Uncle Tom's Cabin

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Uncle Tom's Cabin

Methodological Introduction

In writing this essay, I was specifically interested in discovering what was behind the genre protest against Uncle Tom's Cabin. Consequently, the brunt of my research has been historical -- seeking out criticisms of the novel, written immediately or shortly after its publication, that deal with the issue of genre. Although this study is by no means comprehensive, I have attempted to do a general analysis of the specific protests themselves, and then use this analysis as a means to demonstrate the shortcomings and advantages of fiction, specifically as seen in Uncle Tom's Cabin, and how Stowe exploited them to her own purposes. The major limitation of this essay is a lack of comprehensive historical research. The research I was able to do within the limited scope of this project is only a scratching of the surface. That is why I term my analysis "general." As well, I have been fairly 'free' in my application of this analysis as indicative of Stowe exploitation the genre of fiction. This has helped me appreciate the power of the novel more deeply, but may be more undergraduate conjecture than solid academic analysis.

Essay: 'The Little Lady Dost Protest Too Much, Methinks'

Fiction has enormous power. It can inspire those who read it to acts of great courage. Or it can incite them to destructive hatred. There are countless examples of the power of narrative. Jesus often told parables -- pithy, fable-like stories -- to illustrate his teaching. According to St. Matthew's Gospel, when Jesus told the "Parable of the Vineyard" the chief priests and Pharisees "perceived he was speaking of them" and "sought to lay hands of him" (21.45-46). Apparently the religious leaders understood the point directed against them by the fictional narrative and did not appreciate its meaning.

When Harriet Beecher Stowe published her anti-slavery novel, Uncle Tom's Cabin, in 1852, Southerners naturally took offense. Indeed, they were outraged. After all, the novel attacked the basis of their whole way of life. Slave-run plantations were an essential part of Southern culture. Uncle Tom's Cabin created a furor of controversy and even violent responses. The Southern Literary Messenger warned its readers that Stowe speaks for a large and dangerous faction that must be put down by the pen, else "we may be compelled one day (God grant that the day may never come!) to repel them [them] with the bayonet" (Duvall 163).

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