Domestic Politics in Uncle Tom’s Cabin
“MORE NOTORIOUS AND UNDENIABLE than any other abuse of the system of slavery,” Harriet Beecher Stowe believed, was “its outrage upon the family.”1 Nowhere in Uncle Tom’s Cabin is this domestic violation so marked as in the careless condition of the Southern kitchen. Dinah’s kitchen in Little Eva St. Clare’s New Orleans home “looked as if it had been arranged by a hurricane blowing through it.”2 In Dinah’s domestic arrangements, “the rolling pin is under the bed and the nutmeg grater in her pocket with her tobacco— there are sixty-five different sugar bowls, one in every hole in the house” (I, 304); she “had about as many places for each cooking utensil as there were days in the year” (I, 297). This promiscuous housekeeping scandalizes the St. Clares’ Northern cousin Ophelia, offending her domestic propriety as much as slavery disturbs her moral sense. Ophelia finds that Southerners not only neglect their “awful responsibility” for the souls of their slaves but also let their households operate “without any sort of calculation to time and place” (I, 255, 297). In Ophelia’s New England home “the old kitchen floor never seems stained or spotted; the tables, chairs, and the various cooking utensils never seem deranged or disordered” (I, 227). There, “everything is once and forever rigidly in place” (I, 226).