Uncle Tom's Cabin

Today, I saw that we had an extra day without much to do in history class, so I had some copies of the first chapter of Uncle Tom's Cabin made and we spent the hour reading it aloud.

Harriet Beecher Stowe's language is vintage 19th century, featuring long, sometimes obtuse sentences. Some of the meanings of words have changed since that time. For example, "She started." The students didn't know what meant. I think the closest thing in the modern lexicon is, "she jumped." You hide behind the door to scare somebody. When they see you, you jump. Well, back then they would "start," as in "startled."

I read the first couple of paragraphs and then had the students take it from there. One person volunteered, but after that I just asked people to read. It was very interesting. There was no relation between performance on tests and ability to read aloud. In fact, I almost hesitated to have one girl read--she had flunked both tests spectacularly and I worried she might struggle--but it was obviously her turn, and I didn't want to skip her.

Well, she breezed through difficult passages of dialect as gracefully as an Anglican vicar might breeze through the Common Book of Prayer.

Uncle Tom's Cabin brought the realities of slavery home to the reading public before the Civil War. I think the book still has the same power today.