Stowe’s Protest Novel

 

ENG 343: The American Novel

Lesson 4: Stowe’s Protest Novel
Sept. 23-27, 2002

Objectives

By the end of this lesson, you should be able to do each of the following without consulting notes or other resources:

  • Summarize the life and literary contributions of Harriet Beecher Stowe.
  • Insightfully discuss characters, themes, and other features of Uncle Tom’s Cabin.
  • Define or identify relevant terms, names, and dates.

Activities

Our class activities this week include the following:

 

Think Fast: In a paragraph (100 words), react to Harriet Beecher Stowe’s explicit purpose in writing Uncle Tom’s Cabin.  What features of the novel seem to fulfill this purpose?

Presentation: “Stowe’s Protest Novel” (Professor Canada)

Cooperative Learning:

Background: Read “Slave Sale Announcements,” “Runaway Slave Advertisements,” the excerpt from The Life of Josiah Henson, and “A Slave Auction Desccribed by a Slave” in the Norton Critical Edition of Uncle Tom’s Cabin.  How might real materials such as these have helped to shape Stowe’s novel?  In what ways is Stowe’s narrative different from the true accounts provided in these materials?  Comment on the ways in which fiction departs from and builds on nonfiction.

Stowe and Abolition: Read Stowe’s letter to Eliza Cabot Follen, the excerpts from The Key to Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and Stowe’s “Appeal to the Women of the Free States” in the Norton Critical Edition of Uncle Tom’s Cabin.  Summarize these materials for the rest of the class.  Comment on Stowe’s work for the abolitionist cause.

Reactions: Read George Sand’s review of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, William G. Allen’s essay on the novel, and James Baldwin’s “Everybody’s Protest Novel” in the Norton Critical Edition of Uncle Tom’s Cabin.  What in Stowe’s narrative seems to appeal to some readers?  What seems to vex other readers?  How do their reactions reflect their own beliefs about the power or purpose of literature?  Take a side and make your own argument about the value of Uncle Tom’s Cabin.  What does your argument reveal about your own attitudes toward literature?

Sentimentalism: Read Jane Tompkins’s “Sentimental Power: Uncle Tom’s Cabin and the Politics of Literary History” in the Norton Critical Edition of Uncle Tom’s Cabin.  Summarize Tompkins’s argument for the rest of the class.  Use this argument to interpret one or two scenes that Tompkins’s does not explicitly analyze.  Do you accept Tompkins’s argument?  Defend your position.

Discussion: During this time, we will discuss the insights and questions that have emerged during our reading, “Think Fast” exercise, presentations, and cooperative learning.

Think Again: Write your own review (300 words) of Uncle Tom’s Cabin.  Make an argument about whether it succeeds as an example of a particular genre, such as protest novel or sentimental novel.

Conferences: While the rest of you are working on the “Think Again” exercise, I will meet with two of you in one-on-one conferences.  During this time, I will review some of your writing, orally quiz you on lesson objectives, and field your questions.

Announcements: We will wrap up this lesson with announcements regarding upcoming lessons, as well as other relevant subjects.

Names and Terms

Make sure you know the meaning and significance of each of the following names and terms:

  • Frederick Douglass
  • William Lloyd Garrison
  • Abraham Lincoln
  • Uncle Tom
  • Simon Legree
  • Little Eva
  • abolitionists
  • slave narrative
  • sentimental novel
  • protest novel

Chronology

Make sure you are familiar with the following key date:

 

1850: Compromise of 1850

1851: Uncle Tom’s Cabin launched in National Era

1861-1865: Civil War divides North and South

Resources

You can find more information about the subject covered in this lesson by consulting the print or electronic resources listed below:

 

 

Sensational Designs: The Cultural Work of American Fiction, 1790-1860, a scholarly volume by Jane Tompkins, makes a case for the value of Uncle Tom’s Cabin and other sentimental novels of the antebellum era.

 

The Key to Uncle Tom’s Cabin, written by Stowe herself, provides historical material substantiated the picture of slavery she presents in Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

Updated September 20, 2002
Mark Canada, 2002
mark.canada@uncp.edu
 

Introduction

Having completed our study of Moby-Dick, we turn now to a very different novel, Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin.  Please read the first half of the novel by Monday.  Also, I will assign each group a few additional readings from the Norton Critical Edition.

 

As we agreed after class on Friday, September 20, we will take our field trip to Asheville on Saturday, October 19.  The following students have expressed an interest in going on the trip: Dee Charles, Mike Hemminger, Jerry Hinson, Becca Howell, Nicole Kinlaw, Sarah McDaniel, Erin Murner, Amy Robinson, Cresta Strickland, and Jennifer Teague.  I will post complete details on the Web in the next week or so.  Meanwhile, please e-mail me to let me know how many guests you wish to bring and whether you plan to drive yourself.

Discussion

Harriet Beecher Stowe, 1811-1896

 

Upon meeting Harriet Beecher Stowe in 1862, President Abraham Lincoln famously declared: “So this is the little lady who started this great big war” (Lowance 3).  Although exaggerated, Lincoln’s comment underlines the enormous sensation that Stowe’s novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin created after its appearance in 1851.  Indeed, Stowe’s expose of slavery was the most popular book written by an American in the nineteenth century, trailing only the Bible in sales.  Her impact has stretched into our present century, when the names Uncle Tom, Simon Legree, and Little Eva still carry strong associations with some Americans.  Despite her undisputed popularity, modern scholars differ on Stowe’s achievement as a literary artist.  Many have dismissed Uncle Tom’s Cabin as a sentimental novel, but it has also been argued that Stowe and other writers of sentimental novels were employing interesting literary strategies of their own.  After writing Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Stowe published a number of other works, including A Key to Uncle Tom’s Cabin and Oldtown Folks.

 

Before she was Harriet Beecher Stowe, she was Harriet Beecher, a member of one of the most famous and influential families in New England.  She was born in 1811 in Connecticut, the daughter of the well-known Evangelical minister Lyman Beecher. Her brothers all became clergymen; most notable among them was the tremendously influential Henry Ward Beecher.  After teaching at Hartford Female Seminary, she moved with her family in 1832 to Cincinnati, Ohio, where she taught at Western Female Institute.  The move turned out to be an important one for it placed her much closer to slavery.  The following year, she visited Kentucky, where she saw slaves at work.  In 1836, she married Calvin Stowe, who was also a minister.  Meanwhile, her literary career was beginning.  In 1834, she had published four stories in Western Monthly Magazine, and five years later she was publishing stories in Godey’s Lady’s Book and other national magazines.  In 1850, she moved to Brunswick, Maine, and began publishing work in the National Era.  Uncle Tom’s Cabin appeared in serialized form in this periodical beginning in 1851 and was published in book form in 1852.  After moving that year to Massachusetts, Stowe went to Europe in 1853.

 

Uncle Tom’s Cabin was a sensation from the start, and in 1853 Stowe published a companion volume, The Key to Uncle Tom’s Cabin, in which she sought to substantiate the material in her novel.  The following year, she organized a petition protesting slavery and presented it to the United States Senate.  Over the remaining decades of her life, she continued publishing fiction, including Dred: A Tale of the Great Dismal Swamp (1856), The Minister’s Wooing (1859), and Oldtown Folks (1869), Lady Byron Vindicated (1870).  Her husband died in 1886, but she lived another decade and longer before dying of a stroke in 1896.

 

Uncle Tom’s Cabin or, Life Among the Lowly

 

When installments of Uncle Tom’s Cabin began appearing in the National Era in 1851, slavery was already a divisive issue in the United States.  Nearly as old as America itself—the first African slaves arrived in Virginia in 1619, just a few years after the establishment of Jamestown in 1607—the institution had drawn comment in the eighteenth century from Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and others.  The Quakers, including the spiritual autobiographer and pamphleteer John Woolman, had been especially vocal in their denunciation of slavery.  While the “peculiar institution,” as it came to be called, eventually disappeared in the northern states, it continued in the South, where a largely agricultural economy heavily depended on it for the production of cotton, indigo, and other crops.  By the early part of the nineteenth century, slavery was a source of tension between the two regions, especially as new states were entering the Union.  In 1820, the Senate passed legislation under which Missouri was admitted to the Union as a “slave state” while Maine entered as a “free state.”  This agreement kept the number of slave states and free states even.  The Missouri Compromise, as it came to be called, did not end the controversy, however, the Senate sought to achieve an agreement again with the Compromise of 1850, which involved the admission of California as a free state and passage of the Fugitive Slave Act.  The latter law penalized free people who assisted escaping slaves.

 

Despite Lincoln’s comment about Stowe’s impact, then, Uncle Tom’s Cabin did not single-handedly precipitate the American Civil War (1861-1865).  Rather it grew out of an ongoing conflict that involved many Americans, particularly slaves, slave owners, and Northern abolitionists.  In particular, Stowe responded not only to the scenes of slavery she had witnessed firsthand, but accounts from others.  In the years preceding the publication of her novel, Americans had seen a number of slave narratives, including Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass (1845) and The Life of Josiah Henson, Formerly a Slave, Now an Inhabitant of Canada, As Narrated by Himself (1849).  In The Key to Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Stowe explicitly identified the latter book as a source for her own novel.  When Stowe’s novel appeared, it took its place alongside not only these slave narratives, but numerous abolitionist publications, notably William Lloyd Garrison’s weekly periodical The Liberator (1831-1865) and the writings of Quaker poet John Greenleaf Whittier (1807-1892).

 

If the “little lady” who wrote Uncle Tom’s Cabin did not directly and single-handedly bring about America’s “great big war,” her novel did create a sensation among American readers and help to inflame passions about slavery.  In its first year, it went through 120 editions and sold more than 300,000 copies.  In this same year dramatist George Aiken turned the book into a play, which went on to have a prosperous life of its own.  After an initial run of 100 nights, it ran continuously from 1853 to 1934, becoming the most popular play in United States history.

 

As literature, Uncle Tom’s Cabin can be approached from several productive angles.  It is worth noting, first of all, that it contains elements of at least three genre: the protest novel, the novel of ideas, and the sentimental novel.  Although its sentimental features have led some to dismiss it, the literary scholar Jane Tompkins has seen these qualities as a source of strength.  In Sensational Designs: Uncle Tom’s Cabin and the Politics of Literary History, Tompkins argues that “. . . the popular domestic novel of the nineteenth century represents a monumental effort to reorganize culture from the woman’s point of view; that this body of work is remarkable for its intellectual complexity, ambition, and resourcefulness; and that, in certain cases, it offers a critique of American society far more devastating than any delivered by better-known critics such as Hawthorne and Melville” (124).  Finally, readers of the novel will find in it treatments of companionship, experience, morality, politics, and other subjects.

Works Cited

Lowance, Mason I., Jr., and Ellen E. Westbrook.  “Introduction.”  The Stowe Debate.  Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1994.  1-9.

Tompkins, Jane.  Sensational Designs: The Cultural Work of American Fiction 1790-1860.  New York: Oxford University Press, 1985.

Conclusion

In this lesson, we have examined one of America’s popular novels.  We turn in our next lesson to a very different book by a very different writer.  The Wings of the Dove is a highly complex and refined novel by Henry James, a writer who has commanded a large following among writers and scholars while largely eluding popular audiences.

Uncle Tom's Cabin or, Life among the Lowly

Publication

1852

serialized in The National Era

later published in book form

Characters

Uncle Tom

slave in Kentucky
originally belongs to Mr. Shelby
later belongs to Augustine St. Clare
finally belongs to Simon Legree
exemplifies Christian humility, virtue, honesty, and sacrifice
“powerfully-made man” (32)

Mr. Haley

slave trader who buys Tom and takes him to market in New Orleans
considers himself humane, but thinks nothing of separating black families
feels pangs of guilt, but decides to go on suppressing them while he makes a living

Mr. Shelby

owner of Tom before he sells him to settle a debt
kind to Tom, but rationalizes that he must sell him to preserve his own family’s way of life

Eliza

one of Mr. Shelby’s slaves
upon learning that her son, Harry, has been sold, she escapes across the Ohio River
married to George Harris, with whom she escapes to Canada

George Harris

married to Eliza, with whom he escapes to Canada
intelligent machinist
invented a piece of machinery, but owner sent him back to the fields because he was intimidated by George’s aptitude
once free, he tries to better himself through “self-cultivation” (473)

Aunt Chloe

married to Uncle Tom
cook for Mr. and Mrs. Shelby
after Tom is sold, she sells her services to make money to buy him back
proud of her cooking

Tom Loker

slave hunter whom Haley hires to pursue Eliza and Harry
later has a change of heart and helps Eliza escape

Augustine St. Clare

wealthy
ineffectual
married the debutante Marie out of anger that the family of his real love had forbid his marriage to her (174)

Ophelia St. Clare

cousin of Augustine St. Clare
Vermont woman
“In her habits, she was a living impersonation of order, method, and exactness.  In punctuality, she was as inevitable as a clock, and as inexorable as a railroad engine; and she held in most decided contempt and abomination anything of a contrary character” (180)

Marie St. Clare

wife of Augustine St. Clare
self-absorbed: revels in her physical distress while slaves suffer from whippings and lack of sleep

Topsy

slave child whom St. Clare brings home to Miss Ophelia to raise
victim of beatings from previous master
initially believes she cannot be good because she is black
respects those who beat her (280)
saved by love of Little Eva and Miss Ophelia
misplaced values and eerie presence make her an enigma; I wonder if Stowe was thinking of some odd children she knew as a teacher
breaks needles, steals household objects, messes up Miss Ophelia’s room
not given the chance to succeed in anything positive, Topsy turns her ambition toward being “wicked” and takes pride in her accomplishments (280)

Eva

daughter of Augustine and Marie St. Clare
friend of slaves
dies as a child
Christlike in her willingness to do for others (307)

Simon Legree

“His round, bullet head, large, light-gray eyes, with their shaggy, sandy eye-brows, and stiff, wiry, sun-burned hair, were rather unprepossessing items, it is to be confessed; his large, coarse mouth was distended with tobacco . . .” (370)
cruel master
but he has a real soul; he feels guilt over turning to wickedness in spite of his loving mother (411)
Stowe describes his plantation in Gothic terms: it lies isolated among the dark swamps; the house is falling apart (380-383)

Cassy

once Simon’s concubine, she has been exiled to the fields upon the arrival of a new slave
strong
has given up on Christianity
cleverly escapes from Legree

Summary

Preface states that object of work is to arouse sympathy for blacks

Mr. Haley, a slave trader, pressures Mr. Shelby to sell him both Tom and Eliza’s son, Harry, in order to pay on a debt he owes

George visits his wife, Eliza, and tells her of his plans to flee to Canada to escape life under cruel owner

Tom and his family enjoy eating and singing hymns in their cabin

Mr. Shelby signs papers selling Tom and Harry to Mr. Haley

Mr. Shelby tells Mrs. Shelby that he has sold Tom and Harry (44)

after overhearing the plans to sell Harry, Eliza runs away with him (48)

the following morning, Mr. and Mrs. Shelby become aware of Eliza’s escape and notify Mr. Haley (52)

Sam, one of the slaves, serves Mrs. Shelby by impeding Mr. Haley’s search for Eliza, first upsetting the horses and then shrewdly directing Haley down a dead end

Eliza escapes over Ohio River

Haley sees Tom Loker and employs him to pursue Eliza and Harry

Sam and Andy return to Shelby plantation, where Sam tells the story of Eliza’s escape to Mrs. Shelby and the other slaves

Eliza arrives at home of Senator Bird and his wife (96)

Bird, although he has supported a Fugitive Slave Act in the state legislature, is moved by Eliza’s plight and takes her to John Van Trompe, who hides her (106)

Chloe and children say goodbye to Tom before Haley takes him away

Haley buys three more slaves and takes them and Tom onto a riverboat that is heading down the river

Eliza and Harry reside at Quaker settlement with Rachel and Simeon Halliday

Tom meets Little Eva on the steamboat and saves her from drowning after she falls in the water

St. Clare buys Tom, and they return to St. Clare’s estate

George, Eliza, Harry, Jim, and his mother set out for Canada and survive a run-in with Tom Loker and his crew (218-228)

Augustine St. Clare discusses slavery with Miss Ophelia

Augustine brings home Topsy and gives her to Miss Ophelia to Christianize (267)

Aunt Chloe decides to hire herself out and make money to buy Tom (286)

Eva tells Tom that she is going to heaven soon (291)

Eva asks her father to free his slaves (309)

Eva tries to persuade Topsy to be good by telling her that she loves her (314)

Eva dies (329)

Miss Ophelia, inspired by Eva, tries again to raise Topsy and bring her around to virtue (332)

St. Clare begins to arrange for Tom’s freedom

Inspired by Christ’s statement on the “least of my brothers,” St. Clare seems to be moving toward fighting slavery

St. Clare dies after being stabbed in a bar fight (351)

Despite Miss Ophelia’s pleas, Marie St. Clare refuses to free Tom

Simon Legree buys Tom

Simon Legree comes to dislike Tom because he recognizes Tom’s virtue and believes that Tom secretly condemns him for his wickedness (389)

Legree beats Tom for refusing to beat other slaves (395)

George, Eliza, and Harry make it to Canada, where they are free (427-428)

Tom, exposed to heavy torments, starts to slip in his faith, but sees a vision of Christ in suffering and triumph and regains it (430-431)

other slaves rise in faith under inspiration of Tom

Cassy urges Tom to kill Legree so that the slaves can escape, but Tom refuses (437)

Cassy leads Legree to think that the garret is haunted

Cassy and Emmeline pretend to be running off, then double back to hide in the garret until the searches end

Legree takes out his anger by beating Tom to death

Hoping to buy him back, George Shelby finally finds Tom, only to see him die

With help from George Shelby, Cassy and Emmeline escape (467)

Cassy learns that she is Eliza’s mother (471)

George Harris decides to take his family to Liberia

George Shelby frees his slaves

Issues and themes

Art

art can serve a moral purpose: “The poet, the painter, and the artist, now seek out and embellish the common and gentler humanities of life, and, under the allurements of fiction, breathe a humanizing and subduing influence, favorable to the development of the great principles of Christian brotherhood” (7)
preface states that object of work is to arouse sympathy for blacks (7)

Class

Mr. Shelby admonishes the coarse Haley and tells him he must “observe something of the decorum of a gentleman” when speaking to him (53)
Mr. Shelby tells Haley: “I am not accustomed to hear my wife spoken of with such freedom” (54)
See “Politics”

Companionship

celebrates power of sympathy, “feeling together”: “The object of these sketches is to awaken sympathy and feeling for the African race. . .” (7)
title, “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” emphasizes home life; as Alcott does in “Work,” Stowe presents idealized home lives to celebrate the importance and centrality of family and companionship
description of Uncle Tom’s cabin suggests warmth, love, contentedness; Stowe draws a fire, humble furnishings, a pot of “something good” to eat, boys kissing the baby and playing, various slaves delighting in hymns (30-41)
depiction of life in Quaker household suggests love and “security” (159): Eliza wakes and sees supper table, Rachel feeding Harry, Rachel adjusting the bed-clothes, husband and wife interacting (159); “This indeed, was a home,—home,—a word that George had never yet known a meaning for; and a belief in God, and trust in his providence, began to encircle his heart” (161); thus, the presence of a home helps to make a Christian
“And in those tears they all shed together, the high and the lowly, melted away all the heart-burnings and anger of the oppressed.  O, ye who visit the distressed, do ye know that everything your money can buy, given with a cold, averted face, is not worth one honest tear shed in real sympathy” (113)
George tells Mr. Wilson that the worst part of slavery was the breakup of his family; he cried “because I had n’t a friend to love me on earth” (129)
“But, what can any individual do?  Of that, every individual can judge.  There is one thing that everyindividual can do,—they can see to it that they feel right.  An atmosphere of sympathetic influence encircles every human being; and the man or woman who feels strongly, healthily and justly, on the great interests of humanity, is a constant benefactor to the human race” (490)
See “Work,” “Ruth Hall,” and even “Tom Sawyer” and “Moby-Dick”

Composition

1851: Stowe sees a vision of a slave being brutally beaten and then forgiving his tormentors
written in a year
later says the book was written by God through her
Stowe received $300 for the serialization
book publisher offered her 50 percent of the profits if she paid 50 percent of the costs; she couldn’t afford the latter and had to settle for 10 percent of profits
nonetheless, she says in a letter that she made “ten thousand dollars as the first fruits of three months sale”
explains in “Concluding Remarks” that she was driven to write the book by the Fugitive Slave Act in the Compromise of 1850 and by the ignorance of slavery among Northerners (488)

Experience

Stowe repeatedly stresses the importance of experience; to Sen. Bird, who fails to condemn slavery when it is only an abstraction, experience is a teacher; in Stowe’s treatment of Mr. Wilson and Ms. Ophelia, experience serves as a counterpart to their abstract morality
St. Clare forces Miss Ophelia to be virtuous in deed, as well as in belief, when he brings her Topsy and tells her to “give her a good orthodox New England bringing up” (269)
when Miss Ophelia blames the South’s system for the existence of children such as Topsy, St. Clare counters: “I know it; but they are made,—they exist,—and what is to be done with them?” (277)
St. Clare says to Miss Ophelia: “You send thousands of dollars to foreign missions; but could you endure to have the heathen sent into your towns and villages, and give our time, and thoughts, and money, to raise them to the Christian standard?” (349)
See “Morality”

Historical basis

Sources
personal observations: While she lived with her husband in Cincinnati, she was familiar with the slavery across the Ohio River as well as the abolition movement in the North.
“Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass” (1845)
“Life of Josiah Henson”: Stowe may have drawn on Henson’s descriptions of a benevolent owner, the sale of the slaves after his death, Henson’s initial unwillingness to flee from his cruel master, and his refusal to commit murder
her own life; in a letter to the abolitionist Eliza Cabot Follen, she wrote that, after experiencing the death of one of her children, she “learned what a poor slave mother may feel when her child is torn away from her”
“The separate incidents that compose the narrative are, to a very great extent, authentic, occurring, many of them, either under her own observation, or that of her personal friends” (485)
Fictionalization
although she drew material from reality, she decided to put this material in the form of a novel
allows her to conflate individual experiences and thus tell the stories of many people instead of just one; it makes for a more expansive work
allows her to tell the “truth” because it allows for more flexibility
allows her to be selective about the incidents she recounts; by eliminating extraneous, day-to-day incidents, she crystallizes her story
allows her to impose what Wallace Stegner calls a “dream of order”; she can try to discover an explanatory framework for reality
allows her to explore the world under details of reality, the world of the mind; although she does not take full advantage of this possibility, Hawthorne, Melville, and others do
acts as Sidney's "sugar-coated pill": While readers enjoy an exciting, deftly told story, they also get a lesson.
See “Moby-Dick,” “The Scarlet Letter,” “Tom Sawyer”

Humor

Sam is trickster figure who, like Brer Rabbit, gets just what he wants by cajoling a doltish social superior
Marie St. Clare’s complaints about her suffering, while disgusting, are humorous because of their ridiculous irony

Money

Chloe takes great satisfaction in earning the money to pay for Tom
see “Work” and “Ruth Hall”

Morality

Mr. Shelby admits that men do not live according to principle: “We men of the world must wink pretty hard at various things, and get used to a deal that is n’t the exact thing” (46); like Bildad in “Moby-Dick,” he separates religion and principles from real world
sacrificing himself for honor and the good of others, Tom refuses to run away from Mr. Shelby, even though he knows he has been sold down the river, because he doesn’t want to break trust and because he knows breaking the deal would mean the breakup of the plantation (50)
George Harris challenges Mr. Wilson’s abstract morality when he asks Wilson if he would stand by his notions of Providence if his own children were kidnapped by Indians (127)
Augustine St. Clare exemplifies the weakness that allows bad things to continue; asked why doesn’t do something about slavery, he says: “Nothing is easier than talking” (202)
St. Clare asks Miss Ophelia: “Are you such a sweet innocent as to suppose nobody in this world ever does what they don’t think is right?” (248)
Morality has its basis in the individual, but external factors shape reputation; Augustine St. Clare explains to Miss Ophelia that her father is in his heart every bit the aristocrat that his father was, but is considered a democrat in the North (256)
see “Race”

Politics

St. Clare points out that lower classes are oppressed in England and other places, just as slaves are in South (240, 257)
St. Clare says Northerners don't understand Southerners' position on slavery. He says they think Southerners believe slaves don't mind their plight. In reality, he says, at least some Southern whites--like his brother--know slaves lead terrible lives, but believe that subservience by some to others is the natural order of things (254)
In Chapter 19, Augustine St. Clare suggests that democracy and capitalism are incongrous. He describes the feelings of his brother, a slaveowner, who argues that owning slaves is no different from running a big business enterprise. A powerful person uses workers to perform tasks and make him wealthier: "the American planter is 'only doing, in another form, what the English aristocracy and capitalists are doing by the lower classes;that is, I take it, appropriating them, body and bone, soul and spirit, to their use and convenience." If the nature of society is as St. Clare's brother sees it, if progress really relies on the power of some and the subservience of others, then democracy is an impossible notion.
“The ‘lowly’ for Mrs. Stowe represented the victims of society everywhere, people so generally disregarded that they were invisible . . .” (Kazin xi)

Popularity

Extent
“the biggest best-seller of the nineteenth century after the Bible” (Kazin ix)
120 editions, 300,000 copies, appeared in 1852 (Kazin xii)
theatrical version of the story became the most popular play in history of the United States; 16 versions of it were playing in the 1850s, and the play ran continuously from 1853 to 1934
Results
popularity in England may have influenced English decision to support the North after initially siding with the South
success in whipping up public sentiment contributed to movement toward Civil War (Ward)
Millions of copies sold
Reasons
dominant presence of slavery issue at the time
Good story: meticulously drawn characters, action
Simplicity: Although some of the vocabulary is challenging, the writing is easy to follow.
universal themes, including struggles of lower class, courage and heroism, and one human’s control over another; this last theme, in particular may have held special interest for female readers, who enjoyed little sovereignty in 1852

Race

arguments for slavery
Haley: it’s OK to split black families because blacks “an’t like white folks, you know; they gets over things” (13); lady on steamboat says: “We can’t reason from our feelings to those of this class of persons” (141); Marie says Mammy couldn’t have the same feelings for a husband that whites do (197)
biblical support for slavery: man on riverboat quotes: “‘Cursed by Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be’” (142)
Marie’s minister preaches the beauty of God’s order (206)
St. Clare nails the real reason: “If I was to say anything on this slavery matter, I would say out, fair and square, ‘We ‘re in for it; we ‘ve got ‘em, and mean to keep ‘em,—it’s for our convenience and interest” (207); he even points that that church doctrine would change if the price of cotton dropped (208)
whites’ inability to end slavery
Mr. Shelby admits that men do not live according to principle: “We men of the world must wink pretty hard at various things, and get used to a deal that is n’t the exact thing” (46); like Bildad in “Moby-Dick,” he separates religion and principles from real world
fighting his guilt over selling Tom, Mr. Shelby rationalizes that “he had a right to do it,—that everybody did it,—and that some did it without even the excuse of necessity” (115)
the bottom line of Shelby’s action—or inaction—is his weakness; like St. Clare, he simply cannot follow through on his principles
system goes on as long as everyone participates; Haley defends his actions by saying: “So long as your grand folks wants to buy men and women, I ‘m as good as they is” (118); this passage can be read as an indictment of the weak aristocrats Shelby and St. Clare, but, in a broader sense, it indicts all the people who participate in an immoral system; by not recognizing their free will, people like Haley abdicate it
Haley: “I took up the trade just to make a living; if’t an’t right, I calculated to ‘pent on ‘t in time, ye know” (142)
even Miss Ophelia does not have the proper attitude, and Augustine St. Clare calls her on it: “You loathe them as you would a snake or a toad, yet you are indignant at their wrongs” (201); as long as Northerners lack this human connection, the system of slavery will continue
St. Clare says he can’t “turn knigh-errant” and right all the wrongs of the slavery (247); instead of doing something, he does nothing
in tradition of trickster figure, blacks slyly undermine whites’ power
servants have several “accidents” in preparing breakfast for Mr. Haley
Sam upsets horses
by telling Haley that they should NOT take a certain dirt road to pursue Eliza, Sam leads Haley to do just that (71)

Reactions

Dickens: novel is overly sentimental (Lowance 2)
Lincoln: “So this is the little lady who started this great big war” (Lowance 3)
Douglass: politically and socially significant (Lowance 4)

Realism

Characterizations
St. Clare: She lets him air out all of his feelings, frustrations, and impediments. He comes across as a human being. Like every one, he is flawed, and he struggles with these flaws, especially the reluctance to do anything about slavery even though he disapproves of it.
Miss Ophelia: “In her habits, she was a living impersonation of order, method, and exactness.  In punctuality, she was as inevitable as a clock, and as inexorable as a railroad engine; and she held in most decided contempt and abomination anything of a contrary character” (180); “Miss Ophelia was the absolute bond-slave of the “ought” (181); “Because now is the only time there ever is to do a thing in” (343)
Topsy is eerie and otherworldly in her misplaced values and isolation; she reminds me of the peculiar children one meets sometimes in schools (280)
attention to realistic details
“Of course, in a novel, people’s hearts break, and they die, and that is the end of it; and in a story this is very convenient.  But in real life we do notdie when all that makes life bright dies to us.  There is a most busy and important round of eating, drinking, dreaming, walking, visiting, buying, selling, talking, reading, and all that makes up what is commonly called living, yet to be gone through; and this yet remained to Augustine” (176)
in his careful description and its confrontation of people from different regions and cultures, the scene of Miss Ophelia trying to impose order on Dinah’s kitchen resembles a local-color sketch (235)

Religion

George Harris says faith in God’s goodness is easy for those who do not have to endure slavery (27)
Draws parallels between a slave, Tom, and Christ. Tom sacrifices his life for the good of Cassy and Emmeline, offers up his soul to God before he expects to be executed, and calls for forgiving his tormenters.
Eva is Christlike in her willingness to die for others (307)
Suggests God looks after slaves. Even while they are oppressed by humans in this world, the slaves rely on God to help them persevere and to be just in his kingdom.

Technique

Aesthetics
by ordinary critical standards, the book’s sentimentalism, its simple language, and the one-dimensional nature of some of its characters make it a failure
George Sand argues, however, that critics cannot argue with the effect the book achieves: “If its judges, possessed with the love of what they call ‘artistic work,’ find unskillful treatment in the book, look well at them to see if their eyes are dry when they are reading this or that chapter” (460)
Sand says Stowe has “the genius of goodness” because she demonstrates great love for a race (461)
"Pictures" of slavery
Tom weeps over his children after he learns he has been sold: “For, sir, he was a man,—and you are but another man” (51)
unlike a tract, it puts faces on slaves and arouses what Stowe believes is a generally good human nature and a genuine concern for fellow beings: “If it were your Harry, mother, or your Willie, that were going to be torn from you by a brutal trader, to-morrow morning ... how fast could you walk?” (62)
The picture of Eliza, who cannot see her precious boy sold, illustrates the emotional pain imposed by the system of slavery
The picture of Tom, a character we have come to know over the course of the book, in a merciless beating illuminates the physical torment of slavery as no essay could do.
Senator Bird advocates a state Fugitive Slave Act when he thinks of slaves only in the abstract, but helps to hide Eliza when he comes face to face with her (94-108) (Ward)
Irony
George Harris’ owner: “It’s a free country, sir; the man’s mine, and I do what I please with him, — that’s it” (23)
"So spoke this poor heathenish Kentuckian, who had not been instructed in his constitutional relations, and consequently was betrayed into acting in a sort of Christianized manner, which, if he had been better situated and more enlightened he would not have been left to do." (74); Stowe suggests that American law is corrupt and this man benefits from following his individual conscience. See “Huckleberry Finn”
Haley, the trader who is going to buy Harry, tries to outsmart Sam. Although Sam tries to talk him into taking the main road, Haley thinks Sam is trying to trick him and decides to take the dirt road instead. This route slows him down in his pursuit of Eliza, and he begins to blame Sam. But then realizes that he has dug his own grave.
Haley, a ruthless separator of families, considers himself a man of humanity
“Sentimental Power: Uncle Tom’s Cabin and the Politics of Literary History” (Tompkins)
argues that 20th-century critics have formed standards to “supplant the tradition of evangelical piety and moral commitment these novelists represent” (123), but offers no support for this statement
thesis: “. . . the popular domestic novel of the nineteenth century represents a monumental effort to reorganize culture from the woman’s point of view; that this body of work is remarkable for its intellectual complexity, ambition, and resourcefulness; and that, in certain cases, it offers a critique of American society far more devastating than any delivered by better-known critics such as Hawthorne and Melville” (124); in this chapter, at least, she treats only the first of these subjects
novel makes use of “religion of domesticity” of 19th century and portrays “salvation through motherly love” (125)
sentimental novels seek to “influence the course of history” (125)
novel makes use of contemporary celebration of death as a form of Christian heroism (127)
portrays transformative power of mother’s love through treatment of Miss Ophelia and Topsy (130); motherly love is the central tenet of Stowe’s plan for social change from the inside out, from the home outward
novel reenacts, through typological characters such as Tom and Eva, “the sacred drama of redemption” (134)
like the jeremiad Bercovitch describes, the novel “attempts to move the nation as a whole toward the vision it proclaims” (140)
“The enterprise of sentimental fiction, as Stowe’s novel attests, is anything but domestic, in the sense of being limited to purely personal concerns.  Its mission, on the contrary, is global and its interests identical with the interests of the race” (146)

Will

Gamaliel Bailey’s subtitle for the book in its serialized version in The National Era, “Uncle Tom’s Cabin; or, the Man That Was a Thing,” points to the absolute control slave owners exerted over slaves in the South
Stowe emphasizes the problem of laws that enforce this notion of ownership; beyond any questions of principles or brutality, a system in which humans are property allows for a slave with a relatively benevolent owner to be transferred upon that owner’s death into the hands of a cruel owner (27)
scene at auction, in which Haley inspects a slave as he would a horse, emphasizes this notion of man as property
slavery goes on as long as everyone participates; Haley defends his actions by saying: “So long as your grand folks wants to buy men and women, I ‘m as good as they is” (118); this passage can be read as an indictment of the weak aristocrats Shelby and St. Clare, but, in a broader sense, it indicts all the people who participate in an immoral system; by not recognizing their free will, people like Haley abdicate it
Augustine St. Clare exemplifies the weakness that allows bad things to continue; asked why doesn’t do something about slavery, he says: “Nothing is easier than talking” (202); St. Clare admits that his brother has the better of him because he acts, while St. Clare does not (260)
St. Clare blames society for his inaction; challenged to set his servants free, he says: “One man can do nothing, against the whole action of a community. Education, to do anything, must be a state education; or there must be enough agreed in it to make a current” (302); referring to a game they are playing, Alfred says, “You make the first throw” (302)
see “Race”

“Dred: A Tale of the Great Dismal Swamp”

Publication: 1856

Summary: Describes slave insurrection; inspired by Nat Turner rebellion

"Oldtown Folks"

Depicts New England village life

Relevance of names

Miss Asphyxia: She suffocates Tina by forcing her to work and crushing the girl's desires for play and relaxation. She also could be said to lack something herself. She is dying because she has no sense of beauty in the world.

Tina: She is a tiny victim.

Bibliography

Life

“Chronology.”  Uncle Tom’s Cabin.  New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1994.

Kazin, Alfred.  “Introduction.”  Uncle Tom’s Cabin.  New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1994.

Issues and themes

Kazin, Alfred.  “Introduction.”  Uncle Tom’s Cabin.  New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1994.

Lowance, Mason I., Jr., and Ellen E. Westbrook.  “Introduction.”  The Stowe Debate.  Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1994.  1-9.

Sand, George.  “Review of Uncle Tom’s Cabin.”  Life and Letters of Harriet Beecher Stowe.  Ed. Annie Fields.  Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1898.

Tompkins, Jane.  Sensational Designs: The Cultural Work of American Fiction 1790-1860.  New York: Oxford University Press, 1985.

Ward, John William.  “Afterword.”

Works

Stowe, Harriet Beecher.  Oldtown Folks.  The American Tradition in Literature.  New York: McGraw-Hill, 1990.  1028-1035.

---.  Uncle Tom’s Cabin.  New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1994.

See also

A Key to Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

Rust, Richard.  Glory and Pathos