Gender in Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin

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Gender in Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin

Harriet Beecher Stowe achieved what is, clearly, her greatest notoriety for writing the

novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin between 1851 and 1852. She was radically inspired by the

passage of the Fugitive Slave Act, and managed to write one of the most successful works

(if not the most successful work) of abolitionist literature. It is even said that Abraham Lincoln

described her as the “little woman” who started the “great war.” Though this presidential

endorsement might be entirely one of legend, it is still worth noting that Stowe has become

linked in the historical eye with the causes of the Civil War.

This meeting, of course, with Abraham Lincoln also serves to illustrate a greater

point: nobody can be sure of whether anything along those lines was actually spoken to

the “little woman.” Yet it has become a part of our collective historical memory, and has

become as good as fact in its recognizability. This identical situation is one that has befallen

Uncle Tom’s Cabin itself.

There is a public view of Uncle Tom, the character, held by anybody with a well-

tuned social conscience--which of course includes many, many people who have never so

much as opened the book. To a lesser extent, the same can be said for the characters of

Topsy, Eva, and Simon Legree, the latter being as much a staple of the Saturday-morning

cartoon canon as the literary canon.

We remember these characters, most of us without ever having actually met them.

Whether or not Stowe was offered such historical significance by the likes of Abraham

Lincoln takes a back seat to the fact that we remember her being assigned th...

... middle of paper ... by casting Tom in the role of heroine that the audience is already so

comfortable reading about.

Works Cited:

Baym, Nina. Women’s Fiction: A Guide to Novels by and About Women in America,

1820-1870. New York: Cornell UP, 1978.

Bellin, Joshua D. “Up to Heaven’s Gate, Down in Earth’s Dust: The Politics of Judgment

in Uncle Tom’s Cabin.” American Literature 65.2 (1993): 275-295

Bentley, Nancy. “White Slaves: The Mulatto Hero in Antebellum Fiction.”

American Literature 65.3 (1993): 501-522

Lang, Amy Schrager. “Slavery and Sentimentalism: The strange career of Augustine

St. Clare.” Women’s Studies 12 (1986): 31-54

Painter, Nell Irvin. “Honest Abe and Uncle Tom.” Canadian Review of American

Studies 30 (2000): 245-272

Stowe, Harrier Beecher. Uncle Tom’s Cabin: or, Life Among the Lowly. New York:

Modern Library, 2001.
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