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Was Stowe a Racist in Her Presentation of African Americans in “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”? Essay

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Updated: Jan 27th, 2022

Introduction

In the pantheon of literature devoted to the discussion of slavery as one of the cost despicable blights on the history of the U.S., Harriet Beecher Stowe’s “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” takes an important yet controversial place. On the one hand, the novel helped to further the discussion of slavery, pointing to the tremendous harm that it caused and evoking sympathy in the white U.S. population. On the other hand, the book represents several views that can be considered quite controversial by modern standards and, therefore, could be seen as one of the reasons for the present-day complexities in the relationships between African American and white U.S. population: “Her husband’s suffering and dangers, and the danger of her child, all blended in her mind” (Stowe 840). Although Stowe manages to evoke sympathy toward her characters in the reader, the creation of the archetypal characters that would become a symbolic representation of benevolent, compliant, and inactive stereotype of an African American person ultimately harm the meaningful message of the over, which makes Stowe’s perspective quite racist.

Analysis: Portrayal of Characters

As a rule, when pointing out the problematic nature of Stowe’s argument and the issues that people find the most unsettling about the book, they [point to Uncle toms’ character as a stereotype of the so-called happy slave. However, while Uncle Tom’s portrayal in the novel is already a rather unsettling misrepresentation of the struggle that African American people were facing at the time, the insertion of benevolent white characters that stole the limelight from the leading ones and served as the means of reinforcing the stereotypical misrepresentation of the social power dynamics is particularly egregious. Specifically, little Eva, who serves the sole purpose of portraying an ethically flawless, sympathetic, and blissfully unaware white person in the book, can be seen as the epitome of Stowe’s unintentional racism. Injected into the novel to demonstrate that not all white people are violent and demeaning toward African Americans, little Eva devolves the problem of grossly unfair systemic oppression and the global failure to acknowledge the humanity of another race to the representation of slavery as the effect of bad people having greater power within society than good ones. The described problem shines particularly clearly in the scene of Eve’s death: “AS bright, glorious smile passed over her face and she said, brokenly, – ‘Oh, love – joy – peace’” (Stowe 878). As a result, the struggle of African American people and the tremendous injustice dominating the U.S. society at the time is simplified almost offensively to the problem of some people being generally bad and violent toward other. Therefore, the creation of Eve as a proxy character for representing the quote-unquote good and well-intentioned white people grossly misrepresents the very notion of slavery and minimizes the struggle of African American people.

Author’s Intent

At this point, it is importing to point out that the specified critique does not imply that Stowe’s novel was not important or that the author was in some way a racist. Quite the contrary, the book has proven to be exceptionally popular, having produced quite significant impact on American culture. However, when viewed from the perspective of African American culture and the challenges that African American people have experienced, the novel turns out to contain some problematic ideas, particularly, the character of uncle tom and the representation of the so-called virtuous white people with the help of Eve’s character.

Thus, despite having produced a profoundly positive effect on the perception of African American people and their plight in the Jim Crow environment of the U.S., “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” must be recognized as a highly controversial novel. Specifically, the emphasis on the role that white people played in the liberation of African Americans has been exaggerated severely in the novel, minimizing the positive effect that the novel produced and affecting the perception of the message of slavery being a revolting phenomenon based on an inherently wrong premise of ostensible superiority of a specific race. As a result, the novel remains an essential part of American literature that his help in advancing the idea of abolitionism as the only sensible approach toward rebuilding relationships between African Americans a white Americans. At the same time, one must admit that Stowe’s book is filled to the brim with the characters and ideas that are presently largely considered questionable, at best, and racist, at worst: “Mas’r will go his own way!” (Stowe 847). Therefore, while the value of the novel can be debated due to the positive reception among white people and rather mixed reception among African Americans, the manner in which Stowe constructed her characters and represented their relationships with the ostensibly good white people represents undiluted racism. While it would not be quite fair to blame the described effect solely on Stowe, one must admit that her writing does, in fact, contain the concepts that would be seen as racist in present day.

Conclusion

Despite the presence of an admittedly positive intention in Stowe’s “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” the image of an inactive African American person that objects not to slavery but to violent slave owners devalues the initially positive message and reduces the significance of the novel, making Stowe’s perspective quite racist. Therefore, despite Stowe’s narrative was progressive enough at the time to spark the willingness to protest against slavery in white American population, it did not succeed in creating the characters that could subvert the established stereotypes and represent a strong opposition o the status quo; Instead, the character of Uncle Tom reinforced the specified notion, while the character of Elisa contributed to perceiving African Americans as strong and driven.

Work Cited

Stowe, Harriet Beecher. “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.” The Norton Anthology of American Literature, shorter 9th edition, edited by Robert Levine, W. W. Norton & Company, 2017.

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"Was Stowe a Racist in Her Presentation of African Americans in "Uncle Tom’s Cabin"?" IvyPanda, 27 Jan. 2022, ivypanda.com/essays/was-stowe-a-racist-in-her-presentation-of-african-americans-in-uncle-toms-cabin/.

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IvyPanda. "Was Stowe a Racist in Her Presentation of African Americans in "Uncle Tom’s Cabin"?" January 27, 2022. https://ivypanda.com/essays/was-stowe-a-racist-in-her-presentation-of-african-americans-in-uncle-toms-cabin/.

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IvyPanda. 2022. "Was Stowe a Racist in Her Presentation of African Americans in "Uncle Tom’s Cabin"?" January 27, 2022. https://ivypanda.com/essays/was-stowe-a-racist-in-her-presentation-of-african-americans-in-uncle-toms-cabin/.

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IvyPanda. (2022) 'Was Stowe a Racist in Her Presentation of African Americans in "Uncle Tom’s Cabin"'. 27 January.

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