The Racism Of Harriet Beecher Stowe

1623 words - 6 pages

"So this is the little lady who made this big war." These are the words rumored to be said from President Abraham Lincoln's upon meeting Harriet Beecher Stowe. Her book, Uncle Tom's Cabin, had a huge impact on our nation and contributed to the tension over slavery. Harriet Beecher Stowe was a woman who was involved in religious and feminist causes. Stowe's influence on the northern states was remarkable. Her fictional novel about slave life of her current time has been thought to be one of the main things that led up to the Civil War. The purpose of writing it, as is often said, was to expose the evils of slavery to the North where many were unaware of just what went on in the rest of the country. There is no doubt among most historians that Stowe's book affected many people's views on slavery; but one question that is being asked today is whether the book was historically accurate. Some think believe it recorded exactly the sort of things that went on among slaves and their owners while other people say that Stowe made an elaborate exaggeration of the evils of slavery just so she could prove her point. Was Uncle Tom's Cabin close to the truth? An examination of current work on the history of the U.S. should reveal the merits of Stowe's writing.The general consensus among historical accounts of slavery is that southern slave owners mostly considered slaves as less of a person than they themselves were. They still viewed slaves as people, but not on the same level as them. Irwin Unger describes the system of slavery like many slaves have who have since written about it. Unger says that slaves were in a "system that denied them their humanity" (Unger 309). Slave owners were racist, he says. They were viewed as inferior. He writes, "It was [this] mark of inferiority that affected all black men and women and did not disappear even when black people secured their freedom" (Unger 309). According to Unger, "it was illegal to teach slaves to read and write" (Unger 309). Owners saw it as unnecessary for them and did not want slaves to become more equal with the free people. A conversation between Eva and her mother in Stowe's book reveals this view of slaves as inferior along with slaves not being taught to read. Eva's mother tells her, "It is no use for them to read. It don't help them to work any better, and they are not made for anything else" (Stowe 286). So Stowe was accurate in portraying Eva's mother as thinking slaves did not need to read and also accurate in her view of slaves in general. She viewed slaves as inferior when she said slaves were "not made for anything else" but for work (Stowe 286). This is an example of one theme in Stowe's novel that is right in line with current historical research.Many times Stowe writes of slaves being unjustly punished for no good reason. At one point in the novel George, a slave, is describing his experiences in hearing is sister unjustly whipped. He felt helpless, knowing he could do nothing to stop it....

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