Tuesday, December 18, 2007


UNCLE TOM'S CABIN No single work of literary propaganda did more to strengthen the antebellum abolitionist movement and to intensify the acrimonious intersectional feelings which already existed between the North and South than Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin. Published in 1852, the book became immensely popular, selling more than 300,000 copies in the first year of publication. Translated into at least twenty-three dif­ferent languages, Uncle Tom's Cabin was also dramatized in hundreds of theatres throughout the North and in countries all over the world.

Although not an especially well-written book, Mrs. Stowe filled her pages with heartrending scenes of suffering, sorrow and pain, characteristics she associated with African American slavery. The story itself, of course, was a stirring indictment of slavery and of the abject cruelty associated with overseers, personified by the demoniacal and heartless Simon Legree.

Touching the hearts of millions, Uncle Tom's Cabin converted many to abolitionism and many others to at least the realization that there was something inherently evil about the institution of slavery. Southern opinion, on the other hand, was largely defensive in nature. Most reviewers pointed out that Mrs. Stowe's conception of plantation life was grossly distorted and biased. It was argued that all slaves were not as kindly and docile as Uncle Tom and that all overseers were not Simon Legrees. In reviewing the book for the Southern Literary Messenger (December 1852), for example, George Frederick Holmes called it a "dirty little volume [which struck] a deadly blow to all the interests and duties of humanity, and is utterly impotent to show any inherent vice in the institution of slavery."

No comments: