Seldom does a one work of literature change a society or start it down
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Seldom does a one work of literature change a society or start it down the road to cataclysmic conflict. One such catalytic work is Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin (1852). It is considered by many, one the most influential American works of fiction ever published. Uncle Tom's Cabin sold more copies than any other previous fiction title. It sold five thousand copies in its first two days, fifty thousand copies in eight weeks, three hundred thousand copies in a year and over a million copies in its first sixteen months. What makes this accomplishment even more amazing is that this book was written by a woman during a time in history women were relegated to domestic duties and child rearing and were not allowed positions of influence or leadership roles in society. Legend holds that when Abraham Lincoln met Stowe in 1682 he said, "So you're the little woman who wrote the book that made this great war". The impact of Uncle Tom's Cabin did more to arouse antislavery sentiment in the North and provoke angry rebuttals in the south than any other event in antebellum era.
Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811-1896), born Lichfeild, Connecticut, was the daughter, sister, and wife of liberal clergymen and theologians. Her father Lyman and brother Henry Ward were two of the most preeminent theologians of the nineteenth century. This extremely devout Christian upbringing, focusing on the doctrines of sin, guilt, atonement and salvation, had an undeniable impact in her writings. Each of her characters displays some aspect of these beliefs. Although he is unjustly and ignorantly vilified by contemporary Black society, the character Uncle Toms is given a Christ like persona. Tom forgives his oppressors, turns the other cheek to blows, blesses those who curse him, and prays for those who sin against him. At the end of the story he even gives his life to save his people. Beecher's upbringing is readily apparent in the formation and characterization of Uncle Tom's Cabin. She even goes as far as to credit God with authorship, only allowing herself to be viewed as God's instrument against the evils of slavery.
Before the publication of Uncle Tom's Cabin, information regarding the evils of slavery and the treatment of slaves was readily available, but little of this information was read outside anti-slavery circles. The narratives of escaped slaves, as well as the work of other writers, documented stories relating real occurrences of plantation barbarity. Fredric Douglas of the North Star, and William Lloyd Garrison, publisher of The Liberator, two fervent abolitionists, contributed greatly to the body of anti-slavery writings. Uncle Tom's Cabin was originally published in the anti-slavery newspaper National Era, in weekly installments, from the summer of 1851 to the spring of 1852. In it original form, it too did not attract much attention outside of anti-slavery circles. This all changed when it was published in 1852 for the first time between hard covers.
Uncle Tom's Cabin succeeded where other anti-slavery writings had failed because it made a deep emotional impact and humanized the slave, elevating the him to a level where he could be understood to have thoughts and feeling comparable to any other member of the human race. Using the character of George Harris, Stowe gives flesh to the shallow skeletal views of slave humanity that many Americans held. She also brought to view the inhuman disintegration of families that the institution of slavery perpetuated. Slaves families were often separated, as family members were sold off, for profit or necessity, in different directions sometimes never see each other again. In her novel one mother, Eliza, bravely escapes the south by crossing the icy Ohio River to guarantee the safety of her child while another, Cassy, commits infanticide rather than force her child to endure the indignities of slave life. A third mother, Lucy, commits suicide when her ten-month-old son is sold away from her. Stowe uses the Victorian sanctity of the family to appeal directly to the heart of her readers. The publication of Uncle Tom's Cabin coupled with the offensive and invasive nature of the Fugitive Slave Act (1850), changed northerners so they could no longer view slavery with a disconnected view. Slavery was no longer a Southern issue that had no impact on the life of those
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