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Yet, as Hendrick writes, Harriet also transformed those feelings into an engine of social change; "pursuing the Calvinist injunction to 'improve the affliction' and reap 'the peaceable fruits of righteousness' in the wake of" her son Charley's death, and "stirred up the nation to an awareness of its sin." Harriet wrote to her brother Henry, "You see...how this subject has laid hold of me...The poor slave on whom the burden of domestic bereavement falls heaviest is precisely the creature of all Gods creatures that feels it deepest." While there is no doubt that Harriet Beecher Stowe achieved political status by making a national audience see the subjectivity of African-Americans, however what she personally saw was filtered through a white woman's consciousness.
After the series ran in the abolitionist newspaper, the National Era, Uncle Tom's Cabin was published in book form in March 1852, and by mid-June 10,000 copies were being sold each week, and within six months, more than 150,000 had been sold. Between 1852 and the beginning of the Civil War in 1861, three million copies had been sold in the United States alone.
Uncle Tom's Cabin is as controversial today as it was during the mid-nineteenth century. To call someone 'Uncle Tom' today is one of the most inflammatory racial insults that an African-American person can offer, yet during the nineteenth century it was a compliment of the highest order. According to Patricia Turner, a professor of African-American studies at the University of California-Davis, "People don't realize that when they call someone like an 'Uncle Tom,' that really is an insult to Uncle Tom," for he was actually a heroic figure who chose to die than to reveal the "the whereabouts of two escaped slaves who have been sexually abused." Turner points out that while everyone knows about the novel, few have actually read it, therefore most of the African-American community do not understand the significance of the character or the true meaning behind the name, Uncle Tom.
Ironically, historical record indicates that the novel was widely vilified even as the public was buying copies faster than any book in previous publishing history. Southerners viewed it as a vicious libel on their culture, and in one memorable account, a freedman in the slave state of Maryland was sentenced to ten years in jail for owning a copy of Uncle Tom's Cabin and a map of Canada. However, the book was just as controversial within the abolitionist community because "Stowe appears to advocate African colonization rather than emancipation as the solution to the moral blot of slavery."
Because there was no international copyright law in 1852, Stowe owned only the novel, and thus had no rights to the characters and could not control their transmission to other media, such as magic lantern shows, ceramic figurines and plates, and to the stage. The first stage production came in 1852, and with George Aiken's adaptation in 1852, the play Uncle Tom's Cabin became so popular throughout the country that it is estimated that 50 people saw the stage show for every one person who bought or read a copy of the book.
Richard Yarborough recently made an assessment of the novel noting that "although Stowe unquestionably sympathized with the salves, her commitment to challenging the claim of black inferiority was frequently undermined by her own endorsement of racial stereotypes," and because these stereotyped notions appear not only in this novel but in other works by Stowe, it seems that her attitude toward chattel slavery, or rather how she pandered to the conflicting attitudes of slavery, was ambivalent. Harriet believed that the novel depicted the favorable side of slavery and this fact should have appeased the South, however the typical Southern regarded Stowe's novel as an abomination and an utterly false representation of the institution of slavery.
When Stowe wrote Dred: A Tale of the Great Dismal Swamp, she became the first major American author to write what is essentially a campaign novel. David Grant writes in the September 2000 issue of Studies in American Fiction:
Composed as the events that shaped the canvass unfolded and as the Republican party completed its national organization, excerpted in many Republican newspapers before its release, prefaced so as to steer its reception toward the great decision facing the nation, published in the late summer as election excitement was reaching its peak, heralded in the Republican press as a contribution to the cause, advertised by its publisher alongside other works of campaign propaganda - the novel in both its writing and its dissemination assumed the role of an instrument to promote a Republican victory in the election of 1856.
According to Grant, Stowe's novel looks to the North to redeem the South from without as well as within, and only on the larger stage can the logic of slavery's extension that is dramatized in the story be balanced.
Rachel Naomi Klein writes in the June 2001 issue of Legacy: A Journal of American Women Writers, that Stowe's career, which extended well into the 1870's, displayed a remarkable consistency concerning the issue of labor contract. Klein notes that rather than challenging capitalist relationships, Stowe's post-War essays advocated the extension of market principles into the household. This persistent faith in the efficacy of free labor explains the conventionality of her later "society novels," especially since they did not include any reference to the explosive labor questions that dominated the post-War era. Klein points out that before the War, "Stowe's faith in free labor served as the fulcrum for her powerful systemic critique of slavery. With the abolition of slavery, she assumed that the nation's fundamental structural and moral problem had been resolved."
Stowe did not use her writing as a way to avoid her domestic obligations but rather as a means to demonstrate her higher domestic duties. Through funds earned as a writer, she was able to hire additional servants, and throughout her career, she maintained that waged workers would actually enhance rather than replace the primary work of wives and mothers, for servants would allow for her loftier managerial and educational responsibilities, however she criticized households that maintained large numbers of servants. She believed that morality, democracy, and labor scarcity would lead the U.S. To become a nation of smaller households whose servants who enjoyed equality and whose mistresses benefited from physical labor. Stowe believed that married women would pay for help, and at the same time would teach, supervise and even work along side their employees. Harriet once wrote, "A woman is a moral being - an immortal soul - before she is a woman; and as such she is charged by her Maker with some share of the great burden of work which lies on the world."
Harriet Beecher Stowe died at the age of 85 in Hartford, Connecticut and was survived by only three of her seven children. Although much of her writing is seen as romanticized Christian philosophy, she was nevertheless an effective realist, for her portraits of local society demonstrate an awareness of the complex culture in which she lived, as well as a keen ability to communicate to others. Her works predated other authors such as Mark Twain by more than a generation, later regionalist authors such as Mary Wilkins Freeman. Although Stowe's career spanned more than half a century and included some thirty books and countless short stories, sketches and letters, it is Uncle Tom's Cabin that will forever link her to the anti-slavery movement and the American Civil War.
Grant, David. 2000. Stowe's Dred and the Narrative Logic of Slavery's Extension.
Studies in American Fiction. 22 September. Available from Internet, HighBeam Research Library; accessed 12 October 2006.
Hamilton, Kendra. 2002. The strange career of Uncle Tom: on the 150th anniversary of the publication of Uncle Tom's Cabin, scholars reflect on the legacy of the groundbreaking novel and its author Harriet Beecher Stowe. Black Issues in Higher Education. 6 June. Available from Internet, HighBeam Research Library; accessed 12 October 2006.
Harriet Beecher Stowe: 1811-1896. A Celebration of Women Writers. Available from Internet, http://digital.library.upenn.edu/women/stowe/StoweHB.html. Accessed 12 October 2006.
Harriet Beecher Stowe's Life and Times. 2005. Harriet Beecher Stowe Center. Online.
Available from Internet, http://www.harrietbeecherstowecenter.org/life/. Accessed 12 October 2006.
Hendrick, Joan D. 1994. Harriet Beech Stowe, a Life. New York. Oxford University Press. Pp. viii,31,32,35,58,64,87,86,108,133,141,203,208,209,210.
Klein, Rachel Naomi. 2001. Harriet Beecher Stowe and the domestication of free labor ideology. Legacy: A Journal of American Women Writers. 01 June.
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Piacentino, Ed. 2000. Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin. The Explicator. 22 March.
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Hendrick, Joan D. 1994. Harriet Beech Stowe, a Life. New York. Oxford University Press. Pp. viii
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