A Point of View
The third person (“they,” “he,” “she”) omniscient or all-seeing narrative point of view is necessary to Stowe’s novel, as the novel follows simultaneously the activity of several Characters in different places. The point of view occasionally shifts to second-person (“you”) for the purpose of drawing the reader into the story at moments of high emotion. For instance, during the description of Eliza’s flight with Harry from the Shelbys, the narrator suddenly confronts us: “If it were your Harry, mother, or your Willie, that were going to be torn away from you by a brutal trader, tomorrow morning… how fast could you walk?” Since the success of Uncle Tom’s Cabin depends upon the reader’s ability to empathize with the Characters-and particularly the black slaves-these shifts into second person point of view are crucial to Stowe’s purpose. The omniscience of the narrator also enables the reader to empathize with the Characters by showing the reader the emotions and motivations of the Characters. When readers learn about how Tom feels upon hearing that St. Clare plans to free him, they can feel compassion for him: “He felt the muscles of his brawny arms with a sort of joy, as he thought they would soon belong to himself….”
Uncle Tom’s Cabin is an antislavery novel, and the time and place of the novel provide a historically accurate context for considering the issue of slavery. The antebellum period in American history was characterized by slaveholding in Southern states. Stowe wrote her novel during this period in angry response to the practice of slavery. The novel is set primarily in Kentucky and Louisiana, which were slave states. Kentucky is across the Ohio River from the free states, so Setting part of her novel in Kentucky allowed Stowe to show slaves escaping to free territory. Once in free territory, escaped slaves such as Eliza encounter the injustice of the Fugitive Slave Law-Stowe’s incentive for writing the novel-as readers see her chased by hired slave hunters. Tom is sold “down the river” to New Orleans, where he resides in relative peace with the St. Clares. After Tom is sold to Simon Legree, he experiences slavery at its worst. “Down the river” had a special, dreadful significance for slaves farther north, as it represented the distant unknown and the hard, hot work of the large plantations.