In the past two weeks while I've been riding the bus to work, I've managed to finish one book and start another. My first book, Fried Green Tomatoes at The Whistle Stop Cafe was an outstanding book, easy reading, and a fun look at an aging woman who makes friend with a character from Whistle Stop, Alabama who tells her stories that change her outlook on life.
After I finished that book, I didn't intend to pick up another book about The South, but I have had a copy of the Civil War classic Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe, a book on a long list of classics that I've been meaning to read for years.
At first the book was a bit slow going. The way Mrs. Stowe wrote about the slaves' version of English made it difficult to figure out where they were saying, so it took some concentration.
But as I read along, like learning a new language, I got the inflections and spellings of the slave talk ("gwine" means "going"). I was soon enveloped in a great, dare I say genius piece of storytelling.
I'm halfway through the book, and I'm already worried about reading it too fast so it's over too soon, but am so compelled by the story that I want to read to find out what happens to the characters, including George & Eliza, and of course, Uncle Tom.
Never have I read a book that so richly interweaves characters from such diverse backgrounds, from the pitiable but heroic Eliza, running from slavery with her only surviving child the night before the child is to be sold "downriver" -- a fate for slaves that ranks right up there with being sent to hard labor in Siberia.
Mrs. Stowe writes about the different Southern slave owners, how some of them struggle with the question of slavery, and how many manage to legitimize their owning of slaves by using biblical references. Still others don't hide behind the Bible, but choose to be kind to their slaves, with a more humanitarian view of their Black servants.
"The Great Emancipator" -- President Abraham Lincoln -- once met Mrs. Stowe (whose book was originally published as a a serial in a magazine in 1851-1852, galvinizing sentiment among Northerners against slavery), and he said to her "So you're the little lady who started this big war."
Her rich storytelling paints such a portrait of slavery, I can certainly understand why such sentiments gelled over her book.
It also makes me reflect on why I do certain things, and whether or not I do them "because everybody else does" as the Southerners did, or if I take a moral high road over something, looking down on others who choose to do things differently, much like the Northerners did at the time in their attitudes towards slavery.
Much to think about, but I am so thankful to have this book in my hands. What a gem of American Literature, to be sure, and I'm only halfway through the book!