Slavery as an Attack on Domestic Life in Uncle Tom’s Cabin
The Compromise of 1850 included The Fugitive Slave Law, a law forcing non-slave owners in the free Northern states to return escaped slaves to their Southern masters and participate in a system they did not believe in. Jehlen notes the reaction to this cruel governmental act by stating that “[t]he nation’s growing guilt and apprehension is tangible in the overwhelming response to Uncle Tom’s Cabin” (386). It seems hard to believe that people could find no wrong in making it a law to return humans as if they were property. In fact, Stowe wrote her most famous work, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, at a most opportune time; indeed, she wrote it in response to the passage of the Fugitive Slave Law.
Knowing her audience would be primarily white women, Stowe played on their feelings of uneasiness and guilt over the treatment of slaves, especially those of the Northern white women who could help with the Abolitionist movement, by introducing her readers to seemingly real characters suffering from the injustice of slavery. This can be seen even in the style in which Uncle Tom’s Cabin was written; Stowe directly addresses her readers, forcing them to consider slavery from the point of view of the enslaved. “Expressive of and responsible for the values of its time, it also belongs to a genre, the sentimental novel, whose chief characteristic is that it is written by, for, and about women” (Tompkins 124-25). Uncle Tom’s Cabin is a sentimental novel; it was meant to appeal to the unsettled emotions that existed in the reader’s mind, creating and sense of guilt and injustice, making them see how slavery destroys human lives and families. Through the introduction of …
… of California P, 1990. 39-60.
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Davidson, Kathy N. “Preface: No more separate spheres!” American Literature 70 (September 1998): 443-454.
Jehlen, Myra. “The Family Militant: Domesticity Versus Politics in Uncle Tom’s Cabin.” Criticism 31 (Fall 1989): 383-400.
MacKethan, Lucinda H. “Domesticity in Dixie: The Plantation Novel and Uncle Tom’s Cabin.” Haunted Bodies: Gender and Southern Texts. Ed. Anne Goodwyn Jones and Susan V. Donaldson. Charlottesville: UP of Virginia, 1997. 223-239.
Stowe, Harriet Beecher. Uncle Tom’s Cabin or, Life Among the Lowly. New York: Penguin Books, 1981.
Tompkins, Jane. Sensational Designs: The Cultural Work of American Fiction, 1790-1860. New York: Oxford UP, 1985.