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Teaching Guide: Exploring Uncle Tom’s Cabin

This teaching guide helps instructors use a specific primary source set, Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe, in the classroom. It offers discussion questions, classroom activities, and primary source analysis tools. It is intended to spark pedagogical creativity by giving a sample approach to the material. Please feel free to share, reuse, and adapt the resources in this guide for your teaching purposes.

Discussion questions

  1. Read Chapter XII of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, which addresses the sale of slaves. Identify the characters who argue for or against slavery, and list the different arguments these characters make. Now look at the illustration of the slave auction. Connect the image with one of the character’s arguments for or against slavery. How could the character use the image to support the argument?

  2. Uncle Tom’s Cabin is best known for creating controversy and sparking opinions and emotions on an important issue of its time. Discuss how "The Scourged Back" may have contributed to controversy over slavery and abolition. What other literary works have created controversies or addressed social issues?

  3. A review of the novel in the Southern Literary Messenger argues that Harriet Beecher Stowe “intermeddle[s] with things which concern her not” and as a result, has “forfeited the claim to be considered a lady.” What could be the things in which Stowe is accused of meddling? Brainstorm reasons why this meddlesome behavior might cause her to be considered unladylike in 1852. Discuss what it means to be a lady today, and how this compares with the era of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Finally, compare the Southern Literary Messenger review with the review from Fraser’s Magazine.

  4. Discuss adaptations of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Look at the illustrations of Topsy and Eva and Tom and Legree, the announcement of the stage adaptation, the minstrel show, and the World War II political cartoon. Identify ways that the story, the characters, and the telling changed over time. Compare the adaptations of and changes to Uncle Tom’s Cabin to a more recent text that has been adapted for the stage or screen.

Classroom activities

Divide students into groups. Give each group one of these images from the set: the illustration of the slave auction, the illustration of Topsy and Eva, the illustration of Tom and Legree, the 1864 carte de visite, and "The Scourged Back." Each group will discuss the ways in which African Americans are represented in their image. Next, groups will compare the image to a contemporary representation of African Americans during slavery and the Civil War, such as the films Twelve Years a Slave and Lincoln.

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