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Uncle Tom's Cabin
Harriet Beecher Stowe


REFERENCE

THE CRITICS

A NINETEENTH-CENTURY BLACK POET PRAISES STOWE

HARRIET BEECHER STOWE

She told the story, and the whole world wept
At wrongs and cruelties it had not known
But for this fearless woman's voice alone.
She spoke to consciences that long had slept:
Her message, Freedom's clear reveille, swept
From heedless hovel to complacent throne.
Command and prophecy were in the tone,
And from its sheath the sword of justice leapt.
Around two peoples swelled a fiery wave,
And both came forth transfigured from the flame.
Blest be the hand that dared be strong to save,
And blest be she who in our weakness came-
Prophet and priestess! At one stroke she gave
A race to freedom, and herself to fame.

Paul Laurence Dunbar, Century Magazine, November 1898

A TWENTIETH-CENTURY BLACK NOVELIST CRITICIZES STOWE

It is interesting to consider one more aspect of Mrs. Stowe's novel, the method she used to solve the problem of writing about a black man at all. Apart from her lively procession of field-hands, house niggers, Chloe, Topsy, etc.- who are the stock, lovable figures presenting no problem- she has only three other Negroes in the book.... Two of them may be dismissed immediately, since we have only the author's word that they are Negro and they are, in all other respects, as white as she can make them.... The figure from whom the novel takes its name, Uncle Tom, who is a figure of controversy yet, is black, wooly- haired, illiterate; and he is phenomenally forbearing. He has to be; he is black, and only through his forbearance can he survive or triumph.... The virtuous rage of Mrs. Stowe is motivated by... a panic of being hurled into the flames, of being caught in traffic with the devil.... Here, black equates with evil and white with grace... if she could not cast out the blacks... she could not embrace them either without purifying them of sin... Tom, therefore, her only black man, has been robbed of his humanity and divested of his sex....

James Baldwin, "Everybody's Protest Novel," Partisan Review, 16, June 1949

ON THE CHARACTERS

Out of a background of undistinguished narrative, inelegantly and carelessly written, the characters leap into being with a vitality that is all the more striking for the ineptitude of the prose that presents them. These characters- like those of Dickens, at least in his early phase- express themselves a good deal better than the author expresses herself. The Shelbys and George Harris and Eliza and Aunt Chloe and Uncle Tom project themselves out of the void. They come before us arguing and struggling like real people who cannot be quiet....

Edmund Wilson, Patriotic Gore, 1962

ON LITERARY MERITS

We may think of the book as a fantastic, even fanatic representation of Southern life, memorable more for its emotional oversimplification of the complexities of the slave system than for artistry or insight.

Alice Crozier, The Novels of Harriet Beecher Stowe, 1969

ON THE MEANING OF LITTLE EVA

...Stowe intended Little Eva's patient and protracted death as an exemplum of religious faith.... Yet her religious significance comes not only from her own extreme religiosity but also from the protective veneration it arouses in the other characters in the book, and presumably in her readers.... It is important to note that Little Eva doesn't actually convert anyone. Her sainthood is there to precipitate our nostalgia and our narcissism. We are meant to bestow on her that fondness we reserve for the contemplation of our own softer emotions. If 'camp' is art that is too excessive to be taken seriously, art that courts our 'tenderness,' then Little Eva suggests Christianity beginning to function as camp. Her only real demand on her readers is for self-indulgence.

Stowe's infantile heroine anticipates that exaltation of the average which is the trademark of mass culture. Vastly superior as she is to most of her offspring, she is nonetheless the childish predecessor of Miss America, of "Teen Angel," of the ubiquitous, everyday, wonderful girl about whom thousands of popular songs and movies have been made....

Ann Douglas, The Feminization of American Culture, 1977

ON THE INFLUENCE OF UNCLE TOM'S CABIN

This novel by Harriet Beecher Stowe was one of the greatest successes of American publishing history as well as one of the most influential books- immediately influential, at any rate- that have ever appeared in the United States. A year after its publication on March 20, 1852, it had sold 305,000 copies in America and something like two million and a half copies in English and in translation all over the world.... Yet, in the period after the war, the novel's popularity steadily declined.... Up to the time when it was reprinted, in 1948, in the Modern Library Series, it was actually unavailable except at secondhand.

What were the reasons for this eclipse? It is often assumed in the United States that Uncle Tom was a mere propaganda novel which disappeared when it had accomplished its purpose and did not, on its merits, deserve to live. Yet it continued to be read in Europe, and, up to the great Revolution, at any rate, it was a popular book in Russia. If we come to Uncle Tom for the first time today, we are likely... to conclude that the postwar neglect of it has been due to the strained situation between the North and the South.... It was still possible at the beginning of this century for a South Carolina teacher to make his pupils hold up their right hands and swear that they would never read Uncle Tom. Both sides, after the terrible years of the war, were glad to disregard the famous novel.... [B]y the early nineteen-hundreds few young people had any at all clear idea of what Uncle Tom's Cabin contained. One could in fact grow up in the United States without ever having seen a copy.

Edmund Wilson, Patriotic Gore, 1962

[Uncle Tom's Cabin Contents]


ADVISORY BOARD

We wish to thank the following educators who helped us focus our Book Notes series to meet student needs and critiqued our manuscripts to provide quality materials.

Sandra Dunn, English Teacher
Hempstead High School, Hempstead, New York

Lawrence J. Epstein, Associate Professor of English
Suffolk County Community College, Selden, New York

Leonard Gardner, Lecturer, English Department
State University of New York at Stony Brook

Beverly A. Haley, Member, Advisory Committee
National Council of Teachers of English Student Guide Series
Fort Morgan, Colorado

Elaine C. Johnson, English Teacher
Tamalpais Union High School District
Mill Valley, California

Marvin J. LaHood, Professor of English
State University of New York College at Buffalo

Robert Lecker, Associate Professor of English
McGill University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada

David E. Manly, Professor of Educational Studies
State University of New York College at Geneseo

Bruce Miller, Associate Professor of Education
State University of New York at Buffalo

Frank O'Hare, Professor of English and Director of Writing
Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio

Faith Z. Schullstrom, Member of Executive Committee
National Council of Teachers of English
Director of Curriculum and Instruction
Guilderland Central School District, New York

Mattie C. Williams, Director, Bureau of Language Arts
Chicago Public Schools, Chicago, Illinois

[Uncle Tom's Cabin Contents]


BIBLIOGRAPHY

FURTHER READING
CRITICAL WORKS

Adams, Francis Colburns. Uncle Tom at Home, a Review of the Reviewers and Repudiators of Uncle Tom's Cabin by Mrs. Stowe. Freeport, N.Y.: Books for Libraries Press, 1970. Reprint of an 1853 collection of reviews and responses to Uncle Tom's Cabin.

Adams, John. Harriet Beecher Stowe. New York: Twayne, 1963. A brief biography.

Baldwin, James. "Everybody's Protest Novel." Partisan Review 16 (June 1949): 578-85. A black novelist's scathing attack on Uncle Tom's Cabin.

Caskey, Marie. Chariot of Fire: Religion and the Beecher Family. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1978. Careful study of the religious beliefs of Lyman Beecher and his children.

Cross, Barbara. "Harriet Beecher Stowe." In Notable American Women, 1607-1950, Vol. 3, ed. Edward T. James, et al. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1971. Good brief biographical and critical sketch.

Crozier, Alice C. The Novels of Harriet Beecher Stowe. New York: Oxford University Press, 1969. Several chapters deal with Uncle Tom's Cabin.

Douglas, Ann. The Feminization of American Culture. New York: Knopf, 1977. Provocative interpretation of the changes in American religious and cultural life to which Stowe contributed. The introduction's subtitle is "The Meaning of Little Eva."

_____, "The Art of Controversy." In Harriet Beecher Stowe, Uncle Tom's Cabin; or, Life Among the Lowly, edited with an introduction by Ann Douglas. Harmondsworth, England: Penguin Books, 1981.

Fields, Annie. Life and Letters of Harriet Beecher Stowe. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1898. Selection of letters, interspersed with a friend's recollections.

Filler, Louis. The Crusade Against Slavery, 1830-1860. New York: Harper and Row, 1960. Solid treatment of the antislavery movement.

Foster, Charles H. The Rungless Ladder: Harriet Beecher Stowe and New England Puritanism. Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press, 1934.

Genovese, Eugene D. Roll, Jordan, Roll. New York: Pantheon, 1974. Noted study of slavery.

Gutman, Herbert G. The Black Family in Slavery and Freedom, 1750-1925. New York: Pantheon, 1976. Fascinating book to read along with Uncle Tom's Cabin.

Kimball, Gayle. The Religious Ideas of Harriet Beecher Stowe: Her Gospel of Womanhood. New York: Miller Press, 1982.

Kirkham, Bruce. The Building of Uncle Tom's Cabin. Knoxville, Tennessee: University of Tennessee Press, 1977. Guide to the problems of the text.

McPherson, James M. Ordeal By Fire. New York: Knopf, 1982. Good introduction to the period of the Civil War.

Quarles, Benjamin. Black Abolitionists. New York: Oxford University Press, 1969. Study of black opposition to slavery, including reactions to Uncle Tom's Cabin.

Rourke, Constance Mayfield. Trumpets of Jubilee: Henry Ward Beecher, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Lyman Beecher, Horace Greeley, P. T. Barnum. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1963. Perceptive introduction (originally published 1927) to the Beecher family.

Stowe, Charles Edward. The Life of Harriet Beecher Stowe. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1889. Recollections from relatives and friends, and Harriet Beecher Stowe herself. (She cooperated with her son in the writing.) A pleasure to read.

Wagenknecht, Edward. Harriet Beecher Stowe, the Known and the Unknown. New York: Oxford University Press, 1965.

Wilson, Edmund. Patriotic Gore: Studies in the Literature of the American Civil War. New York: Oxford University Press, 1962. Stimulating discussion of Uncle Tom's Cabin as well as Stowe's other works.

Wilson, Forrest. Crusader in Crinoline: The Life of Harriet Beecher Stowe. Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott, 1941. Gracefully written and more serious than the title suggests.

AUTHOR'S OTHER MAJOR WORKS

    The Mayflower, 1843
    A Key to Uncle Tom's Cabin, 1853
    Sunny Memories of Foreign Lands, 1854
    Dred, 1856
    The Minister's Wooing, 1859
    Household Papers, 1864
    Little Foxes, 1866
    Religious Poems, 1867
    Queer Little People, 1867
    Men of Our Times, 1868
    The Chimney Corner, 1868
    Old Town Folks, 1869
    The American Woman's Home (with Catharine Beecher), 1869
    Lady Byron Vindicated, 1870
    Pink and White Tyranny, 1871
    My Wife and I, 1871
    Old Town Fireside Stories, 1872
    Women in Sacred History, 1873
    We and Our Neighbors, 1875
    Footsteps of the Master, 1877
    Bible Heroines, 1878

A STEP BEYOND


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