Uncle Tom's cabin is frequently criticized by people who have never read the work, myself included. I decided I finally needed to read it and judge it for myself. And I have to say, that for all its shortcomings (and it does have them), it is really a remarkable book. The standout characteristics of this book are the narrative drive (it's a very exciting, hard to put down book), the vivid characters (I don't know what other reviewers were reading, but I found the characters extremely vivid and mostly believable - exceptions to follow), the sprawling cast, the several completely different worlds that were masterfully portrayed, and the strong female characters in the book. The portrayal of slavery and its effects on families and on individuals is gut-wrenching - when Uncle Tom has to leave his family, and when Eliza may lose little Harry, one feels utterly desolate.
As for flaws, yes, Mrs. Stowe does sermonize a fair bit, and her sentences and pronouncements can be smug. Yes, if you're not a Christian, you may find all her Christian references a bit much. (But the majority of her readers claimed to be Christian, and it was her appeal to the spirit of Christ that was her most powerful tug at the emotions of her readers). Yes, she still had some stereotypical views of African-Americans (frankly, I think most people have stereotypical views of races other than their own, they just don't state them as clearly today). But in her time, she went far beyond the efforts of most of her contemporaries to both see and portray her African-American brothers and sisters are equal to her. The best way she did this was in her multi-dimensional portrayal of her Negro characters -- they are, in fact, more believable and more diverse than her white characters. Yes, at times her portrayal of Little Eva and Uncle Tom is overdone at times -- they are a little cardboard in places -- but both, Uncle Tom especially, are overall believable, and very inspiring. The rest of the Negro characters - George Harris, Eliza, Topsy, Cassie, Emmeline, Chloe, Jane and Sara, Mammy, Alphonse, Prue, and others, span the whole spectrum of humanity -- they are vivid and real.
The comments of a previous reviewer that the book actually justifies slavery (because "it says it's no worse than capitalism") and that it shows that Christianity defends slavery are due to sloppy reading of the book. No one reading the book could possibly come to the conclusion that it does anything but condemn slavery in the strongest and most indubitable terms. This was the point of the book. The aside about capitalism was just that, an aside on the evils of capitalism. It did not and does not negate the attack on slavery. Secondly, another major point of the book is that TRUE Christianity does not and could not ever support slavery. Stowe points out the Biblical references used to claim that Christianity defended slavery merely to show how the Bible can be misused by those who wish to defend their own indefensible viewpoint. It's ridiculous to say that the book "shows that Christianity supported slavery". It shows that some misguided preachers abused certain Bible passages and ignored other ones to support their view of slavery.
There is an overlay of the tired "Victorian women's novel" to this piece - that must be granted. For literary perfection, it will never take its place beside Tolstoy, Dickens and Austen. But it is a piece entirely of its own category. Nothing before or after it has been anything like it, and it IS a great, if flawed, novel. I highly recommend it. I give it 5 stars despite its flaws because it's utterly unique, and its greatness is in some ways is related to its flaws.