Could one of America’s most famous anti-slavery books be racist? Well, the book’s offensive caricatures combined with today’s perspective on racism and human equality definitely hint towards “yes.” Plus, Harriet Beecher Stowe—the author herself—had some pretty racist beliefs herself, despite writing a book that was said to have led to the Civil War.
|19th-Century Literature||19th-Century American Literature|
|American Literature||All American Literature|
|Author||Stowe - Harriet Beecher Stowe|
Women and Femininity
When Lincoln met Harriet Beecher Stowe, the book’s author…
…he even said to her… So you’re the little lady who wrote the book that started
this great war?
In that case… how the heck can Uncle Tom’s Cabin be considered… racist?
Well, for one thing, its author, Harriet Beecher Stowe, relies on racial stereotypes to get
her point across.
The book reinforces the stereotypes of Uncle Tom, the Mammy and the pickaninny…
…black characters who are subservient to whites and implicit in their own unfair treatment.
She could have shown a bunch of spunky, hard-headed blacks who were determined to change the status
…but she instead decided to point out the problems that existed by demonstrating how
accepting everyone was of their place in the world.
Her handling of the situation riled everyone up, and increased tensions between the North
and the South. In the book, Uncle Tom is loyal to his white
masters, even at the expense of his own freedom.
And his wife, Aunt Chloe, is the typical jolly, overweight woman in the kitchen.
Basically, they’re the offensive caricatures you still see around the kitchen table today…
…or in a Tracy Jordan parody on Thirty Rock.
Then there’s the fact that Stowe explicitly states that she believes the Anglo-Saxon and
African races have different characters and different destinies.
She’s basically calling out each of the races and saying they’re… different. Isn’t
that the very definition of racism?
Finally, there's the question of perspective.
Just because Uncle Tom’s Cabin helped end slavery and had progressive… well, progressive-ish…
views for the day…
…it doesn't mean it's not racist…. to us.
We have a very different angle on things looking backward on history.
We’ve learned a lot in the last couple hundred years…
…well, some of us have, anyway…
…and our ideas of political correctness and human equality have changed substantially.
So what do you think?
Is Uncle Tom’s Cabin racist because of its stereotypical portrayal of black characters?
Or because Harriet Beecher Stowe believes that Anglo-Saxons and Africans have different
Or can we say fuggedaboutit to Stowe's times and dub it racist by our own standards?
Shmoop amongst yourselves.