Uncle Tom 's Cabin And The Politics Of Literary History Essay

Uncle Tom 's Cabin And The Politics Of Literary History Essay

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Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin; or, Life Among the Lowly, was published in the year of 1852 to great success. In fact, in the United States, Uncle Tom’s Cabin was only outsold by the Holy Bible. But, does that success alone warrant an acceptance of the novel as a masterpiece, and a classic work of American fiction? Of course not. But, on the other hand, does its success justify writing off this novel as unworthy because, as the writer and professor Jane Tompkins puts it in her essay "Sentimental Power: Uncle Tom 's Cabin and the Politics of Literary History", “as everybody knew, the classics of American fiction were, with a few exceptions, all succes d 'estime (a success through critical appreciation)” (122). To expect and demand from Stowe that she write her novel, not from her own time and culture, but to somehow be enlightened enough to see the future and to write it on the basis of our modern views and culture, is unacceptable and dismissive of this novel’s great persuasive abolitionist power. Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote Uncle Tom’s Cabin from her Christian perspective on slavery, and it was this perspective that made it such a success, which in turn also made it a powerful abolitionist novel, and a novel that needs to be revisited by critics and at least respected by all.
Uncle Tom’s Cabin was written in a time that, for better in some ways, and for worse in others, no longer exists. As stated by Colleen McDannell in her book, The Christian Home in Victorian America, 1840-1900, “For the good Christians of the nineteenth century the connection between religion and home was natural and inseparable” (XIII), and Stowe wrote her novel from this perspective. Yes, she was an abolitionist, but she was first a Chri...

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...abin is not perfect, but it does deserve a chance among the great American novels. Joy-Jordan Lake, in her book Whitewashing Uncle Tom 's Cabin : Nineteenth-century Women Novelists Respond to Stowe, points out that “One has only to mention Uncle Tom’s Cabin in a faculty lounge or classroom of any American university to provoke a flurry of strident responses, often from those who have never read it: some will assume that because Uncle Tom’s Cabin attacked slavery, it must contain no racist elements; some familiar with a particularly disturbing racist caricature or scene in the book will argue that it has no redeeming value socially, historically, or literarily” (xv). But, both of these views are naive and short-sighted, and if one truly reads the book with an open mind to Stowe’s time in history, they will better understand the true power and triumph of this novel.

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