Uncle Tom's Cabin | Study Guide

Harriet Beecher Stowe

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Uncle Tom's Cabin | Symbols



The cabin where Uncle Tom lives is a source of comfort for the enslaved people on the Shelby farm and in the surrounding area. It is more of a home to young George Shelby than the family's opulent house. The good health and love of Uncle Tom's family is evident at all times, and when the cabin is open for "meetings" the space is filled with grace, hope, and joy, giving oppressed people the strength they need.

When Uncle Tom's family is split and the cabin is closed, it's clear that family is central to the concept of home. But at the end of the story when George Shelby frees the slaves, the cabin rises to even greater heights. George declares, "Let it be a memorial to put you all in mind to follow in his steps, and be as honest and faithful and Christian as he was."

The Bible

Wherever Uncle Tom goes, his Bible comes with him as a source of sustenance. It is worn and tattered with daily use, and his favorite passages are marked so he can easily find them. Even though he struggles with literacy, reading the Bible is his favorite pastime, and he can explain its messages better than the most educated of men and women. When he wants to offer advice, he uses words from the Bible. He delights in having others read the stories to him as well.

After the first time he is badly beaten at Legree's, Uncle Tom cannot reach his Bible; he asks for it as soon as he can speak. The Bible's words are as important to him as water. In his only "dark night of the soul" the Bible's words suddenly lose their meaning for him. Without that solace Tom falls into despair, a state that is broken only when Legree mocks him for losing his faith.


Eliza and Harry make their dramatic leap to freedom across the Ohio River, which separates the South from the North. The novel's enslaved characters also refer to the River Jordan as a symbol of freedom. This river is the scene of several miracles in the Bible and represents the way for Jews to enter "The Promised Land" of freedom from oppression.

But in Uncle Tom's Cabin rivers also carry enslaved people to the Deep South, referred to as "down South," where plantation work is harder and cruelty is more rampant. The trip is invariably made on a riverboat, with the enslaved people chained and shackled, pining for the families they leave behind.

Questions for Symbols

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Oates has specifically mentioned the "Death and the Maiden" folktales as one inspiration for this story (see "Death and the Maiden" under " Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory "). Some literary critics have
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