In Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Harriet Beecher Stowe emphasizes that the effects of slavery are just as tragic for the slave as they are for the slave-holder. American Romanticism was a time period of inner exploration as well as outward exploration in society and also how it is run. Harriet Beecher Stowe the author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin explored the conflicts within society regarding slavery. Uncle Tom’s Cabin is an anti slavery novel, written about a middle aged black man named Tom who is sold to a new owner. Tom’s journey as well as the other characters involved revolves around freedom. The story is in a sorts a battle of good versus evil the good being Toms and his fellow slaves the evil would be southern slave masters more commonly Simon Legree.
American Romanticism appeared at about the time of the American Revolution.
The primary feature of American Romanticism–the obsession with and celebration of individualism–takes on particular social relevance because U.S. culture has always prized individualism and egalitarianism (Harvey). The Romantic period coincides with what is often called the “age of revolutions”, the American as well as the French revolutions (Introduction).
Romantics and romantic works focus on imagination, nature, symbolism and myth among other things of which can be seen within the writing as well as the characters. Writers and their characters challenged everyday thought as well as what society as a whole thought was morally right and wrong. In Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Harriet Beecher Stowe intentionally challenged the south as well as societies views on slavery through a slave narrative, showing the pain revolving around slavery.
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Stowe was the daughter of a preacher and the second of four children. She learned about slavery from stories that she overheard as a child mostly from her parents who were abolitionists. Before she was married she joined the Semi- Colon writing club where she was further exposed to the horrors of slavery (Aronson). The writing club was full of many romantic writers though none of them are famous today. Though Stowe or her family never actually owned a slave herself they knew quite well of the horror regarding slavery. Later on in Stowe’s life she housed runaway slaves in her home. Her babysitter she hired to care for her son whilst she was working turned out to be a runaway slave whom she then sheltered (Aronson). Upon meeting Stowe once, Abraham Lincoln remarked, “So you’re the little lady who started this Great War!” (David). Harriet’s disgust regarding slavery went so far as for her to have divine visions, dreams or nightmares.
Stowe’s visions takes on many different accounts, her vision is important because without is she never would have been inspired enough to write her novel. Visions as interpreted by romantics were like divine interventions from god. Stowe’s vision takes on many different forms regarding who or what source retells and recalls it. The first version came after the fugitive slave law was passed and in her distressed state she had a vision of an “older black man being beaten by two younger black men while a sneering white man looked on”(Aronson). The second version involved a bleeding slave being beaten in a church (Timko). And the third version consisting of a slave being beaten to death by his master (Hamilton). All accounts involve a black man being violently attacked. Though the white man is present on only two of the versions he many represent evil in a human form, which Stowe would ultimately conquer in her writing. Whichever account of the vision actually happened it did inspire the character Tom and novel about him and his world.
The Fugitive Slave law came about in 1850. It required people in the north to aid in the recovery of runaway slaves no matter what the person believed. Refusing to abide to the law meant jail times for the convicts and mostly likely death for the slave. The law really made no sense whatsoever because being that the slaves were in the north they were free, the law disregarded that. (Stowe, Harriet Beecher). Most abolitionists still refused to comply despite the dangers and continued helping newly freedom slave get they footing up in the north. Such kindness towards African Americans is also seen in the novel between Mr. Shelby and his slaves whom he treats with kindness and a hint of equality. Stowe saw the law as an “outrage on common humanity” and makes repeated hidden and sometimes obvious attacks at it in the book (Stowe, Harriet Beecher).
Uncle Tom’s Cabin was first published in an abolitionist paper called the “National Era” The paper’ publisher paid her three hundred dollars for it. (Stowe, Harriet Beecher). On March 20, 1852 the first paper copy was published, within the first week it had sold 10,000 copies (Timko). Within the novels first year it sold more than 300,000 copies (David). The novel even outsold the bible in the nineteenth century (Hamilton).
The novels success was directly related to its content. Seeing it as being a very controversial book for its time its popularity soared among the people who wanted to know exactly what was all the drama concerning such an innocent story. Abolitionist saw Uncle Tom’s Cabin as a true portrayal of slavery, while others labeled it false anti-slavery propaganda (Aronson). They thought it was written by and for Protestant Abolitionists. Harriet saw the Abolitionist of her era as extremists. She also thought that her novel depicted the favorable side of slavery, and the fact that she did so should have appeased the south (Piacento). The simply want to perused her audience that slavery was intolerable (Piacento). There is a sense throughout the novel that this story about Black people it instead became a story for predominately white consumption (Hamilton).
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The first critics of the book were southern slave holders because they thought it made them look evil. The book did make slave owners seem evil because it depicted them killing slaves, it wasn’t the killing the slave part that made it awful or evil it was the killing in general. The violence that the novel portrays was what upset them the most. Commonly violence breeds violence and in the cycle of slavery as slave who has been treated badly may turn violently towards a fellow slave. The book was an indirect attack on the South as well as that present violence. The book was so controversial that people were arrested for it. A free black man in Maryland spent 10 years in jail for owning a copy (Hamilton). “When you get into a tight place and everything goes against you, till it seems as though you could not hold on a minute longer, never give up then, for that is just the place and time that the tide will turn.” (Piacentino).
The most basic summary of Uncle Tom’s Cabin consists of a gentle religious slave trying to survive his sale to a vicious plantation owner named Simon Legree. Others characters and events support the story which is written in third person/omniscient. Tom, the main character is slave who’s around forty years old. Tom is like a savior, ‘Jesus’ compared to Simon who would be depicted as the anti-Christ. Tom focuses on help people both physically and religiously (Stowe, Harriet. Uncle). Simon Legree the antagonist of the story because of his anger issues associated with his mother’s untimely death beats and abuses his slaves (Stowe, Harriet. Uncle). Contrary to Simon is Eva, who treats her slaves with kindness even like they’re her family, and when she is lying on her death bed they stay beside her (Stowe, Harriet. Uncle). The Character named Scipio introduced to Eva via a story by St. Clare is an indirect character and is nearly the most controversial. He is portrayed as trust worthy and responsible slave, which undermined the time periods racial stereotypes (Piacentino). Slaves especially males were viewed upon as being lazy, stupid and untrustworthy. Because of the fact that Scipio is everything but those typical stereotypes was written out of the main plot line possibly to avoid anymore stereotypical conflicts than were already present.
The novel was not intended to serve as a piece of Abolitionist propaganda but over the years has been adopted as one (.”Stowe, Harriet Beecher.”). The characters serve as personifications of the north and south and are depicted positively and negatively as they were in real life. The poor old innocent Christian black man loses his life to the South and its evil slavery policy. The argument was that is made ‘good’ black characters ridiculously good, and that idea of goodness is externally informed by a Romantic/Victorian notion of the Christian character or hero (David).
Death is a commons subject in the novel. Tom is ‘lashed’ to death by Simon and his overseers for refusing to tell Simon where Cassy and Emmeline have run off to. Eva also dies from an unnamed terminal illness. The deaths demystify and intensify African Slaves and slavery by making it seem like Christian martyrs were killed because of slavery in the south. The death of Tom, the main character may also symbolize and reflect on Harriet’s loss of her son Charlie to Cholera; both deaths were agonizing and uncalled for (Hamilton). God is a prominent figure in the novel as well. The moment when Eliza makes a jump over the icy river she puts her faith in god and lets her successful escape and life hang in his hands the novel takes on a more positive attitude at that point, removing death from the foreground. Eliza represented hope at that moment, whether hope could prevail over despair. Each leap from one block of ice to the next represent the steps and sacrifices she’s had to make in her life as well as her journey to freedom in the north
Uncle Tom at the time was the perfect ideal American hero (“Introduction). At that point in history being called an Uncle Tom meant someone was a nice, kind, Christian and being called a Simon meant that person was evil and mean (Hamilton). Being called an Uncle Tom in today’s society is a great insult to an African American person because it means they are lazy and ignorant (Hamilton). The characters portrayed in Uncle Tom’s Cabin may has portrayed and contributed to Black racial stereo types in today’s culture.
American Romanticism was a time period of inner exploration as well as outward exploration in society and also how it is run. Uncle tom’s Cabin was so success full because it played upon the battle between the abolitionist and southern slave owners.
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