(Reworked from a February, 2013 post.)
BOOK REVIEW: UNCLE TOM’S CABIN
By Harriet Beecher Stowe
(Ed. Note: Topsy’s claim that she was never born, but just “growed”, is still questioned by many obstetricians.)
Having run up large gambling debts at a local Indian casino, a Kentucky farmer named Arthur Shelby faces the prospect of losing everything he owns. Though he and his wife, Emily, have a kindhearted and affectionate relationship with their slaves, Shelby decides to raise money by selling two of his slaves to Mr. Haley, a nasty slave trader who pays good prices. The two are Uncle Tom, who is a middle-aged man and Harry, the young son of Mrs. Shelby’s maid Eliza. When Shelby tells his wife about his agreement with Haley, she is appalled because she has promised Eliza that her husband would not sell her maid’s son. He says, “Tough!”
However, Eliza overhears the conversation between Shelby and his wife and, after warning Uncle Tom and his wife, Aunt Jemima, she takes her
hairy son son Harry and flees to the North,
hoping to find freedom with her husband George, a draft dodger who had fled to
Canada. Haley pursues her, but two other slaves alert Eliza to the
danger. She miraculously evades capture by cleverly crossing on the
frozen half of the half-frozen Ohio River, the boundary separating Kentucky
from the North. Haley hires a slave hunter and his gang to bring them
back to Kentucky. Eliza and Harry make their way to a Quaker settlement,
where they are given all the oatmeal they can eat, and the Quakers agree to
help transport them to safety. They are joined at the settlement by
George, who reunites joyously with his family for the trip to Canada.
Meanwhile, Uncle Tom sadly leaves his family as Haley takes him to a boat on the Mississippi to be transported to a slave market. On the boat, Uncle Tom meets an angelic little white girl named Eva, who quickly befriends him and falls into the river. Uncle Tom dives in to save her, and her father gratefully offers to buy Uncle Tom from Haley. Uncle Tom travels with them to their home in New Orleans, where he grows increasingly invaluable to the household and increasingly close to Eva, to whom he gives swimming lessons. She eats too much chocolate, but he still thinks she looks adorable in her little bikini.
Eva’s father discusses slavery with his cousin Ophelia, who opposes slavery as an institution but harbors deep prejudices against wearing too much bling. To help Ophelia, who later becomes engaged to Hamlet, overcome her bigotry, he buys Topsy, a young girl who was abused by her past master and arranges for Ophelia to begin educating her in how to dress for society.
After Uncle Tom has lived with them for two years, the kid gets sick and dies, with a vision of Willie Wonka’s Chocolate Factory before her. Her father decides to set Uncle Tom free. However, before he can act on his decision, he is killed—an innocent victim of a drive-by lava flow. His widow sells Uncle Tom to a vicious plantation owner named Simon Legree. Uncle Tom is taken to rural Louisiana with a group of new slaves. When Uncle Tom refuses to tell Legree where some of his slaves have gone, Legree orders his overseers to have him watch reruns of "Gilligan's Island" until he drops. When Uncle Tom is near death, he forgives Legree and the overseers. His old owner, Mr. Shelby, arrives with money in hand to buy Uncle Tom’s freedom, but he can only watch as Uncle Tom suffers.
They return to the farm, where Aunt Jemima nurses her husband back to health. They offer pancake breakfasts with a choice of syrup to hungry passers-by, who love them. With their profits, they buy the freedom of all the slaves on the farm. They sell their marketing rights to Quaker Oats, as a way of saying thank you for helping Eliza. They rename their restaurant IHOP, sell franchises, and the rest is history.