Feminist Rhetoric in Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe

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Feminist Rhetoric in Uncle Tom's Cabin In considering whether Harriet Beecher Stowe's book, Uncle Tom's Cabin, is an example of, or contains remnants of, feminist rhetoric or not, one must first solve the problem of defining what is meant by the term feminist. This is difficult to do when one considers that Uncle Tom's Cabin was written over one hundred and forty years ago, and that feminism has moved through so many different stages since that time. One must resist applying the standards of twentieth-century feminism to Stowe's time, and instead, try to view Uncle Tom's Cabin as it would have been viewed given the sentiment of the time. In order to do this, one must first define feminism within the historical context of the 1850's, when Uncle Tom's Cabin was published. Perhaps the term feminist itself was not commonly associated with women's rights in the 1850's, but certainly the ideal was. The climate of the time in which Stowe published her anti-slavery novel was fruitful with unrest, not only because of the slavery issue, but also because of women's rights issues. The focus of the women's rights movement, led by women such as Susan B. Anthony, Lucy Stone, and Elizabeth Stanton, was not only women's attainment of the vote, but also the emergence of women as public citizens, a role that went beyond that of ruler of the domestic, private sector. Women's suffrage was first proposed in the United States in 1848 at the first women's rights convention in Seneca Falls, just two years before Uncle Tom's Cabin was published. At this convention, a Declaration of Sentiments that paralleled the wording of the Declaration of Independence was drafted, insisting on the adoption of a women's suffrage resolution. The Women's Rights movement of this time also advocated more liberal divorce laws, less restrictive clothing for women, coeducation, and the right of married women to control their property. Though it would be seventy years before women would be granted the right to vote by the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution, the Women's Rights movement was in place and active during the time that Stowe wrote Uncle Tom's Cabin. Even so, Uncle Tom's Cabin is seemingly about slavery, not women's rights, and it is not erroneous to assume that Stowe's intention was to highlight the evils of slavery and the decay of human morality, rather than directly discuss women's roles when she penned the novel.

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