A Reaction to Uncle Toms Cabin

This essay A Reaction to Uncle Toms Cabin has a total of 2779 words and 12 pages.

A Reaction to Uncle Toms Cabin



Lauren Richmond
History 201
April 1, 1999

A Reaction to Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin


“So this is the little lady who made this big war.” Abraham Lincoln’s legendary comment upon meeting Harriet Beecher Stowe demonstrates the significant place her novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, holds in American history. Published in book form in 1852, the novel quickly became a national bestseller and stirred up strong emotions in both the North and South. The context in which Uncle Tom’s Cabin was written, therefore, is just as significant as the actual content. Among other things, Stowe’s publication of her novel was stimulated by the increasing tensions among the nation’s citizens and by her fervent belief that slavery was brutally immoral.
While she was still young, Harriet’s family moved from Hartford, Connecticut to Cincinnati, Ohio. At the time, Cincinnati was a battleground for pro-slavery and anti-slavery forces, as well as being a city of religious revivalism, temperance conflicts, and race riots. Her father was a congregationalist minister and her oldest sister, Catherine, was a writer on social reform questions. It is not surprising, therefore, that because of her environment, Harriet became involved in movements emphasizing the moral injustice of slavery.
Probably the most significant influence on Harriet’s writing Uncle Tom’s Cabin, however, was the passage of the Fugitive Slave Law in 1950. Under the law, people who assisted a runaway slave could receive a fine of $1,000 and six months in prison. Naturally, the statute broadened the slavery debate by involving the northern states in the apprehension of runaway slaves. The North, who had previously adopted a “not-our-problem” attitude toward slavery, now was forced into a direct role in its propagation.
These influences were directly responsible for Stowe’s creation of Uncle Tom’s Cabin and its characters, which in her final chapter are revealed to have been, in one sense or another, factual representations.

The separate instances that compose the narrative are, to a very great extent, authentic, occurring, many of them, either under (my) own observation or that of (my) personal friends. (Myself or my friends) have observed characters the counterpart of almost all that are here introduced; and many of the sayings are word for word as heard myself. (p. 475)

Her motivation for writing the novel, however, was thoroughly rooted in Christian indignation. In Stowe’s preface to the novel she said that “under the allurements of fiction, (we) breathe a humanizing and subduing influence, favorable to the development of the great principles of Christian brotherhood. (p. 3)” She sought to correct a cruel practice and to bring “to the knowledge of the world the lowly, the oppressed, and the forgotten. (p. 3)”
The unexpected success of the novel was partially due to innovations in printing, which made possible the mass production and distribution of inexpensive editions. Also at this time was a wave of educational developments, driving the literacy rate upwards into unprecedented numbers. Because of the availability of the novel and the great increase in the reading population, there was no corner of the United States that was not reached by Stowe’s moral voice.
Uncle Tom’s Cabin was written in a rather empathetic tone, forcing the American public to view the black slaves as human beings, at least for the purpose of reading the novel. A southern slave-owner who read the book would be compelled to slip into the lives of his slaves, perhaps unwillingly, and view the institution from the opposing angle. In this respect was Stowe unfailingly successful. She appealed to the maternal emotions of her readers, and characterized the black population with qualities similar to that of innocent children. This characterization, therefore, made for a powerful argument against slavery.
Stowe’s characters were perhaps too dynamic, but this is a literary technique designed to further arouse the emotions of her readers. For the most part, many of the white women in the novel act as (an exaggerated) moral authority, thus compensating for the abominable “sins” of their husbands, fathers, brothers, etc. Likewise, the characteristics of the slaves were also exaggerated. They were represented as overwhelmingly loyal, clever, and pious, with Stowe therefore creating an implicit tone of victimization. The novel’s tone was rather significant, because although many people did consider the slaves as inferior, they had never before realized

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Red River of the South, Uncle Tom's Cabin, Stereotypes of African Americans, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Anti-Tom novels, Uncle Tom, Abolitionism, Dred: A Tale of the Great Dismal Swamp, A Key to Uncle Tom's Cabin

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