Archival Reception History of Harriet Beecher Stowe`s Uncle Tom`s Cabin
ArchivalReception History of Harriet Beecher Stowe`s Uncle Tom`s Cabin
HarrietBeecher Stowe was born in 1811 to Lyman Beecher. She studied inConnecticut and later taught in Hartford from 1827 beforeaccompanying her father to Cincinnati in 1832 where she continuedteaching. While tutoring, Stowe began writing stories and essays. Shehad seven children with Calvin Ellis Stowe whom she married in 1836.Her first book known as Mayflower was published in 1843 (Smylie 235).At Cincinnati, she met various enslaved people. The city was vibrantin culture and ethnic groups. It was also the western frontier of theUnited States, and it is the same place, which exposed her to thepublic face of slavery. Because of the treatment of slaves andineffectiveness of the law to protect slaves, she decided to write anovel that would address the issue.
Beforethe publication, the U.S. Congress had passed the Compromise of 1850this was expected to abolish the slave trade, but it had littleeffect on prevention of slavery. Helping runaways were illegal atthat time. Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel known as Uncle Tom`s Cabinpublished in 1852 was one of the leading books about anti-slaveryduring the 19th century. In one year only, the number of copies soldin the United States was 300000 while 1.5 million copies were boughtin Great Britain within a year (Kirkham 374). Although it explainsthe treatment of slaves during the 1840s, it has been criticized bysome people. Many people have reviewed the novel, and some of themnegatively criticize the volume regarding the theme. However, theliterature used by Stowe has been outstanding to all. Most of thereaders have acknowledged the skills and the creative ability of Mrs.Stowe as an excellent author. The character themselves arewell-thought and reflects the reality at that time. The novel is thusan inspiration to most writers who are involved in creative fictionalwriting because they are given an example of how they can connecttheir story with the reality. There are many archival sources, whichwill be described in this paper. Among them is the anti-slaverynewspaper known as The National Era, which was among the firsteditorials to publish the issues and notions against the slave trade.
Beforethe novel was published, it appeared in TheNational Eraas installments between 5 June 1851 and 1 April 1852,which was one of the newspapers advocating for anti-slaverycampaigns. From the book review by Gamaliel, the book was describedas a “beautifulnew angel of freedom”because of how it addressed the issue of slavery that so many peoplewere afraid to speak about (Gamaliel 1). It was an excellentpublication that they could only draw the inspiration for such worksfrom God of Freedom. The words of the novel were expected to sinkinto the softened and repentant heart of the wrong-doer. Thewrongdoers were the slave masters who had never respected the slavesas fellow human beings.
First,to bring up the theme of slavery, Stowe had carefully selected thecharacters such as Tom and Eva. The work uses rare dramatic geniusthat had never been used in novels before. The characters themselvesreflect the nature and reader`s experience of life. The word picture,coupled with vivid description, use of poetry, philosophy, andeloquence reveals the actual events that occurred at that time.According to the newspaper, morals are drawn through narrative,description, and characterization (Gamaliel 1). At the same time, theactivities that take place between the characters, though simple, arehumorous to the readers making it among the best novels of the 19thcentury.
Accordingto the NorthernReviewpublished on October 1853 by J.P. Jewett & Co., Mrs. Stowe`snovel has defects of conception and style as well as an inadequatedescription. But despite all these blemishes, it still stands out tohave high morals and religious sentiment. The novel can excite theinterest of the reader. Most of the characters are drawn withimagination and truth. St. Clare is a well-developed character who ishigh-minded, impulsive, talented, educated and generous. On the otherhand, Ophelia is energetic practical, kind-hearted and a good pictureof conscientious. Tom and Eva are well thought one is an angel andthe other an angel (Railton 468). These people are dreams founded onrealities. Other characters are also developed in a manner thatreflects the life experience during the era of slavery.
However,the widespread popularity of the novel is not solely based on thecharacter development and actions, but it captures the theme ofslavery that was one of the biggest issue affecting the society atthat time. Stowe failed to understand why it was necessary for anygiven society to deprive some people of all freedom, and reduce themto the condition of the property ((Railton 470). The work of UncleTom`s Cabin came at a moment when anti-slavery was being advocated.It was admirably suited to the ordinary mind and addressed theintellect with so much power and beauty.
Anotherreason for its popularity is the foundation of truth in the novel.According to the NorthernReview,it is a highly-colored description of reality. The play shows theconsequences of absolute and irresponsible power. Were it a mereimagination full of falsehoods, and it would have been forgotten likemany other works. First, the state of the law was inconsistent withthe virtues of Christianity (Railton 472). Secondly, it reflects asociety that is ignorant of what is going on around them. They residewithin some miles of the comfortable and luxurious home of wealthythus do not understand the suffering experienced within theneighborhood.
Jewett& Co. Advertisement: The Greatest Book of its Kind
Whileadvertising the novel, TheNew York Independentdescribed it as “the greatest book of its kind.” After making thefirst sale on 20thMarch 1852, fifty thousand copies were sold in eight weeks. Theadvertisement was captivating to any person who had never heard orread the book. Take for example the note from the ChristianExaminerwhich mentions that says "we know of no publication whichpromises to be more effective in the service of a holy, but perilouswork than this" (Railton 469). Any person who likes readingwould get interested in a novel regarded as the best.
TheCongregationalist,on the other hand, described the writing of the Uncle Tom`s Cabin asthe exceptional missionary God has sent into the field. It meant thatdespite the existence of many other papers with topics ofChristianity, Mrs. Stowe`s was the best. Such a recommendation wouldattract various readers from the churches. They would take it as oneof the influential and spiritual books. The stories in the novel weremotivating and inspiring and could quickly draw the attention ofevery reader. According to BarrePatriot,those who could be unmoved after reading the greatest American Taleshad successfully hardened their heart (Railton 471).
Inconclusion, Uncle Tom`s Cabin was a fictional story that reflectedthe reality of events related to slavery. But the most importantaspect is how Mrs. Stowe creatively imagined about the characters andtheir environment to bring up her idea of anti-slavery. She usesdramatic genius that had never been used before. However, theconnection between slavery and Christianity became the touching pointto most readers. Despite various slave characters being moral, theycontinued to suffer at the hands of their slave masters who are shownto be inhuman because of the beating of their subjects this makesthe reader sympathize with the slaves and hates those who enslavesthem. Mrs. Stowe`s novel is thus among the few books that can be saidto have altered the people`s thinking towards slavery during the 19thcentury. However, there are some topics that should be researchedfurther. These topics are likely to answer the following questions:What are the roles of women in Uncle Tom’s Cabin? How is the issueof Christianity depicted among the slaves and the slave mastersduring the 19th century? What are the cruelties of slavery during the19th century? What was the influence of Uncle Tom’s Cabin on theWar that followed its publication? and What is the role of religionin society?
Gamaliel,Bailey. "Uncle Tom`s Cabin & American Culture." 22April 1852. Universityof Virginia.31 March 2017. http://utc.iath.virginia.edu/reviews/rere01at.html.
Railton,Stephene. "Uncle Tom`s Cabin & American Culture." 1998.Universityof Virginia.31 March 2017. http://utc.iath.virginia.edu/reviews/rere26at.html
Jewett."Uncle Tom`s Cabin & American Culture.” 20 May 1852.University of Virginia.31 March 2017. http://utc.iath.virginia.edu/reviews/read12at.html
Kirkham,E B. "The First Editions of "Uncle Tom`s Cabin": aBibliographical Study." Papersof the Bibliographical Society of America.65.4 (2015): 365-382. Print.
Smylie,James H. "Uncle Tom`s Cabin Revisited: The Bible, the RomanticImagination, and the Sympathies of Christ." Interpretation.(2013). Print.
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