Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin: A Casebook

By Elizabeth Ammons | Go to book overview

Love and Death in Uncle Tom’s Cabin

LESLIE A. FIEDLER

THE GREATEST OF ALL novels of sentimental protest is, however, dedicated not to the problem of drink but to that of slavery, though its author was a total abstainer, who would appear at literary luncheons only if promised that no wine would be served. The novel, of course, is Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, which she read in installments to her children as she composed it in 1851 and 1852. They wept as they listened; and she wept, too, returned to each installment at such a pitch of frenzy that she began after a while to feel as if the volume were being dictated rather than invented. “The Lord himself wrote it!” she insisted later; and if He had, indeed, written and autographed it, it could not have sold better—some 300,000 copies in the very first year of publication, and millions in the following years, perhaps outstripping even The Last of the Mohicans. It is an astonishingly various and complex book, simplified in the folk mind, which has remembered in its place the dramatic version in which Mrs. Stowe had no hand and which she saw, secretly, only once.

In Uncle Tom’s Cabin, there are two contrasting studies of marriage: one between an opportunistic, morally lax husband and an enduring Christian wife; another between a hypochondriacal, self-pitying shrew—an acute but cruel caricature of the Southern lady—and a gentle, enduring husband. The latter relationship between the St. Clares, who are mother and father to Little

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