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From Part I: Literary and Theatrical Considerations

“An audience schooled in the conventions of Puritan spiritual autobiography had little difficulty interpreting the intentions of UNCLE TOM’S CABIN. In the context of antebellum evangelical Christianity, this meant that Mrs. Stowe’s public could take her work to heart as an outcry against sin. Furthermore, by sympathetically responding to her story, Americans could self-righteously feel saved from sin, con­verted, and on the road to salvation. For Northerners who felt that the Fugitive Slave Act implicated them in the damned and damning slave system, the feeling of moral progress UNCLE TOM’S CABIN gave them proved powerfully appealing. Accepting the idea of black Christian heroism, UNCLE TOM’S CABIN implied that a nation which linked its destiny with the uplift of its black population would help inaugurate the millennium. Sympathy for a race of Uncle Toms gained appeal by the argument that the messianic mission of Ameri­can blacks promised a transcendent spiritual transformation of white America.”

Gerald E. Warshaver
From “The Popular Sentiments of Uncle Tom’s Cabin

From Part II: Cultural, Societal and Historical Considerations

“It should now be obvious why in 1945, at the end of yet another war in which black Americans fought valiantly against the Nazi menace only to return to a homeland where bigotry and injustice still prevailed, black leaders objected to the per­formance of a new version of UNCLE TOM’S CABIN in Connecti­cut. Since that time, the sad figure of Uncle Tom has acquired even greater opprobrium among blacks. His name has been bracketed with “pimps, sex perverts and guilt-ridden traitors” of the race as well as with “Judases and Quislings.” With the noblest of intentions, Harriet Beecher Stowe created a Jekyll-and Hyde character that contained the seeds of its own de­struction. Earnestly seeking to lift the burden of chattel slavery that had been imposed on the black race, she produced in Uncle Tom a character who persuaded white racists that blacks would accept slavery without a struggle. For this reason, as far as black people are concerned, Mrs. Stowe’s novel, particularly in its stage adaptations, did as much harm as good.”

Erroll Hill
From “The Case Against Uncle Tom’s Cabin

From Part III: Selections from Primary Source Materials

“ ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin, or Life Among the Lowly’ is the title of an abolitionist novel by a woman named Harriet Beecher Stowe. The book purports to be a picture of Southern slavery, but it is a lie from beginning to end. It is the most atrocious libel on the characters and institutions of the South­ern people which has ever been published. This fact explains in part its extraordinary popularity at the North—a consider­able share of its reputation, however, is due to the inordinate puffing of the abolition press. One cannot read the book with­out loathing and disgust—there is displayed in it such a vulgari­ty, coarseness, and profligacy of sentiment. According to this Mrs. Harriet Beecher Stowe, a Southern farm is a hell on earth presided over by a monster Master, who lets loose on his slaves the most savage passions of human nature, or revels with them in the lowest of animal indulgences. The “dark browed” Negro meanwhile is painted in the most attractive colours—the men are all honest, manly, and benevolent and the women are pure and bewitching.”

From “The Raleigh Weekly North Carolina Standard” June 2, 1852


“UNCLE TOM’S CABIN is a very bad novel, having, in its self-righteous, virtuous sentimentality, much in common with Little Women. Sentimentality, the ostentatious pa­rading of excessive and spurious emotion, is the mark of dishonesty, the inability to feel; the wet eyes of the senti­mentalist betray his aversion to experience, his fear of life, his arid heart; and it is always, therefore, the signal of secret and violent inhumanity, the mask of cruelty. UNCLE TOM’S CABIN—like its multitudinous, hard-boiled descendants—is a catalogue of violence. This is explained by the nature of Mrs. Stowe’s subject matter, her laudable determination to flinch from nothing in presenting the complete picture; an explanation which falters only if we pause to ask whether or not her picture is indeed com­plete; and what constriction or failure of perception forced her to so depend on the description of brutality—unmo­tivated, senseless—and to leave unanswered and unno­ticed the only important question: what it was, after all, that moved her people to such deeds.”

James Baldwin
From “Everybody’s Protest Novel”


“BLUME: . . . You have a political motive for working on “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” don’t you?

“H. L. GATES: I do! It’s about resurrecting Martin Luther King. I’ve written before about Stokely Carmichael and the Black Power people using Uncle Tom as metaphor for race betrayal. I’ve said it’s a low point in our people’s history. Before that, no matter what, you could always come home to the black community. Then, all of a sudden, there were those who were in and those who were out. There are still books in which blacks call other blacks out as Uncle Toms. It made me sick then, and makes me sick now. Much of my work, quite frankly, has been about trying to put a balm on that wound.”

Henry Blume interviewing
Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr.
The Boston Globe, November 2006


“To expose oneself in maturity to Uncle Tom may there­fore prove a startling experience. It is a much more impressive work than one has ever been allowed to suspect. . . . One of the strongest things in the novel is the role played by Uncle Tom—another value that was debased in the play. The Quakers who shelter Eliza are, of course, presented as Christians; but not one of the other white groups that figure in Uncle Tom’s Cabin is living in accordance with the prin­ciples of the religion they all profess. It is only the black Uncle Tom who has taken the white man’s religion seriously and who—standing up bravely, in the final scene, for the dignity of his own soul but at the same time pardoning Simon Legree— attempts to live up to it literally. The sharp irony as well as the pathos is that the recompense he wins from the Christians, as he is gradually put through their mill, is to be separated from his family and exiled; tormented, imprisoned and done to death.”

Edmund Wilson
From “Patriotic Gore, Studies In The Literature Of The American Civil War”

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Uncle Tom’s Cabin Program copyright © 2010 Vera Mattlin Jiji, Ph. D.
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