6 August 2014
Uncle Tom’s Cabin Research Paper
Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin is extremely entwined with American history. The popularity and response from the nation shortly after the publication of the novel was remarkable. It the nation’s first real best selling book. Unquestionably, the novel is one of the most controversial and influential novels in American history. Stowe wrote the novel in response to the fugitive slave act and her intent was to persuade her audience that slavery was intolerable. Her goal was a success. In the first year, three hundred thousand books were sold in America and a million were sold in Great Britain. One of Stowe’s greatest accomplishments with writing the novel was that she was able to reach out to those who were indifferent about slavery. After reading the book, people who did not care weather slavery was abolished or not, became abolitionists. Stowe hastened the outbreak of the civil war because of this. At the beginning of the war, Lincoln referred to Stowe as the “little lady who started the war.” The war probably would have started a couple years later if it was not for Stowe. During this time there were many abolitionist works of literature but Uncle Tom’s Cabin was by far the most popular. Many critics have tried to discuss why it was such a landmark novel and what made this piece of literature outstanding. (Piacentino, Hedrick)
John West describes Uncle Tom’s Cabin as a novel full of prudence. Stowe was very crafty when writing the novel. She did not want the content merely to denounce slavery. Doing so would m alienate the Americans who were indifferent about the subject of slavery. West points out that in order to persuade the indifferent audience, Stowe took the virtue of prudence very seriously. By using the virtue of prudence, she was able to craft a novel that was able to persuade the undecided to be against slavery rather than alienate them (West).
The first example of prudence is that there is a lot of charity towards the “villains” in the novel. “Rather than depicting slavery at its most depraved, Stowe opened her story by presenting slavery in its mildest form”(West). The novel opens up with a middle class couple who treats their slaves like family. By presenting slavery in a very mild form, Stowe “wished to persuade both fair minded slaveholders as well as ambivalent northerners that good intentions on part of individual slaveholders would never undo the unfairness and evils of the slave system”(West). Another example of the novel’s prudence is its self-criticism. “Stowe skewers the north nearly as much as the south” (West). When Miss Ophelia, a northern abolitionist, comes to visit St. Clare she spends time preaching the evils of slavery, yet she cannot stand to touch a black person. Another example of prudence in the novel is “Stowe’s attempt to frame an argument against slavery based not only on morality, but on the slaveholder’s self-interest”(West). Stowe illustrates that it is dehumanizing for the slaveholders. “In Stowe’s protestant universe, humans reflect the image of God by creating and producing—in short; by working”(West). The slaves do all of the hard work for their masters. Because the masters do not work, they condemn themselves to a meaningless existence. West explains that Augustine St. Claire’s wife Marie lives only to complain about her problems and to demand that her slaves wait on her slightest whim. She has no positive reason for existing and she gives absolutely nothing back to society. West points out that the supreme example of the novel’s prudence is Uncle Tom. His turn the other cheek attitude makes him a Christ figure. His meekness serves an important rhetorical function. “By offering readers such a gentle hero, Stowe deprived southern critics of the potentially damning charge that her book would stoke the flames of a violent slave rebellion. Instead of viewing slaves as a...
Cited: Oliver, Egbert S. "The Little Cabin of Uncle Tom." College English 26.5 (Feb. 1965): 355-361.
Piacentino, Ed. "Stowe 's Uncle Tom 's Cabin." Explicator 58.3 (Spring 2000): 135-138. Rpt.
in Children 's Literature Review
West, John. "Going back to Uncle Tom 's Cabin. (Civil War)." Books & Culture July-Aug.
2003: 26. Literature Resource Center
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