Slavery Victims' Pain in Uncle Tom's Cabin and The Marrow of Tradition
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Pain is inevitable within a society struggling for and against power. This is a central theme running throughout nineteenth-century American literature, especially in work written during the latter part of the century. The causes and consequences, as well as the very nature of the American body and soul in trauma paints a poignant picture of the problems and social changes America faced both during slavery as well as after its abolition.
This is evident in Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin and Charles Chesnutt's The Marrow of Tradition where the wounding of both the physical body and emotional soul features strongly throughout both texts. Published in 1853 after the passing of the Fugitive Slave Law, Uncle Tom's Cabin tells of the circumstances of various slaves as they encounter different owners. Tom, the novel's protagonist, is a devout Christian slave who is ultimately beaten to death by his owner, thus embodying the many injustices and pain slavery produces. Written almost half a decade after Stowe and in the immediate wake of emancipation, Chesnutt's The Marrow of Tradition explicitly alludes to the 1898 Wilmington, North Carolina race riots in which mobs of white people terrorized freed blacks, resulting in the deaths of eleven black people. The novel is a fictionalized account of the black-dominated town and depicts the actual lack of power freed slaves held as well as the insecurities of the whites who struggled to reaffirm their own identity beside freed blacks.
In a lucid account of life under slavery in the South, Stowe utilizes the trope of the American body under physical and emotional trauma as an agency to reflect the sufferings the slaves had to endure, in turn imposing upon r...
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...e suffering body to emphasize the evils of slavery as well as to promote her own political position. Chesnutt decpits the pain that is present even after the abolition of slavery. However, both authors, in their respective ways, also show how empowerment and change may arise from the American body in pain. And, it is arguably this pain that has powered the forward progress of the American nation.
Chesnutt, Charles W. The Marrow of Tradition. University of North Carolina at Chapel
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Stowe, Harriet Beecher. Uncle Tom's Cabin USA: W.W. Norton and Company Inc, 1994