Questions and Topics for Discussion
1. Charles Dudley Warner wrote in an 1896 essay (see Commentary section, above) that "Distinguished as the novel is by its character-drawing and its pathos, I doubt if it would have captivated the world without its humor." What is the role of humor in Uncle Tom’s Cabin?
2. Given that the cabin is featured only briefly in the novel, why do you think the book is called Uncle Tom’s Cabin?
3. Uncle Tom’s Cabin draws on modes, such as the jeremiad,
allegory, and prophecy, that were commonly used by New England writers in the nineteenth century whose literary predecessors were eighteenth-century theologians and preachers (for example, Cotton Mather and Jonathan Edwards). How do these elements function in the novel? What role do the Bible and biblical allusion play (there are at least seventy allusions to, or quotations from, the Bible in the novel)?
4. What is the purpose of the two plots (the story of Uncle Tom, on the one hand, and that of the Harrises, on the other)?
5. What is the significance of the repetition of names (e.g., there are two Toms, two Georges, two Henrys [Henrique and Harry])?
6. Ever since the publication of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, critics have debated whether its sentimentality undermines its abolitionist purpose. James Baldwin, for example, in a famous essay called "Everybody’s Protest Novel" (see Commentary section, above), argued that "Uncle Tom’s Cabin is a very bad novel, having, in its self-righteous, virtuous sentimentality, much in common with Little Women. Sentimentality, the ostentatious parading of excessive or spurious emotion, is the mark of dishonesty, the inability to feel; the wet eyes of the sentimentalist betray his aversion to experience, his fear of life, his arid heart, and it is always, therefore, the signal of secret and violent inhumanity, the mask of cruelty." Kenneth Lynn, on the other hand, claims that "Uncle Tom’s Cabin is the greatest tear-jerker of them all, but it is a tear-jerker with a difference: it did not permit its audience to escape reality. Instead the novel’s sentimentalism continually calls attention to the monstrous actuality which existed under the very noses of its readers. Mrs. Stowe aroused emotions not for emotion’s sake alone-as the sentimental novelists notoriously did-but in order to facilitate the moral regeneration of an entire nation." Which side do you take in this debate?
7. A related question concerns the artistic merit of the novel, with one side arguing that while Uncle Tom’s Cabin was historically and politically significant, it is not a literary masterpiece (owing, among other things, to its sentimentality), and the other side claiming that it is aesthetically valuable (so James Russell Lowell wrote in 1859, "It was so easy to account for the unexampled popularity of ‘Uncle Tom’ by attributing to it a cheap sympathy with sentimental philanthropy" but, he continues, "we had the advantage of reading that extraordinary book in Europe, long after the whirl of excitement produced by its publication had subsided, and with a judgement undisturbed by those political sympathies which it is impossible, perhaps unwise, to avoid at home. We felt then, and we believe now, that the secret of Mrs. Stowe’s power lay in that same genius by which the great successes in creative literature have always been achieved-the genius that instinctively goes to the organic elements of human nature, whether under a white skin or a black, and which disregards as trivial the conventions and factitious notions which make so large a part both of our thinking and feeling"). Do you think the novel is a successful work of art or not?