Stowe's characters—the Christ figures of Uncle Tom and little Eva; runaways Eliza and George, Cassie and Emmeline; and everyone Tom encounters as he suffers through a succession of owners—illustrate in all-too- human terms what Condi Rice has called our country's congenital defect (and no doubt that's the only thing Dr. Rice has ever said that I can agree with!) The novel doesn't merely demonize the slaveholders (that would be too easy, and anyway not all of them are depicted as such; some are weak men with good intentions). Stowe emphasizes that just because Northerners didn't own slaves didn't mean their consciences were unstained by the evil.
Anyway, if you enjoy audiobooks, you should definitely listen to Julie's podcast in lieu of reading Uncle Tom in book form, since she provides so much insightful commentary in addition. I just love the reader's note, with which she begins each set of chapters:
Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote Uncle Tom's Cabin to expose the inhumanity of treating human beings as things. Former slaves agreed that her examples were true to life. Thus, some of the language and attitudes in this book are offensive because they reflect an ugly history. It is said that those who forget history are doomed to repeat it. The reader does not wish to be responsible for dooming anyone by censoring either history or literature. Therefore the book will be read as it is written, offensive language and all.Julie's reading sometimes brought me to tears, but I don't feel the urge to write a long post on this book. It's an important work— melodrama and all—and everyone (American or not) should read it at some point.