Lesson 5: Uncle Tom's Cabin as Anti-Slavery Argument
This lesson explores the ways in which Stowe argues against slavery in Chapter XII:
Select Incident of Lawful Trade. This chapter includes scenes of slave families
being split apart, an auction scene, and a boat scene in which white characters debate the
question of slavery. Through the combination of these scenes, Stowe is able to argue against
slavery through both the terms of her plot and the explicit dialogue of her characters.
Her anti-slavery arguments particularly emphasize the humanity of slaves and the pain they
experience as a result of the selling of family members. In this way, Stowe responds directly
to the legal definitions of slaves as property and the cultural definitions of African-Americans
as less than human.
- Section of Novel
- Do this lesson after students have read Chapter XII: Select Incident of Lawful Trade
- Length of Lesson : 1 day
- Materials Needed
- Debate on Deck Worksheet
- Kentucky Slave Auction Announcement
- New Orleans Slave Auction Announcement
Skills Focus -- based on Virginia's Standards of Learning (SOLs)
- History and Social Science:
- VUS.6 The student will demonstrate knowledge of the major events during the first half
of the nineteenth century by
c) describing the cultural, economic, and political issues that divided the nation,
including slavery, the abolitionist and women's suffrage movements, and the role
of the states in the Union.
- 11th Grade English
- 11.3 The Student will read and analyze relationships among American literature,
history, and culture.
11.7 The student will write in a variety of forms with an emphasis on persuasion.
Distribute copies of the Kentucky and
the New Orleans slave auction announcements. As a class or in
groups, discuss the ways in which African-Americans are represented in these announcements.
Tell students that Stowe's novel is, in a sense, an exposé in that
it tells the hidden story behind announcements such as these. Today's class will be spent looking
closely at Chapter XII to see the ways in which Stowe responds to the sale of slaves.
Begin by looking at the debate above decks that takes place between the
white characters about mid-way through the chapter. (This passage begins, "And overhead, in
the cabin . . ." and it ends a couple of pages later with, "when ye come to settle with Him,
one o' these days, as all on us must, I reckon.") In groups or individually, have students
fill out the Chapter XII worksheet.
After students have completed this activity, discuss their findings.
Ask students to identify the character that makes each argument. Why is it important that
certain characters make certain arguments? If the class has already done
Lesson 1 on this website, refer back to the "Pro-Slavery
Arguments" section. Do any of these arguments appear in Stowe's novel? Even if the class has not
done Lesson 1, teachers may want to refer back to its
"Materials List" for links to "Pro-Slavery Arguments." This is helpful for showing students that
Stowe was directly responding to real arguments used to support slavery in the 1850's.
After students have discussed the explicit debate that takes place in the
chapter, refer back to the slave auction announcements. Tell students that just as Stowe has her
characters directly speak about slavery, she also constructs her plot to express her argument about
slavery. In what ways does Stowe use her plot in Chapter XII to tell the human story behind the
In class or as homework, have students select one of the events from
Chapter XII that tells a human story. (These would include the wagon ride with Haley and Tom
at the beginning of the chapter, the sale of Hagar and her son that occurs next, and Lucy's
suicide after her infant is sold at the end of the chapter.) Have students write a response
journal or poem in the voice of one of the slaves in the scene they chose. Consider pairing
these creative responses with one of the slave auction announcements and posting them around