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Who’s that Uncle Tom?!

Christian and Racial Stereotypes in "Uncle Tom’s Cabin"

Seminar Paper 2008 10 Pages

Didactics - English - Literature, Works

Excerpt

Table of contents

1. Introduction

2. Body

3. Conclusion

4. Bibliography

1. Introduction

In this term paper a closer look will be taken at George L. Aiken’s play Uncle Tom’s Cabin considering the question of the usage of racial stereotypes. The subject will be introduced by quoting a German newspaper headline that stirred a controversy and reflects on how Uncle Tom’s Cabin and especially the perception of racial stereotypes had an impact to this day. Here it will also be stated how the meaning attributed to the character has gone through a major change since its creation.

In the following paragraph the origins of the story will shortly be described, Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel of the same title, her background, her motivations and the ambivalence of opposing slavery on the one hand while using und thus reinforcing racial stereotypes on the other.

The next paragraph will show that the same can be said of Aiken who used the novel as the basis for his play shortly after it was published and adopted Stowe’s stereotypes on a large scale. This will be demonstrated on the example of the supposed “religious spirit” of Uncle Tom by taking a closer look at his religious beliefs and his “child-like faith” in the different scenes of the play. Here it becomes particularly interesting how he relates to white adults, respective the discrepancy demonstrated between him and people his own age on the one hand, while the affinity of his mind to the one of children on the other.

The closing statements will include an interpretation and analysis of the representation of Uncle Tom in Aiken’s play especially in terms of Tom’s Christianity. This is meant to discover whether he is only that child-like spirited slave or only a tragic hero or whether his personality is more complex and one should use more then a few words for describing his character.

2. Body

When the Berliner Tageszeitung[1] published an article with the headline „Onkel Baracks Hütte“ with a picture of the White House in the Background, the editors were not aware of the controversy they would stir up. It was meant to be a satirical eye-catcher for an article about Obama being the probable party nominee as presidential candidate of the Democrats. But what the editors did not take into consideration was how insulting this headline would be interpreted by Americans. In the last decades Uncle Tom has become a synonym for those African-Americans who are said to be submissive to white people and Germans lack awareness of the deeper meaning of this term. This short present-day example shows how the hero of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin influenced the perception of the interracial discourse to the present day.

According to an article by Moody E. Prior, today there are two Uncle Toms. On the one hand the Uncle Tom who’s story Stowe described in the novel, who became a hero and an example in the struggle against slavery and on the other hand today’s perception of the figure as a symbol of subordination to the dominant white.[2]

Today the meaning of Uncle Tom has been reversed under the later struggle to free black Americans from the inherited disabilities of their slave origin, the failure of Reconstruction and the long frustrating delays in achieving that equal status as free men which the end of the civil war held out as promise. […] The new meaning has for practical purposes replaced the old.[3]

Harriet Beecher Stowe is considered by many to have written the most influential American novel in history. When she met President Lincoln in 1862, he reportedly called her "the little lady who started this great war."[4] Whether true or not, it is certain that this book was the first social protest novel ever published in the United States of America. Uncle Tom’s Cabin was written by Stowe as a reaction after the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, which made it illegal for anyone in the United States to offer aid or assistance to a runaway slave, was passed. But even though her intentions seem to have had abolitionist character she was a child of her time and “shared many of the misconceptions about race common in her lifetime.”[5] Therefore she has often been criticized for using and reinforcing racial stereotypes in her novel.

[...]


[1] Smith, David Gordon. 2008. “Onkel Baracks Hütte” – Empörung über provokanten “taz”-Titel, http://www.spiegel.de/kultur/gesellschaft/0,1518,557949,00.html rev. 21.09.2009

[2] Cf. Moody, Prior. 1979. „Mrs. Stowe’s Uncle Tom”. Critical Inquiry 5.4: p. 635

[3] Moody p. 635-36

[4] Richards, Jason. 2006. “Imitation Nation: Blackface Minstrelsy and the Making of African American Selfhood in Uncle Tom’s Cabin”. Novel: A Forum on fiction (Novel) 39.2: p. 205

[5] Graham, Thomas. 1973. “Harriet Beecher Stowe and the Question of Race”. The New England Quarterly 46.4: p.614

Details

Pages
10
Year
2008
ISBN (eBook)
9783640743247
ISBN (Book)
9783640743605
File size
476 KB
Language
English
Catalog Number
v160933
Institution / College
University of Frankfurt (Main) – Institut für England- und Amerikastudien
Grade
1,3
Tags
Uncle Tom's Cabin Onkel Toms Hütte George L. Aiken Harriet Beecher Stowe Racial Stereotypes Christian Stereotypes Obama Onkel Tom Slavery Fugitive Slave Act Religion Christianity Hero Racism African Americans Slave USA

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Title: Who’s that Uncle Tom?!