Since my first experience with Uncle Tom's Cabin in high school and in further studies, I've struggled with the question of abolitionism and the societal value of the African-American characters in the novel. More broadly, one of the reasons I enrolled in this course was my interest in the attempt to navigate an apparent contradiction in terms of institution of slavery versus Jefferson's declaration that "all men are created equal." With that in mind, I've always wondered about the meaning of the final chapters, encompassing Tom's death and the departure of three major African-American characters to Liberia.
[...] Likewise, by exiling to Africa her most intelligent, lively, “un-slave-like” black characters George, Eliza and Topsy Stowe seems to be saying, you can be a productive member of a society but not our society.” This reading of the novel presents an odd paradox: it seems that Stowe's vision of democracy in American is threatened by both the African-American slave and the African- American freeman. That is, Uncle Tom's Cabin attempts to save democracy in America by fighting the terrible evils of slavery, but it does so at the cost of the subtle advocating of a form of racial purity in America. In the end, this type of racial romanticism may have had a profound effect on the African-American movement towards equality. White scholar J.C. [...]
[...] George realizes that there is no place for him in America, writing in a letter, “Where, then, shall I look? On the shores of Africa I see . a republic formed of picked men, who . raised themselves above a condition of slavery . There it is my wish to go, and find myself a people” (emphasis added). Further, he rhetorically asks, I break their enslaved brethren's”] chains? No . but, let me go and form part of a nation . [...]
[...] A major technique of Stowe's in the spreading of the abolitionist message via Uncle Tom's Cabin was to emphasize Tom's humanity by assigning him traits that showed his extraordinary faith to God, as well as the application of such faith in the service of his fellow slaves, who were attempting to escape from Legree. However, it is interesting that Stowe focuses almost completely on Tom's religious traits. Scholars such as Elizabeth Ammons have equated this to a feminization of Tom, asserting that he is “gentle, pious, chaste, domestic, long suffering and self- sacrificing”. [...]
[...] One might also argue that Stowe was simply realistically reflecting the sad truth of her time, and that it would be naive even in a work of fiction to hope that ex-slaves could ever achieve true person-hood or that she was using subtle irony to underscore her point. None of these questions have easy answers, yet I think that they must be asked if we are ever to reach a true understanding of Uncle Tom's Cabin. References: Ammons, Elizabeth. “Heroines in Uncle Tom's Cabin.” American Literature 49.2 (May 1977): 161-179. Baldwin, James. “Everybody's Protest Novel.” In Uncle Tom's Cabin, by Harriet Beecher Stowe. Ed. Elizabeth Ammons. New York: W.W. Norton & Company 495-501. Frederickson, George M. The [...]
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