Tag Archives: literary criticism

Book: New Essays on Uncle Tom’s Cabin

New Essays on Uncle Tom's Cabin

Too much Uncle Tom.
195 pages, ★★★★

This collection of very detailed essays were written by different authors, so there’s naturally a lot of overlap in content.

Rather than review this book, I’m going to share some of the reflections I made while reading it.

  1. Some critics [of Uncle Tom’s Cabin] said the book isn’t a part of high culture because it appeals to the masses. Others said it appeals to sadness, too fundamental a human emotion, and thus yields no artistic merit. I think Uncle Tom’s Cabin isn’t sad at all because even though characters in the book suffer, the author doesn’t choose to dwell on their suffering. She merely describes it, leaving any reflection up to the reader.
  2. Radical abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison suggested angrily that there were two Jesus Christs: one passive, long-suffering Christ for blacks, and one rebellious, warrior Christ for whites. According to Christian values in 19th century America, whites and blacks were expected to respond to suffering in different ways!
  3. Stowe held back on describing sexual abuse because the novel’s intended audience included children. In reality, sexual abuse of young, female slaves was widespread (Legree in Uncle Tom’s Cabin would have abused his slaves sexually, for example).
  4. Women played a role in ending slavery by persuading their white husbands that slavery was wrong, and by requesting that blacks stay subservient rather than self-determined. (A violent slave population would not have elicited sympathy from the whites.) By not fanning the flames of oppression or of revolution, women allowed slavery to ‘burn out’ faster than it otherwise would have.
  5. Gothic portrayal of women in nursery rhymes as “houses” is something to think about.

Between these interesting points was a great amount of detail that would lend itself well to a book club or a literary seminar. This book contained more than enough analysis of Uncle Tom for the average, interested reader. ★★★★

Book: Uncle Tom’s Cabin and Mid-Nineteenth Century United States

Uncle Tom's Cabin and Mid-Nineteenth Century United States

Succinct, analytical, readable, perfect.
175 pages, ★★★★★

The original text of Uncle Tom’s Cabin was very dense, laced with nineteenth-century English and was a nuisance to read—especially the speech from Tom’s wife, Chloe. Here’s an excerpt of the original:

“An’ de Gineral, he knows what cookin’ is. Bery nice man, de Gineral! He comes of one of de bery fustest families in Old Virginny!”

While it’s intelligible, it’s tiring to read.

However, I learned much more from this book, called Uncle Tom’s Cabin and Mid-Nineteenth Century United States. It uses the concise, logical English language that as a science student (and as a blogger), I’m much more used to. It not only tells you the story, the author’s background, her reasons for writing, and the book’s influence on the American public, but also includes discussions of the devastating slave trade, the ‘ownership’ of women and the extermination of native Americans that occurred in the same historical period. This book concludes with a chapter on Uncle Tom’s Cabin‘s legacy. I learned much more from this book than from Uncle Tom’s Cabin itself.

Reading derivative works isn’t cheating at all. Nobody was expected to read the original text of On the Origin of Species while I was doing undergraduate science. We were, however, expected to know the gist of what it said by reading books that relate heavily to it (The Third Chimpanzee and Genome come to mind).

Instead of reading the dozens of classics on my reading list, I’m going to hunt for derivative works of all of them. I think I’ve finally found a way to make classic fiction both enjoyable and accessible at the same time… ★★★★★