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A NINETEENTH-CENTURY BLACK POET PRAISES STOWE
HARRIET BEECHER STOWE
Paul Laurence Dunbar, Century Magazine, November 1898
A TWENTIETH-CENTURY BLACK NOVELIST CRITICIZES STOWE
It is interesting to consider one more aspect of Mrs. Stowe's novel, the method she used to solve the problem of writing about a black man at all. Apart from her lively procession of field-hands, house niggers, Chloe, Topsy, etc.- who are the stock, lovable figures presenting no problem- she has only three other Negroes in the book.... Two of them may be dismissed immediately, since we have only the author's word that they are Negro and they are, in all other respects, as white as she can make them.... The figure from whom the novel takes its name, Uncle Tom, who is a figure of controversy yet, is black, wooly- haired, illiterate; and he is phenomenally forbearing. He has to be; he is black, and only through his forbearance can he survive or triumph.... The virtuous rage of Mrs. Stowe is motivated by... a panic of being hurled into the flames, of being caught in traffic with the devil.... Here, black equates with evil and white with grace... if she could not cast out the blacks... she could not embrace them either without purifying them of sin... Tom, therefore, her only black man, has been robbed of his humanity and divested of his sex....
James Baldwin, "Everybody's Protest Novel," Partisan Review, 16, June 1949
ON THE CHARACTERS
Out of a background of undistinguished narrative, inelegantly and carelessly written, the characters leap into being with a vitality that is all the more striking for the ineptitude of the prose that presents them. These characters- like those of Dickens, at least in his early phase- express themselves a good deal better than the author expresses herself. The Shelbys and George Harris and Eliza and Aunt Chloe and Uncle Tom project themselves out of the void. They come before us arguing and struggling like real people who cannot be quiet....
Edmund Wilson, Patriotic Gore, 1962
ON LITERARY MERITS
We may think of the book as a fantastic, even fanatic representation of Southern life, memorable more for its emotional oversimplification of the complexities of the slave system than for artistry or insight.
Alice Crozier, The Novels of Harriet Beecher Stowe, 1969
ON THE MEANING OF LITTLE EVA
...Stowe intended Little Eva's patient and protracted death as an exemplum of religious faith.... Yet her religious significance comes not only from her own extreme religiosity but also from the protective veneration it arouses in the other characters in the book, and presumably in her readers.... It is important to note that Little Eva doesn't actually convert anyone. Her sainthood is there to precipitate our nostalgia and our narcissism. We are meant to bestow on her that fondness we reserve for the contemplation of our own softer emotions. If 'camp' is art that is too excessive to be taken seriously, art that courts our 'tenderness,' then Little Eva suggests Christianity beginning to function as camp. Her only real demand on her readers is for self-indulgence.
Stowe's infantile heroine anticipates that exaltation of the average which is the trademark of mass culture. Vastly superior as she is to most of her offspring, she is nonetheless the childish predecessor of Miss America, of "Teen Angel," of the ubiquitous, everyday, wonderful girl about whom thousands of popular songs and movies have been made....
Ann Douglas, The Feminization of American Culture, 1977
ON THE INFLUENCE OF UNCLE TOM'S CABIN
This novel by Harriet Beecher Stowe was one of the greatest successes of American publishing history as well as one of the most influential books- immediately influential, at any rate- that have ever appeared in the United States. A year after its publication on March 20, 1852, it had sold 305,000 copies in America and something like two million and a half copies in English and in translation all over the world.... Yet, in the period after the war, the novel's popularity steadily declined.... Up to the time when it was reprinted, in 1948, in the Modern Library Series, it was actually unavailable except at secondhand.
What were the reasons for this eclipse? It is often assumed in the United States that Uncle Tom was a mere propaganda novel which disappeared when it had accomplished its purpose and did not, on its merits, deserve to live. Yet it continued to be read in Europe, and, up to the great Revolution, at any rate, it was a popular book in Russia. If we come to Uncle Tom for the first time today, we are likely... to conclude that the postwar neglect of it has been due to the strained situation between the North and the South.... It was still possible at the beginning of this century for a South Carolina teacher to make his pupils hold up their right hands and swear that they would never read Uncle Tom. Both sides, after the terrible years of the war, were glad to disregard the famous novel.... [B]y the early nineteen-hundreds few young people had any at all clear idea of what Uncle Tom's Cabin contained. One could in fact grow up in the United States without ever having seen a copy.
Edmund Wilson, Patriotic Gore, 1962
We wish to thank the following educators who helped us focus our Book Notes series to meet student needs and critiqued our manuscripts to provide quality materials.
Sandra Dunn, English Teacher
Lawrence J. Epstein, Associate Professor of English
Leonard Gardner, Lecturer, English Department
Beverly A. Haley, Member, Advisory Committee
Elaine C. Johnson, English Teacher
Marvin J. LaHood, Professor of English
Robert Lecker, Associate Professor of English
David E. Manly, Professor of Educational Studies
Bruce Miller, Associate Professor of Education
Frank O'Hare, Professor of English and Director of Writing
Faith Z. Schullstrom, Member of Executive Committee
Mattie C. Williams, Director, Bureau of Language Arts