Uncle Tom’s Cabin
Harriet Beecher Stowe’s 1852 abolitionist novel, Uncle Tom's Cabin was both a reaction to, and a reflection of, the political climate of its era. As a novel and a theatrical production, Uncle Tom’s Cabin helped to fuel the abolitionist effort by creating what Wendell Phillips calls in “The Philosophy of the Abolition Movement,” “rather an event than a book,” (page 29). Phillips praises the stage interpretation for its ability to present a message to its audience that other members of the community were reluctant to express:
The theatre, bowing to its audience, has preached immediate emancipation, and given us the whole of "Uncle Tom"; while the pulpit is either silent or hostile, and in the columns of the theological papers, the work is subjected to criticism, to reproach, and its author to severe rebuke.
The London Times review, “Uncle Tom in England,” offers one contemporary reaction to the novel and points to why this format might have been an ideal medium for Stowe’s message:
She does not preach a sermon, for men are accustomed to nap and nod under the pulpit: she does not indite a philosophical discourse, for philosophy is exacting, is solicitous for truth, and scorns exaggeration. Nor does the lady condescend to survey her intricate subject in the capacity of a judge, for the judicial seat is fixed high above human passion, and she is in no temper to mount it.
- According to the Times review, what did Stowe's use of the novel medium allow her to accomplish? Why couldn't she have done these things through a sermon or speech?
- Why do you think the work was so popular both as a novel and a stage production, "rather an event than a book"?
- Who is the intended audience of both formats?
- What do you think is the political or social role of fiction?
- What are the potential benefits of trying to include a message in a work of fiction? What are the potential hazards of such an endeavor?