African American Response to Uncle Tom’s Cabin
Many African American 19th Century critics saw Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin as a ray of hope and a means out of oppression. Critics praised the dialogue, the interjected sentimental stories, as well as the characterization. In fact, many considered the novel to be a gift from God. Uncle Tom’s Cabin was the only popularized writing at the time that touched upon slavery as negative. The novel was popular in general but more importantly to African Americans. However, the response to the book was limited considering the scarcity of African American newspapers and writers. Much of the African American population at the time was held down by slavery, illiteracy, and/or a lack of places to publish.
One of the few venues for African American reaction was Frederick Douglass’ Paper. William G. Allen, a free black teacher, comments on a particular scene of dialogue in Uncle Tom’s Cabin in his letter to this publication: “The religious conversation between the slave-tenders . . . is a capital thing . . . . How it tells upon the miserable spittle-licking religionists of the present day, who, as Tom Stoker has it, are running up a bill all their lives with the devil, calculating to sneak out when pay time comes” (Allen). This discussion between Tom Stoker, Mr. Marks, and Mr. Haley is about whether the slave trade is a Christian business. Mr Haley says, “I b’lieve in religion, and one of these days, when I’ve got matters tight and snug, I calculates to tend to my soul and them ar matters; and so what’s the use of doin’ any more wickedness than ‘s re’lly necessary?–it don’t seem to me it’s ‘t all prudent” (Stowe 57). Tom Stoker replies that Mr. Haley is just trying to do evil things all his life with slavery, only to sneak out in the end and go to heaven. William G. Allen, in reference to this scene, commends Stowe’s comparison and the relationship between Christianity and slavery.
Allen also praises the touching story of the Quadroon girl in Volume II, Chapter XXXIV. He writes, “The story of the Quadroon girl . . . exceeds anything that I have ever read, in all that is soul-searching and thrilling” (Allen). In the story of Cassy, the Quadroon girl, she helps nurse Uncle Tom back to health after having been beaten and tells him that there is no God.