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 [Book Reviews]


 

Uncle Tom's Cabin;
or,
Life among the Lowly

by Harriet Beecher Stowe

First published in serial form in The National Era,
first published in book form in 1852

A very moving story. So powerful that it is considered to have been one of the contributing causes of the U.S. Civil War. It is, in story form, a thorough examination of the evils of the institution of slavery. The author aserts that there is no episode in the book that is not representative of actual events. The fact is that slavery still exists in slightly altered forms here in this country and around the world, but what the Buddhist must do to make this relevant is to see that slavery is the general condition of all of man-kind. The slave is the slave of his master, but the master is the slave of the state (if you think you own anything here, try not paying your taxes; if you don't own anything here why are you working? If you are working because the alternative is death, then are you not a slave to death?), man is the slave of his desires. On the other side of the coin, punishment, the griefs one suffers, must not be seen (as in this work) 'God's Will', or incomprehensible punishments and cruelty, but (from the subjective point of view) as the consequence of one's own badly done deeds. The cruelties of others are to be seen with sympathy as misguided actions taken in blindness of the consequences; the sorts of things that have brought down sufferings on one's own self from our own similar behavior in the past. 'Judgment' does not come at the end of Time, but is born upon the doing of the deed. Punishment and reward are not eternal. With those adjustments made mentally while reading the book, turning it into an allegory of the condition of man in general as opposed to the black man in the U.S. at the time (and therefore a problem that has been 'corrected' and can be forgotten), it should prove to be a valuable simulus to starting to get down to the business of getting out of this 'du-k-kha' as swiftly as possible. The value of the book is it's portrayal of the multiplicity of points of view on the subject. In this light Uncle Tom (altering his Christian oriented thoughts to those of pure loving kindness) is a fair example of how to manage. Today there are those in the black community (urging — in stead of Uncle Tom's strong stand on kindness and his refusal to participate in any act of cruelty including yielding to the temptations of vengence — the blindness of an eye-for-an-eye angry response to injustice and the unpleasant) who ridicule the mode of behavior of Uncle Tom. The name is used as a disparaging epithet (though I seriously doubt these people have actually read the story; there is really no doubt that Uncle Tom could serve as is an admirable, heroic role model for any race). For the Buddhist this should just be seen as a continuation of the story. The danger of not seeing the larger picture (really a trap inadvertantly set by Ms. Stowe's own too narrow view — not seeing that there would come a time when the idea of being tested by a God and a 'Final Judgment' just no longer made any sense to thinking people) but she had no Buddha to guide her). The wrong direction. The wrong response. That ends in the continuation of the round of anger and violence, revenge, cruelty and suffering.


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