The debate raging in the years 1836-1837 over women’s proper duties and roles in regards to abolitionism was publicly shaped primarily by two opposing forces: on the one hand, sisters Angelina and Sarah Grimke, abolitionists and champions of women’s rights; and on the other, Catharine Beecher, who opposed suffrage and women’s involvement in abolitionism and argued in favor of woman’s place in the home. After the printing of Angelina Grimke’s pamphlet Appeal to the Christian Women of the Southern States (1836), Grimke and Catharine Beecher engaged in a written debate over woman’s public role in regards to the slavery issue. Beecher responded to Grimke’s assertions that Southern women should actively protest the system of slavery in her Essay on Slavery and Abolitionism (1837), in which she claimed that women, true to their naturally subordinate natures, were not fit to interfere in such matters. In light of these facts, it is surprising to note that Harriet Beecher Stowe was Catherine Beecher’s sister. How could the author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin be related to the same woman who wrote Essay on Slavery and Abolitionism– an anti-abolitionist document which pleaded with women to keep their thoughts on slavery to themselves? In Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Stowe not only frames both sides of the debate, but also actively incorporates it into her female characters and into her narrative voice, fictitiously dramatizing the issues with which Grimke and Beecher were concerned fifteen years earlier.
Uncle Tom’s Cabin, if racist by modern standards, is at least clearly anti-slavery: Stowe’s intent in writing the novel, as she states in her Preface, is “to awaken sympathy and feeling for the African race, as they exist among us” (Stowe xviii). In her…
…atest need of positive and active role models. In only portraying Northern women who were ultimately able to act (and with Stowe’s praise), she ends up perpetuating beliefs that Southern women were naturally unsuited to engage in the abolitionist cause.Works CitedBeecher, Catharine. “Essay on Slavery and Abolitionism.” The Limits of Sisterhood: The Beecher Sisters on Women’s Rights and Woman’s Sphere. ed. Jeanne Boydston et. al. Chapel Hill: U of North Carolina P, 1988. 125-129
Cain, William E., ed. Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Blithedale Romance. Boston: Bedford Books of St. Martin’s P, 1996.
Grimke, Angelina. “Appeal to the Christian Women of the South.” The Public Years of Sarah and Angelina Grimke: Selected Writings 1835- 1839. ed. Larry Ceplair. NY: Columbia U P, 1989. 36-89.
Stowe, Harriet Beecher. Uncle Tom’s Cabin. NY: Bantam Books, 1981.