Uncle Tom’s Impact on 19th Century America
For slaves, the passing of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 ensured their doom in the perpetual cruelty of the slave market. This Act protected the rights of slaveholders, requiring – by law – that all slaves who escaped to the North be returned to their original owners. This action by the United States government contributed significantly to the novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe.
The novel was the first of its kind to express and fully embrace the idea that slavery should not be condoned.
At the time this text was published, many Northerners took the pacifist approach by simply accepting the idea that “one person couldn’t change anything”, like St. Clare in the novel. Once this book was introduced to the Northern population, not only did it sell like hot cakes, but also it opened citizens’ eyes to the actual horrors occurring in the South, and under their same Constitution. They saw that merciless slave owners and continuous beatings left slaves with little hope and little faith.
The sympathetic portrayal of slaves throughout the South lead many Northerners to side with the extreme abolitionists, which would soon create further tensions among the North and the South and eventually cause the friction prompting Southern states to secede and begin the Civil War. This progression of events inspired Abraham Lincoln’s famous quote to Harriet Beecher Stowe when he met her, “So you’re the little woman who wrote the book that caused this great war? ” Although the original intent of this novel was to educate the unaware masses, Stowe fell into some stereotypes of black men.
When “Black Sam” received the order from Mrs. Shelby to slow down the retrieval of Eliza so that she may escape, it is clear that he does not care whether Eliza gets to freedom, but is purely interested in whether, if he succeeds, he can take over the spot of “trusted slave” that Tom filled. Stowe basically describes him as the “comic” black figure. A “comic” black figure is drawn into the book for the amusement of the white audience, which, in itself is a horrifying thought. This portrayal shows him grinning dumbly and failing to use large words correctly.
He also is screeching in broad dialect and “seems ready to break into an comic dance”. It seems as if, especially with the inclusion of the cartoon, Stowe was playing into overdrawn racial stereotypes of the day, and implying that only some slaves had the capacity to function normally in society while others could not. Although Stowe mocks Haley (the slave catcher and seller) in this chapter, it seems as if the representation of the average slave undermines the positive image she is attempting to draw for slaves such as Uncle Tom, Eliza and George Harris.
Some points made in the novel were ironic to me. I thought it was interesting how being a “white n—-“ was something undesirable in the slave community. When a large slave comes up to Adolph and said “Law, now, boys! dis yer’s one o’ yer white n—–s, — kind o’ cream color, ye know, scented! ” The situation slaves were put them made them resent white people to such a degree that it was terrible to be a “white n—–“.
It is ironic also that they themselves used the term “white” with the derogatory term “nigger” to insult someone n their own community. One might have thought – given the ability whites had to roam free and easily – that being white was a good thing. Of course, being called “white” had more to do with the fact that these slaves associated “white n—-“ as a portrayal of their oppressor, and by calling one of their own a “white n – – – – “ they were lashing out at their oppressors and anyone who tried to emulate them.
The idea of a “white n—-“ also brings to mind how close these slaves are to their owners making the reader question “How different are these people that they can be considered property while I can be considered free? ” No Doubt Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe had the power to turn average, every day, on the fence Americans into full-fledged abolitionists. Stowe was able to accomplish this by relating the oppressed slaves to people in every day life, whether it was through Eliza’s attachment to her son, or Tom’s embrace religion in the toughest of times.
Stowe also shows that a girl who grew up in the heart of the South could show compassion for people she was raised to believe were so beneath her and so horrid. Her strength and faith – and her recognition that the key was to see slaves as people – also influenced those around her. Stowe’s fictional tale of Uncle Tom not only touched the heart of Northerners, it also touched Southerners, and – most importantly – it contributed to the commencement of a great civil war; one that would end with the emancipation of slaves everywhere.