Houghton Mifflin Social Studies
America Will Be

Uncle Tom's Cabin: A Statement Against Slavery

Objective: Students examine excerpts of Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe to explore the ways in which she used language to affect readers' thoughts about slavery.

What You Need:

Suggested Time:
4-5 hours over 2-3 days

Building Background:
Provide students with a brief history of the writing and publication of Uncle Tom's Cabin. Tell students that it was written by Harriet Beecher Stowe and first appeared in 1851 as a serial in an abolitionist magazine. When published the following year, it sold thousands of copies. Although a piece of fiction, it had a great deal of impact on the way people, especially in the northern part of the United States, thought about slavery. Tell students they will examine parts of the book to explore the ways in which Harriet Beecher Stowe used language to affect readers' thoughts about slavery.

What To Do:

1. Tell students that they will look closely at one chapter of Uncle Tom's Cabin and identify specific language used by the author to create a sense of sympathy for slaves, and a sense of horror for the institution of slavery.

2. Organize students into four or five small groups. Make copies of the text of Uncle Tom's Cabin available to each group. An online source of the complete text is available at the following Internet site:

Uncle Tom's Cabin & American Culture: A Multi-Media Archive

This site offers the complete text of the novel as well as background information, primary source reviews of the book, biographical information on Stowe, and more.

3. Have each group choose a different chapter of Uncle Tom's Cabin to examine closely. Possible choices may include: Chapter 4, "An Evening in Uncle Tom's Cabin;" Chapter 5, "Showing the Feelings of Living Property on Changing Owners;" Chapter 7, "The Mother's Struggle;" Chapter 12, "Select Incident of Lawful Trades;" Chapter 30, "The Slave Warehouse;" and Chapter 31, "The Middle Passage."

4. Give the groups time to look through their chapters, and then distribute a copy of the Use of Language worksheet to each group. Have students work together to discuss and answer the worksheet questions. Remind students that they are looking for specific examples of the language that might have affected the way readers viewed slavery. Assist students with any language in the text that they may have difficulty understanding.

5. When finished, have each group write a report about their chapter, using their worksheets as points of reference. The reports should explain the words and examples the groups found and the ways in which the language might have affected views of slavery. Prompt students to answer these questions: How does Stowe use language to show enslaved persons as human beings? What language does she use to contrast enslaved persons' humanity with the idea that enslaved persons are property?

Ask students to identify specific examples of language in Uncle Tom's Cabin which they believe was effective in convincing people in the 1850s that slavery was wrong. How do they think slaveowners reacted to this language? Discuss.


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