Uncle Tom’s Cabin exhibits a dialectic racial prototype. On the one hand, the novel’s main purpose was defending the morality of abolitionists. The novel morally defends abolition by showing slavery and its embodying racism as immoral. The novel defends its pro-abolition stand by showing Blacks as bearing the same souls and religiosity as the whites. Uncle Tom, the archetypal novels hero, is nobler that all of the whites he encounters. But on the other hand, the author exploits most of the nineteenth-century racial stereotypes to prop up his pro-abolition argument. Evidently, Black characters are presented in racist terms as fascinated by gaudy ornamentation, childlike, and naturally emotional (Goldner 73). The novel echoes and emphasizes racial stereotypes, for instance, the “Mammy,” the “Uncle Tom,” and the “pickaninny.” The author plainly confessed his belief about inherent differences in the characters and destinies of the African and Anglo-Saxon races. The dialectic racial motifs of Uncle Tom’s Cabin is, therefore, evident in its depiction of the black people significant contribution to society progress, though such depictions exploit racists motifs of the nineteenth-century racial identity in America. This research explores the dialectic racial significance of Uncle Tom’s Cabin as both a pro-abolition literature, but also as a literature replete with racially offensive motifs.
Naturalization of Racial Differences in Uncle Tom’s Cabin
Many stereotypes about Africans and their generation began with European colonization in the 15th century. The contact between European and African enabled the creation of stereotypes and myths about the colonial subjects, which were actualized through the naturalization of racial disparities. The link between slavery and skin color emerged as a strategy to develop a racialized forced labor system, whereby colonialism thrived upon. Stereotypes served to legitimize colonial power by furthering the idea that the colonizer ruled over his subjects by his inherent superiority or by divine authority from God. Consequently, stereotyping is a successful strategy anchored on absolutism and repetition with the goal of domineering others.
Uncle Tom’s Cabin novel indisputably denounces the evils of slavery in the American south and further calls for its abortion. But the novel sounds quite ambivalent in its progressive stance on the rights of Black American. Stowe’s exudes indifference to the progressive fight for the black and white Americans. In fact, Stowe presents his light-skin characters in Uncle Tom’s Novel as superior both physically and culturally. For instance, Eva appears more religious and civilized than Tom as evident from her fidelity to Christianity throughout her life, while Tom’s faith in Christianity wavers along his life journey (Stowe 13). Similarly, Eva is an angel by her Christian faith and purity, whereas none of the Christian slaves rises to the rank of angelhood in the novel. Furthermore, the colored characters appear more intelligent and beautiful as a heredity traits from their European roots, while the pure blacks remain on the margins. Furthermore, Stowe models his blacks’ characters from the stereotypical lens of colonialists.
Stowe’s as a Racism Apologist
The racist motifs of Uncle Tom’s Cabin novel present of incredible variations in slaves treatment amongst the southern slave masters. For instance, Arthur Shelby is a magnanimous slave master. The novel describes Shelby and his wife Emily Shelby as an affectionate and kindhearted couple. His decision to sell his slaves is excusable as driven by economic hardships rather than malice. Mrs. Shelby even objects against selling the slaves despite the economic hardships by reminding her husband about her vow not to sell her maid Eliza’s young son Harry to slavery. Shelby’s failure to heed to her wife’s imploration isn’t driven by the usual callousness of Southern slave masters. Instead, his decision to sell the six years old Harry against his mother and his wife’s wishes is driven by lack of a better alternative of salvaging his farm as a ransom for his huge debts. The author’s presentation of the plantation owner Shelby’s family in good light presents as more of a racist apologist than a pro-abolitionist.
Another southern white character who reveals Stove’s apologist sentiments towards racism is the white girl Eva and her father, Augustine St. Clares. Though a white girl brought up in the racism infested south, Eva is a complete antithesis of a typical white supremacists southerner (Reid 369). For instance, her seemingly romantic relationship with Tom is a taboo in the nineteenth century South, where the relationship between the white and the blacks was that of a dog and its master, where even a dog got better treatment than the black. Eva’s father Augustine decision to buy Tom after Tom rescues Eva from drowning in the river depicts a white character unheard of in the nineteenth-century slavery south. Stowe’s presentation of angelic characters amongst the racist slaveholders’ southerners, therefore, complicates the pro-abolition goal of the novel.
Uncle Tom’s Cabin, therefore, presents three categories of the nineteenth of white southerners. The first group is the magnanimous, sympathetic, but supremacist and racist slave owners represented by Mr. Arthur Shelby and his wife Emil Shelby and Mr. Augustine St. Clares. The second group comprises the angelic, Christian white southerners represented by Eva. The last group comprises the callous, coldhearted, cruel, savage, racist and supremacist white slave owners who are the majority represented by Simon Legree who’s described as “demonic.” Stowe’s incredibly different nineteenth-century southern white characters depart from the general characterization of the nineteenth century white southerners as perversely evil and callous savage in most of the slavery-genre literature. Uncle Tom Cabin, therefore, exonerates nineteenth-century white southerners as generally evil, callous savage and instead shows angelic, Christian white southerners like Eva whose characters is a complete antithesis of the archetypal image of a nineteenth-century white southerner.
Miscegenation in Uncle Tom’s Cabin
Uncle Tom’s Cabin is cast in both Cape Verde and the United States. Cape Verde presents a different socioeconomic, cultural and political environment to slavery than that witnessed in the United States. For instance, the Africans population in Cape Verde outnumbers that of the Europeans (Reid 372). Consequently, Cape Verde environment favors miscegenation as the origin of a mixed culture society, which appears natural and positive. On the contrary, miscegenation looks weird and negative in the United States where the whites’ population eclipses that of Africans. In the United States miscegenation is a taboo, where despite the Emancipation Proclamation, “the one-drop rule” rendered the offspring of an African black irrespective of how white he/she may be.
Slavery as a Paternalist Institution
Stowe appears swayed by the southern slaveholders’ propaganda that posited slavery as a better-off system of labor than the northerners’ exploitative “wage slaves” system of the north. Uncle Tom’s Cabin exudes the notion of this paternalistic institution propaganda by claiming the benevolent characteristics of some of the slaveholders’ characters presented in the novel. Among the characteristically benevolent slaveholders featured in the novel include Mr. Arthur Shelby, and his wife Emily Shelby described as kindhearted and affectionate. The relationship between Shelby’s family and their slaves is that of a paternalist master in the name of Shelby, his wife, and their children with a deep sense of responsibility for their slaves. This paternalist relationship results from the interdependence between the master and the slaves, which guarantees the slaves a better life than their exploited “wage slaves” in the north. A similar interdependent paternalist relationship is that of Tom and the white slave merchant Augustine St. Clare who acts more like a father or guardian to Tom than a master during Tom’s journey to the slave market. Shelby and Augustine’s paternalist benevolence is further evident in their food, shelter, clothing and good living condition provision to their slaves. The good living standards enjoyed by Uncle Tom and his family on Shelby’s plantation rivals the meager livelihood in Africa, which therefore paints slavery as progressive (Hagood 81). Paternalism propaganda also presents Uncle Tom, his family, the maid Eliza, and their master’s family as friends brought together by fate, but living intimately and affectionately.
But the fact that the master looked down at his slaves as his children rather than as equal adults amounts to infantilization, which is indisputably dehumanizing. Also, the rare interaction between mistresses, masters and their slaves were exceptional. The slavery Code dictated no such interactions as evident in the majority of the savage slaveholders like Simon Legree whose delight was in the daily whipping off their slaves even to the extent of killing them. Similarly, Augustine’s benevolent paternalism isn’t shared with his wife as in Mr. Shelby and his wife, Emily Shelby. Instead, Augustine’s wife Marie is a cruel woman who promptly sells Tom to the vicious Legree without any hesitation as witnessed in Mrs. Emily Shelby reluctance to part with his slaves. Therefore, the majority of white slaveholders are savage, and even the benevolent paternalist ones are only paternal toward a flourishing dependent since slavery is naturally a relationship of unequal humans. The fact that the relationship between the slaves and masters in Uncle Tom’s Cabin is that of a child and his parent’s amount to the dehumanization of the slaves by demeaning them.
A Psychologically Multifaceted Image of Racism in Uncle Tom’s Cabin
Stowe’s, therefore, presents a psychologically complex rather than a mainstream racism effects. Superficially, his slavery model exudes paternalism institution propaganda in most of his slave masters characters, where only Simon Legree exudes the worst of a slave master character in a type slavery-genre (Ginsberg 31). Otherwise, the rest of Stowe’s slave masters characters in Uncle Tom’s Cabin are at their worst only moderately as evil based on nineteenth-century slavery standards. For instance, the proof of Mrs. Marie cruelty is only the fact that she sells Tom to the vicious Legree. But there is no more revelation about Mrs. Marie’s alleged cruelty.
An in-depth scrutiny of Uncle Tom’s Cabin novel reveals a subtle rather than a direct form of racism. The subtle image of racism in the novel is evident in the slave’s loss of his manhood, and his confidence in himself. The psychologically complex ramification of this subtle form of racism is betrayed by the image of the slave standing before his master with his head slightly bowed, his hat in his hand. Such a posture betrays a psychological sense of inferiority, but it’s that overt sense of inferiority that earned the slave patriarchal affection and favors. The dialectic racial motifs of Uncle Tom’s Cabin is, therefore, evident in its depiction of the black people significant contribution to society progress, though such depictions exploit racists motifs of the nineteenth-century racial identity in America.
Hagood, Thomas Chase. ““Oh, What a Slanderous Book”: Reading Uncle Tom’s Cabin in the Antebellum South.” Southern Quarterly, vol. 49, no. 4, 2012, pp. 70-93.
Ginsberg, Elaine K. Passing and the Fictions of Identity. Duke UP, 1996.
Goldner, Ellen J. “Arguing With Pictures: Race, Class, and the Formation of Popular Abolitionism through Uncle Tom’s Cabin.” The Journal of American Culture, vol. 24, no.1-2, 2001, pp.71-84.
Reid, Mandy. “Racial Profiling: Visualizing Racial Science on the Covers of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, 1852-1928.” Nineteenth-Century Contexts, vol. 30, no. 4, 2008, pp. 369-87.
Stowe, Harriet Beecher. Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Univ. of Michigan, 1852.
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