Study Guide

Uncle Tom's Cabin Women and Femininity

By Harriet Beecher Stowe

Women and Femininity

Uncle Tom’s Cabin demonstrates that one of the major problems with slavery is that it wreaks havoc on the family structure, separating wives from their husbands and mothers from their children. As a patriarchal institution, slavery is perpetuated along a paternalistic "law of the father" model. Stowe believed that women played special roles in society as mothers, housekeepers, and wives, and especially as Christian influences on the men around them. In her view, feminine morality and maternal sentiment are crucial in the abolitionist cause. The moral authority of northern women, and the sympathy of northern mothers for slave mothers, are essential parts of Stowe’s anti-slavery appeal. (See also our discussion of "Mothers" under "Symbols, Imagery, Allegory.")

Questions About Women and Femininity

  1. Compare and contrast each female character. Is one of them held up as a shining example of righteousness? If so, who and why? If not, why not?
  2. What are the expectations of wives, mothers, and unmarried women in southern society as presented here? Northern society? What significance does gender have for Stowe’s major anti-slavery emphasis?

Chew on This

Stowe appeals to 19th century women in her anti-slavery message by suggesting that slavery is disruptive to family life above all else.