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The School: Reading Uncle Tom's Cabin in Russia

By       Message Mark Sashine     Permalink
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Olya: Not that I know of. We do   have   novels and stories about the serfdom.

Kolya: Yes, like Radishev's   " Traveling from   St. Petersburg to Moscow". That one though   is different.

Teacher: How?

Kolya:   Radishev's   story   is from much more earlier times.   Also,   in Russia    it was feudalism and   serfs, peasants came with the landownership   when land belonged to the   nobility. Nobility was a   relatively small group of people with   significant privileges, the ruling elite. Russia was an Empire.   But even they   had   to abolish the  serfdom in 1861 because   it   became unsustainable. Meanwhile,   US was a democracy; they proclaimed   themselves being enlightened and   had slaves at the same time, bought and sold.    Sounds like an anomaly.

Natasha: That's true.   In the book   Eliza, George and   other members of the family seek refuge in Canada.   Canada   was   an English colony and it did not have slavery.

Teacher:   Well, that means some kind of a specific arrangement for black people.   Apparently, they were brought to the US as   slaves and   remained that way after the US Revolution. They were excluded from the citizenship, so to speak.   Why?

Kolya:   In the book   a slave- owner St. Clare   tells about it.   He   defines slavery as    some kind of a convenient arrangement for everyone   interested: for   white planters who owned   the Negroes and could use them as   cotton   harvesters and servants, for   the   commerce system which benefited   from   buy- sell   roundabout, for the Northern companies and banks   which could use   the Negroes as   commodities- they were rather expensive    for that time.   Owning people was a symbol of prosperity; in the US   prosperous people were defined by their wealth.

Teacher; So it was about money. We agree on that. Now, which characters you like or dislike in the book?

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Nina:   I think, the book has several very deep characters, the ones that evolve   and   many rather shallow ones,  created   there just to prove the point.   Such   characters like Uncle Tom, Augustine St. Clare, his cousin Ophelia,   George and Elisa, Cassy, Evangeline and   Simon Legree are   more "lively' than Shelby, Marie,   slave- traders and   many others.

Teacher: That's interesting. Why a little girl is   a   deep character?

Natasha; I think I know.   Evangeline   is perfectly natural.   Girls her age are very much like that when they are   brought up    by loving   fathers. I know such families. In fact,   the father's influence   is very important. Eva really loves   Tom and others- she does not   make a difference between the races and also influences others that way.

Kolya. Yes, and Shelby is just a good man, Marks is just a villain like on   the illustrations. Legree   though is a   sort of   an antagonist to Tom.

Teacher:   So Tom is a protagonist, a   driving character. Why?

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Nina: He is consistent.   He   evolves, acquires   knowledge but does   not change as a personality.   Whatever Tom does   he does naturally -- he   is   intrinsically   and perfectly   honest whether he   saves Eva or    refuses to flog a woman Lucy. He   has internal dignity.

Teacher: Do we have such characters in   the Russian literature? Who can   give us an example?

  Sasha: I was   trying to find something and   the   only one I found was Savelyich   in   the Pushkin's   "The Captain's Daughter".   He was also a   middle- aged serf who was commandeered by his master to accompany the   young   man, the son of the family to serve as   an officer to the army. That   serf   in fact nursed the young man   to adulthood as if he was his own.   During the   service an serf uprising   took place, a ferocious, powerful revolt and   that man, a slave, really could join the insurgents and be free. He instead not only stayed with his   young   master but offered his life for him.

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The writer is 57 years old, semi- retired engineer, PhD, PE, CEM. I write fiction on a regular basis and I am also 10 years on OEN.

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