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Uncle Toms Cabin1
Tompkins, Jane P. “Sentimental Power: Uncle Tom’s Cabin and
The Politics of Literary History”. Glyph 2 (1978)
This essay is an incredible wealth of knowledge for someone who wants to write a paper on why Uncle Tom’s Cabin is so significant. The author had actually lived in Harriet Beecher Stowe’s half-sister’s basement “during a difficult time” in her life (501). She explains why many people, including herself, do not see this novel as being “the most important book of the century” (504). Her explanation for this is that Stowe did not follow the canon of books that were produced during her time. Her books was said to be like any other woman writers, “a cultural evil” (503).
Tompkins gives a background on why Stowe, and other women writers, were not classified with Thoreau, Whitman, Hawthorne etc. She then goes on to say that Stowe, like modern writers, creates her own style and content for Uncle Tom’s Cabin. She says that the unfortunate thing is no one wanted to accept it as being good writing. Unlike Thoreau and Whitman, the “models of intellectual daring, Stowe was said to have “traded in false stereotypes, dishing out weak-minded pap to nourish the prejudices of an ill-educated and underemployed female readership” (503).
Throughout the next few pages, she backs up her main reason for writing this essay: to make people see why and how Stowe’s novel is so widely read. One reason this novel works is because of Stowe’s philosophies on Catholicism. Tompkins uses the example of Eva’s death almost mimicking Christ’s death. Eva’s death was compelling because it “enact[s] a philosophy, as much political as religious, in which the pure and powerless die to save the powerful and corrupt” (507). Tompkins says Stowe equates many characters with religious figures and even creates similarities between the characters within the novel. She gives even more examples of this.
The basic idea behind this twenty-page essay is that this novel, like many others by women novelists, was disregarded as a great work by the partriarchical society of the times. The women’s movement and the abolitionist movement helped this book and its author become more known. At the end of the essay, Tompkins introduces a book that Stowe and her sister worked on together called The American Woman’s Home. Tompkins shows how it compares to Uncle Tom’s Cabin. This essay was very good, but very long. However, it gave me a ton of ideas and made me think quite a bit about the past and why it was like it was for literature. I wanted to write more about the essay, but there was so much information and so many examples to back the information up, that I could not fit it into a page. If anyone is interested in doing a paper on Stowe, this is the article to read!!!
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Literature, Fiction, Stereotypes of African Americans, Beecher family, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Uncle Toms Cabin, Stowe, American studies, Uncle Tom
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