Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe (exerpt)
In Harriet Beecher Stowe’s controversial story, a kind Kentucky slave owner is forced by financial necessity to sell his slave, Tom. Tom remains kind and gentle, despite losing his family and ending up in the possession of a cruel man named Simon Legree. The story led many early readers to think of slaves as people, rather than as possessions, for the first time. In this excerpt, Tom is sold to Legree at an auction.
Various spectators, intending to purchase, or not intending, as the case might be, gathered around the group, handling, examining, and commenting on their various points and faces with the same freedom
that a set of jockeys discuss the merits of a horse. . . .
Tom had been standing wistfully examining the multitude of faces thronging around him, for one whom he would wish to call master. And if you should ever be under the necessity, sir, of selecting, out of two hundred men, one who was to become your absolute owner and disposer, you would, perhaps, realize, just as Tom did, how few there were
that you would feel at all comfortable in being made over to. . . . A little before the sale commenced, a short, broad, muscular man . . . elbowed his way through the crowd, like one who is going actively into business; and, coming up to the group, began to examine them systematically. From the moment that Tom saw him approaching, he felt an immediate and revolting horror at him, that increased as he came near. He was evidently, though short, of gigantic strength. His round, bullet head . . . and stiff, wiry, sunburned hair, were rather unprepossessing items. . . . This man proceeded to a very free personal examination of the lot. He seized Tom by the jaw, and pulled open his mouth to inspect his teeth; made him strip up his sleeve, to show his muscle; turned him round, made him jump and spring to show his paces. . . .
Tom stepped upon the block, gave a few anxious looks round; all seemed
mingled in a common, indistinct noise,—the clatter of the sales man crying off his qualifications in French and English, the quick fire of French and English bids; and almost in a moment came the final thump of the hammer, and the clear ring of the last syllable of the word “dollars,” as the auctioneer announced his price, and Tom was made over.—He had a master!
He was pushed from the block;—the short, bullet-headed man seizing
him roughly by the shoulder, pushed him to one side, saying in a harsh voice, “Stand there, you!”
1. Identify Point of View Whose point of view is reflected in this selection?
2. Demonstrate Reasoned Judgment How accurately could a white northern woman portray the feelings of an enslaved person being auctioned? What parts of her story might have been written differently by someone who had been enslaved?
3. Create: re-write the story from the view of an enslaved individual