Don't blame Uncle Tom | Books | The Guardian
Uncle Tom's Cabin can be seen in four uneven parts: Part I consisting of ten through twentynine, about Uncle Tom and his relationship with Little Eva on the St. and to persuade him to join her, but he refuses to violate Mr. Shelby's trust. thing in Dred that she had in Uncle Tom's Cabin, the "failure" of the second novel is .. in Uncle Tom's Cabin young George Shelby and Little Eva offer the best hope for . like trust that God or his mistress will care for him. In contrast, the clear .. treatment of transracial sibling relationships and in the privileg- ing of legal. Uncle Tom's CabinHarriet Beecher Stowe Source for information on Uncle of Little Eva's lock of hair, given to Uncle Tom on her deathbed to be worn close to his On its borders I trust we stand; and the throes that now convulse the nations Their expressions of love imitated the biblical relationship of Jonathan and.
A similar character, also named Little Eva, later appeared in the children's novel Little Eva: The Flower of the South by Philip J. Cozans—although this ironically was an anti-Tom novel. He is arguably the novel's main antagonist. His goal is to demoralize Tom and break him of his religious faith; he eventually orders Tom whipped to death out of frustration for his slave's unbreakable belief in God.
The novel reveals that, as a young man, he had abandoned his sickly mother for a life at sea and ignored her letter to see her one last time at her deathbed. He sexually exploits Cassy, who despises him, and later sets his designs on Emmeline. It is unclear if Legree is based on any actual individuals.
Reports surfaced after the s that Stowe had in mind a wealthy cotton and sugar plantation owner named Meredith Calhounwho settled on the Red River north of Alexandria, Louisiana. Generally, however, the personal characteristics of Calhoun "highly educated and refined" do not match the uncouthness and brutality of Legree. Calhoun even edited his own newspaper, published in Colfax originally "Calhoun's Landing"which was renamed The National Democrat after Calhoun's death. However, Calhoun's overseers may have been in line with the hated Legree's methods and motivations.
Arthur Shelby — Tom's master in Kentucky. Shelby is characterized as a "kind" slaveowner and a stereotypical Southern gentleman.
Emily Shelby — Arthur Shelby's wife. She is a deeply religious woman who strives to be a kind and moral influence upon her slaves and is appalled when her husband sells his slaves with a slave trader. As a woman, she has no legal way to stop this, as all property belongs to her husband.
Chloe — Tom's wife and mother of his children.
Clare — Tom's third owner and father of Eva. Clare is complex, often sarcastic, with a ready wit. After a rocky courtship he marries a woman he grows to hold in contempt, though he is too polite to let it show.
Clare recognizes the evil in chattel slavery but is not willing to relinquish the wealth it brings him. After his daughter's death he becomes more sincere in his religious thoughts and starts to read the Bible to Tom.
He plans on finally taking action against slavery by freeing his slaves, but his good intentions ultimately come to nothing. Clare — Wife of Augustine, she is a self-absorbed woman without a hint of compassion for those around her, including her own family. Given to an unending list of apparently imaginary physical maladies, she continually complains about the lack of sympathy she is receiving.
She has separated her personal maid, Mammy, from her own two children because they would interfere with her duties. As Marie drives Mammy to exhaustion, she criticizes her for selfishly seeking to attend her own family. Upon the unexpected death of Augustine, Marie countermands the legal process that would have given Tom his freedom. George Harris — Eliza's husband. An intelligent and clever half-white slave who is fiercely loyal to his family.
Uncle Tom's Cabin - Wikipedia
When asked if she knows who made her, she professes ignorance of both God and a mother, saying "I s'pect I growed. Don't think nobody never made me. During the early-to-mid 20th century, several doll manufacturers created Topsy and Topsy-type dolls. The phrase "growed like Topsy" later "grew like Topsy" passed into the English language, originally with the specific meaning of unplanned growth, later sometimes just meaning enormous growth. Clare's pious, hard-working, abolitionist cousin from Vermont.
She displays the ambiguities towards African-Americans felt by many Northerners at the time. She argues against the institution of slavery yet, at least initially, feels repulsed by the slaves as individuals.
File:Edwin Longsden Long - Uncle Tom and Little Eva.JPG
Prue — A depressed slave who was forced to let her child starve to death. She takes up drinking in her misery, and is ultimately beaten and killed for it. Quimbo and Sambo — slaves of Simon Legree who act as overseers of the plantation.
On orders from Legree, they savagely whip Tom but afterward tearfully repent of their deeds to Tom, who forgives them as he lies dying. Major themes "The fugitives are safe in a free land. Smyth after they escape to freedom. Uncle Tom's Cabin is dominated by a single theme: Stowe sometimes changed the story's voice so she could give a " homily " on the destructive nature of slavery  such as when a white woman on the steamboat carrying Tom further south states, "The most dreadful part of slavery, to my mind, is its outrages of feelings and affections—the separating of families, for example.
Stowe made it somewhat subtle and in some cases she weaved it into events that would also support the dominant theme. One example of this is when Augustine St. Clare is killed, he attempted to stop a brawl between two inebriated men in a cafe and was stabbed. One other example is the death of the slave woman Prue who was whipped to death for being drunk on a consistent basis; however, her reasons for doing so is due to the loss of her baby.
In the opening of the novel, the fates of Eliza and her son are being discussed between slave owners over wine. Considering that Stowe intended this to be a subtheme, this scene could foreshadow future events that put alcohol in a bad light. Because Stowe saw motherhood as the "ethical and structural model for all of American life"  and also believed that only women had the moral authority to save  the United States from the demon of slavery, another major theme of Uncle Tom's Cabin is the moral power and sanctity of women.
Through characters like Eliza, who escapes from slavery to save her young son and eventually reunites her entire familyor Eva, who is seen as the "ideal Christian",  Stowe shows how she believed women could save those around them from even the worst injustices.
Clare to "look away to Jesus" after the death of St. Clare's beloved daughter Eva. These genres were the most popular novels of Stowe's time and tended to feature female main characters and a writing style which evoked a reader's sympathy and emotion.
Georgiana May, a friend of Stowe's, wrote a letter to the author, saying: Critics of Uncle Tom's Cabin have aligned the novel's depiction of disorderly domesticity with its antislavery appeal. Seen this way, Dinah's drawers are one symptom of slavery's violation of the "systematic order" Catharine Beecher, in her popular Treatise on Domestic Economyjudged essential to the harmonious operation of the home.
Slavery's abuse of the family wrecks domesticity's soteriological mission to "renovate degraded man," and to serve as the base of the "glorious temple" of a Christian polity. Dinah's arrangements threaten to move beyond a symbolics of critique and into the realm of intervention, as Ophelia's discovery of Methodist hymnbook, bloody cloth, and "sundry sweet herbs" in another cupboard, implicitly raises the suspicion of occult practices in the slave's domain I To treat Dinah's kitchen as a symptom risks overlooking another cultural order in the Louisiana interior, represented by what are arguably amulets concealed in Dinah's drawers, and by Dinah's phenomenal success in "ignoring or opposing" unwelcome interference "without any actual or observable contest" I What happens to Dinah in Uncle Tom's Cabin?
The cook is conspicuously absent when "Tom, Adolph, and about half a dozen others of the St. Clare estate" are sold at auction II This essay returns to the scene of Dinah's labors in order to argue that critics of Stowe's sentimental bestseller have too quickly dismissed the fact of its curious success in "ignoring or opposing" business as usual, "without any actual or observable contest.
To us, Stowe's is a portrait of an orientalized Dinah, described "seated on the kitchen floor, smoking a short, stumpy pipe, to which she was much addicted, and which she always kindled up, as a sort of censer, whenever she felt the need of inspiration in her arrangements" I But although this description must be read within Stowe's colonizing frame of primitivism and progress, it does not mean that Dinah's gifts should be disregarded.
As John Blassingame points out, witches, sorcerers, and conjurers of African extraction practiced among the slave populations, where they were, according to W. Du Bois, the "chief remaining institution" of "former group life. Such survivals may have left more traces on the aesthetics of sentiment in the United States than we have yet imagined. For example, Mechal Sobel's examination of Black and white values in eighteenth-century Virginia demonstrates that it is a surviving West African perception of death as a homecoming, and heaven as a home, that by the end of the eighteenth century becomes "an American expectation.
Bourgeois sentimentalism empowers such ordinary possessions as old shoes, worn clothing, portraits, and cut hair; but these are objects whose "close contact with the body" also made them "dangerous instruments for conjure. In tracing the idea of the fetish to the cross-cultural spaces of the coast of West Africa during the sixteenth century, anthropologist William Pietz notes that the origin of the word derives from the Latin for "manufacture" and the Portuguese for "witchcraft" or "magical practice.
The Vermont Sinclairs betray, even as they exaggerate, the Northerner's impression of the Southerner's exotic folkways when Ophelia plans her trip to Louisiana. Ophelia's "old gray-headed father" dips into his "Morse's Atlas … and looked out the exact latitude and longitude" of "Orleans," and reads "Flint's Travels in the South and West" in order to prepare his eldest daughter for her adventure.
Ophelia's good mother wonders if "Orleans wasn't an awful wicked place, 'most equal to going to the Sandwich Islands" I One glance at the animated "mystic old aloe," poised "like some hoary old enchanter" on the lawn of her cousin's Moorish mansion, leads Ophelia to judge the admittedly "pretty place" "rather old and heathenish" I But Stowe's suggestion that spirit inhabits all things is not only an exoticized import from the Roman Catholic and African American religions of New Orleans and beyond.
It is by a familiar element of the nineteenth-century domestic ideology whose tenets Stowe's writing reflected and helped to shape. Emphasizing the formative nature of both the mother and the domestic interior, theologians like Horace Bushnell and domesticians like Catharine Beecher described the "spirit of the house" that passes "by transmission" into the "little plastic nature of the child.
Associated with the physical labors of reproduction, sickness and death, a feminized sentimentalism is also linked to the "sivilizing" work of socialization from which men and boys "light out. To chronicle the reception of the aesthetics of sentiment from the eighteenth century on is to record its rapid transformation from a medium of sympathy to one of vicariousness; from health to morbidity; and from transparency to duplicity. Thus critic Helen Waite Papashvily calls sentimental fiction "witches' broth," adding that V.
Parrington was mistaken to find it weak as "cambric tea. Judgments of the novel's potential to subvert white patriarchal operations—a potential remarked by Papashvily, and celebrated since in Jane Tompkins's account of "sentimental power"—contend with renewed assessments of its conservative and hegemonic character.
Sentimentality in general, and Stowe's text in particular, have been rediscovered as the media of racial misalliance and political containment, and not as the vehicles of a feminist-abolitionist reform.
It must also be reassessed within the context of such historically related and proximate beliefs as those exhibited in the art of conjure. In the following two sections, I examine the depiction of domestic animism first in Uncle Tom's Cabin, and then in Stowe's nonfictional Household Papers and Stories, sketching its connection to contemporary evangelical, ethnographic, evolutionary, and less orthodox accounts of maternal, cultural, and spiritual transmission.
A final section turns to Charlotte Perkins Gilman 's attempted reformation of her great aunt's model domesticity, a remodeling motivated by Gilman's uneasy recognition of the somatic and the necromantic nature of the "spirit of the house. Stowe, "The Cathedral" Mid-century American fiction announces itself as sentimental by displaying what Dolf Sternberger describes as the "precious mementos" that play "such a crucial part not only in novels, but also in daily circumstances of the period.
Staging Little Eva's death, Stowe makes Eva's "doling out of mementos to the spectators the substance of the scene. Bird's late son Henry, Stowe is said to have drawn on her personal collection of preserved infant garments once belonging to her dead baby Charley I But although the collection performs the conservative work of consolation, it can also serve more subversive ends. As Gillian Brown points out, Henry's garments help Eliza's small son Harry in his escape; 22 this links the cherished baby clothes to Dinah's potent objects, and white objects of recollection to Black vehicles of freedom.UNCLE TOM & LITTLE EVA RARE RACIST 1930's CARTOON
Clare has always appreciated the volatile power of Dinah's things, and when he cautions Ophelia that prying into the details of slavery is like looking "too close into the details of Dinah's kitchen" II 8he suggests that the devil is in the details of each.
The devil, as his cousin Ophelia points out, inhabits the slave economy. But other spirits are apparently conjured not only when Dinah needs culinary inspiration, but also when she plots to counter Miss Ophelia's domestic advice as wordlessly she has circumvented the interference of the St.
Whether Ophelia mistakes them for the jumble of the shiftlessor St. Clare shuns them as dangerous to viewDinah's fetishes help to shape the cousins' shared impression of the African's orientalized nature. Stowe reinforces this apprehension of African difference when, with what Hortense Spillers calls a "fatal binarity," Stowe constructs in The Key to Uncle Tom's Cabin a key to the African's psychology.
This is so much the case that precious memento, sacred relic, and African fetish may be indistinguishable, as in the example of Little Eva's lock of hair, given to Uncle Tom on her deathbed to be worn close to his heart. Simon Legree, who eventually recognizes in this token the memento sent him by his own Christian mother, also understands it to be the protective mojo or gris gris of African custom, the "devilish" "witch thing" Sambo now folds into a paper and which threatens to work a fix on Legree.
Keeps 'em from feeling when they's flogged. While the reader might have anticipated some occult action on the "superstitious" Simon Legree's gothic plantation, Stowe demonstrates that even in the most orderly of domestic environments—the still Quaker settlement—things are not what they seem.
While there is "certainly nothing very startling about such everyday animism" as that exhibited in Quaker Rachel Halliday's "creechy-crawchy" "persuasive old chair" IIthe chair's very appeal to familiar associations deflects the fact of the Quakers' historical persecution as witches.
Or the fact that a rocker's rocking, like a Quaker's "quaking," might denote possession. If the slave catcher boasts that after three weeks among the Quakers he has not been converted, he cannot deny that he has been cured of a bad heart: A regenerated man, Loker "arose from his bed" to develop his talents "more happily" "trapping bears, wolves, and other inhabitants of the forest" II What determines his metamorphosis seems neither to be prayer nor instruction, but a more insidious maternal force: The Quakers "do fix up a sick fellow first rate," Tom must confess.
Make jist the tallest kind o' broth and knickknacks" II The notion of a maternal influence simultaneously homely and arcane, far from being unorthodox, constituted one of the strongest messages of antebellum domestic ideology. This idea assumed a special force in redressing the Calvinist's circumscription of human agency, and in countering the Protestant suspicion of image, art, and sacred maternity, associated with Catholic idolatry.
While it is by now a familiar argument that in the nineteenth century a vigorous masculine Calvinism informing elite New England culture succumbed to an enfeebling feminization, in fact it was in Calvinism that liberal Protestants like Stowe discerned the effects of a "slow poison, producing life-thoughts of morbid action.
Infant nurture and child training were superintended by middle-class women in the context of what historians describe as the ideologies of the "moral mother" or "qualitative motherhood.
And here Catharine Beecher's account of maternal power resembles that of her sister Harriet, whose mild Quakers rehabilitate Tom Loker body and soul, or that of the Beechers' influential contemporary, the minister Horace Bushnell.
In his enormously popular Christian Nurture ;the evangelical Bushnell drew upon the Lamarckian, or Reform Darwinian, doctrine of the deliberate transmission of acquired traits. Although historian George Stocking dates a renewed fascination for Lamarckian thought in the United States sometime closer to the end of the century, Bushnell's agenda for a meliorating Christian training relied on the Lamarckian belief in the heritability of habit. Consider a very important fact in human physiology, which goes far to explain, or take away the seeming extravagance of the truth I am endeavoring to establish, viz.
CN [Christian Nurture] Identifying the progress of Western civilization with the Christian mission, Bushnell explains the mechanism by which Christianity itself, "by a habit or fixed process of culture, tends by a fixed law of nature to become a propagated quality" functional in the "stock" CN Bushnell's account of a Christian stock in Christian Nurture introduces the topic of race into the discussion of the transmission, across generations, of "civilization.
Even should the "inferior and far less cultivated stock" "intermix with the superior, it will always be seen that the superior lives the other down, and finally quite lives it away" Census Uncle Tom's Cabin also addresses American race relations as a problem of transmission, turning the scandal of slavery into the scandal of bad mothering.
For instance, the abolitionist sentiments of Augustine St. Clare seem motivated not by a desire to manumit Blacks for their own sakes, but by the judgment that a brutalized Black population passes its characteristics on to white children like his own Little Eva. Somewhat similar are the objections of a southern planter inwho writes that Blacks "are of necessity the constant attendants upon [white] children in their early years.
Superstition takes complete possession of a benighted mind, and hence the ready credit which is given to tales of witchcraft, of departed spirits and of supernatural appearances, with which servants terrify the young committed to their care, and impressions are made, which no after efforts of the understanding are able entirely to eradicate. Clare is less concerned about the transmission of seemingly premodern beliefs than he is about the contagious "education in barbarism and brutality" of enslaved Blacks, and of whites within the slave system, like his cruel nephew Henrique II But Eva proves to be affected by the ghastly and ghostly gossip about Prue, that "sink[s] into her heart," while the final tale of Prue's fatal beating drives "every drop of blood" from Eva's lips and cheeks II 6.
Here again, Stowe confounds or combines biological and supernatural influences. Prue's story begins with the death of her infant daughter, deprived of her mother's milk, while Eva's life apparently ends as a consequence of a lethal, if transparent, transmission from poor Prue. Contrasting a wholesome Christian nurture to "vicious" feeding, Bushnell resurrects the Puritan trope of the minister-patriarch, or of the Word, as God's maternal breast.
But like others of his generation, Bushnell is also indebted to the philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who asserted that mother's milk is the "first education. In his discussion of maternity in Emile, or, On Education, Rousseau focuses on the midwife or wet-nurse alien to the family she enters, as Stowe will focus on slave mothers like Prue, whose maternal nature is perverted under slavery, but whose influence is absorbed by all the members of a house. But if slavery makes Black mothers like Cassy, who nurses her daughter to death with laudanum in order to save her from a life enslaved, it also produces white women like Marie St.
Little Eva perishes not only because of what she has assimilated from Prue, but also because of what she has taken in from her mother, the souffrante Marie, a woman too depraved to have properly nursed, nurtured, and fortified her daughter.
Rousseau shifts in Emile from the condemnation of imported nurses to the suspicion of a mother so unnatural that she will put out her child to nurse and, eventually, cease wanting to bear children altogether. Stowe similarly shifts from portraying slavery's outrages against Black mothers like Prue or Cassy, and the danger such outraged mothers pose to the white children they also nurture, to picturing the unnatural white mothers produced in the patriarchal South.
Marie is reminiscent of Rousseau's unfeeling and fashionable French aristocrat, who disdains maternity in order to preserve her beauty. If maternal instincts are here distorted, so too is even the growth of plants in St. Clare's garden; the grass seems artificial, cultivated into "green velvet" lawns I In joining the abuses of slavery to the perversions of an orientalized South, Stowe suggests that slavery itself is an exotic import, grafted onto a United States where it can only perversely develop.
Stowe's depiction of southern folkways parallels the crude ethnological accounts of the Ophelia-like missionaries on foreign tours, who provided their supporters back home with descriptions of such shocking phenomena as the polygamy of the Indian rajah, child marriage, female infanticide, eunuchs, bride sale, the bagnio and harem, opium dens and slave markets.
Dinah with her addiction to the pipe, the dandified house-slave Adolph, the murderous Cassy, Legree with his multiple mistresses, the precocious Eva and the odalisque Marie, "undulating in all her motions" Iare among the South 's symptomatic victims of an orientalized patriarchal culture.
Reflected in Stowe's depiction of this pathogenic landscape are embedded allusions to the miasmic theories of the cholera epidemics in northern cities, to the popular interest in mesmeric influence, and to the perception of the unnatural habits fostered in artificial urban environments. Thus Karen Halttunen depicts in Stowe's gothic sketch of the South the author's debt to the eighteenth-century oriental tale, to argue persuasively that Stowe uses the descriptions of decaying southern habitations—the Moorish New Orleans mansion, the East-Indian villa at Lake Pontchartrainand Legree's denlike plantation—to allude to the resurgence of Calvinism's hereditary taint, experienced by the Beecher woman as a kind of haunting.
A visionary and sometimes subversive genre in the literature of the early Republic, the ori- ental tale served as a vehicle of liberal, anti-Calvinist, or antipatriarchal opinion—of protest delivered "without any actual or observable contest. Here, Tom's education in Christianity is arguably matched by Eva's Africanization, as what appears to be a Protestant act—the private reading and revelation of the Word— takes place on highly charged ground.
It was well known by that Pontchartrain served as the site of annual voodoo celebrations, led by such priestesses as the two Marie Leveaus, a mother and daughter of influence in New Orleans between and Open to the public and to the press, the Pontchartrain assemblies attracted northern as well as southern attention, and white as well as Black participants.
Incorporating so notorious a landscape into the novel's eschatological tableau, Stowe hints that the dying Eva St. Clare absorbs the occult powers of the New Orleans priestess Marie, and of the matriarchy behind her, even as Eva also identifies with the ascendent Virgin Mary. Harriet Stowe attempts to stir anti-slavery sentiment by means of a protest novel conceived as a series of pictures, because "there is no arguing with pictures," Stowe explains.
They also link an aesthetics of sentiment to the increasingly established power of the mother—and of the house—to impress the "sympathetic and assimilative" human being through an ineluctable transmission. Uncle Tom's Cabin not only mirrored the growing bourgeois preoccupation with the civilizing mother and the spirit of the house; it also gave that preoccupation an irresistible form. It is clearer than ever that the joint establishment of an aesthetics of sentiment and an imperial mother advanced the interests of a white middle class, even as it fostered abolition, in the antebellum United States.
If this were the whole story, there would be no small irony in realizing that Stowe appropriates an African fetishism in order to eliminate through repatriationas well as to emancipate through civil disobedienceAfrican Americans.
We may, however, take from Stowe what she takes from fetishism, as Du Bois described it: Sentimentalism, literary history suggests, is never enlisted in precisely the same way, but can be refunctioned to serve radical, as well as conservative, ends. Retaining within it the remnants of a primitivistic, as well as a Lamarckian, apprehension of the force of maternal transmission—namely, the idea that "an image placed before [a pregnant woman's] eyes and strongly impressed upon her imagination would be reproduced on the body of her child"—and exploiting the notion that such adornments as human hair return as the weapons of Blacks and women, Stowe's sentimental art offers up everyday details as tools for redressing asymmetries in social and cultural power.
Readers of Uncle Tom's Cabin arguably came to it especially prepared to appreciate, and, like Henrique, to absorb its spectacular appeal. For they came to it with some expectation that the visible environment in general, and the house in particular, left their marks on human behavior.
Within the advice literature collected in Household Papers and StoriesStowe returns to the "influence of dwelling houses for good and for evil, their influence on the brain, the nerves, and through these on the heart and mind.
Phrenologist-architect Orson Fowler buttressed Bushnell's belief in human rehabilitation, and even in antenatal modification, when he commented that an "unhandy house" that "irritated mothers" would "sour the tempers of their children even before birth.
Mid-century domestic manuals offered the new mother pointers in how she and her house might appear coextensive: Catharine Beecher's Treatise on Domestic Economy had emphasized a dynamic, functional interior by focusing not on the still retreat of the gentrified, gentleman's parlor, but on the kitchen in which work takes place. But while Beecher's emphasis on an "economy of labor" and the incorporation of technology into even modest homes was a reaction against the influential Andrew Jackson Downing's special interest in "the beautiful in architecture" as a medium of display, Stowe recombined Beecher's and Downing's interests to describe an "economy of the beautiful" that fell to middle-class women to labor to achieve.
If Stowe's project in Uncle Tom's Cabin was to effect conversions of the kind Henrique enjoys, and to reform from within the domestic interior the slave system vitiating the civilizing transmissions of domesticity, her agenda in Household Papers and Stories can be interpreted as an effort to preserve and extend the mystic, organic connections between women and objects she had worked to establish in her novel.
Ann Douglas's account of the growth of commodity culture as one obvious, if politically suspect, avenue of feminine entitlement does not hold up well for Stowe. The integrity of Stowe's matrifocal domesticity is revealed in Household Papers and Stories to be threatened by a milieu in which, as one nineteenth-century manufacturer put it, the "business of this age is to make the products of civilization cheap. Stowe's response to the flow of commodities, however, is not to stop shopping, or to boycott manufactured goods in favor of those produced at home, but to instruct her readers in just which purchases will renew the simultaneously spiritual and material force she had previously associated with objects in close contact with the maternal body.
Turning in Household Papers and Stories to the decoration of interiors, Stowe offers in "The Economy of the Beautiful" a parable of proper consumption.
But when it was released in book form in Marchit was an immediate sensation. In the US alone it soldcopies in a year, and more than 2m copies by the end of the decade. What is now commonly regarded as a sentimentalist, racist text was at the time received as a vicious polemic against slavery in general and against the fugitive slave law in particular. In an America divided at the time between the slave-owning south and the "free states" of the north, the law demanded that northerners returned slaves who had escaped back into the bondage of the south.
In a nation bitterly split and destined for civil war on this very issue, the book's publication, not to mention its success, provoked a vicious reaction. Strategies of black characterisation in Uncle Tom's Cabin, "the tremors of which still affect the relationship between blacks and whites in the United States. When Abraham Lincoln met Stowe inone year into the American civil war, he greeted her with the words: The British prime minister, Lord Palmerston, read it three times and admired it not so much for the story as "for the statesmanship of it".
It was Lenin's favourite book as a child. The problem is that the confines of its age are very narrow indeed. Written by a white woman principally for other white people when black people were still regarded as chattels, its failure to transcend its age is what made it vulnerable to caricature and criticism at a later date. Stowe likes her "mulattoes" tragic and handsome and her Africans wild and brawny. The black characters in the book are stock types with only three means to confront their enforced degradation - submission, brutalisation or banishment.
Heaven for dead Negroes! Liberia for living mulattoes," an unnamed black writer argued "Neither can live on the American continent. Death or banishment is our doom. Like most liberals she believed that support for the downtrodden demanded sympathy rather than solidarity. Like most liberals, she thought that liberation could only be granted by the good grace of the powerful rather than achieved by the will and tenacity of the powerless. In one polemical passage Stowe asserts: So, if you are looking for a revolutionary role model; someone who remains master of his own destiny in the most humiliating of circumstances then Uncle Tom is not your man.
But then few people are. His sense of duty, even in bondage, depresses. When his wife encourages him to escape with Eliza he tells her: I never have broke trust Encouraged, by another slave, to murder the vicious Legree while the latter lies in a drunken stupor, Tom says: I'd sooner chop my right hand off The Lord hasn't called us to wrath.
We must suffer, and wait his time. But the less famous part of that same quote better sums up Tom's morality and provides the cornerstone for his defence: It is from these deep pools of self-belief and moral absolutes that he manages to preserve his humanism, despite conditions which degrade him daily. It is in this consistency that we find Tom's integrity. It is through it that he is able to assist and defend his fellow slaves and, at times, stand his own ground and still keep himself from loathing whites.
When St Clare asks him if he would not be better off a slave than a free man, Tom responds with a straight: You donno what they'll do to ye," she says. Now, ye jest take this yer gal and flog her. He asks Tom to tell him if he knows anything about it and threatens him with death if he refuses.
To discover just how this literary figure of passive resistance becomes a byword for betrayal and subservience, we must look to theatre, film and politics. Stage adaptations removed any remotely radical anti-slave messages and turned it into a minstrel show. Tom provided the role for the first black film lead in Elsewhere, white actors occasionally blacked up. By the second world war, Uncle Tom had become a byword for lickspittle subservience in the face of racial oppression.
Richard Wright called his collection of short stories about black life in the American south Uncle Tom's Children.