Uncle Tom's Cabin
Uncle Tom's CabinINTRODUCTION
(Full name Harriet Elizabeth Beecher Stowe; also wrote under the pseudonym Christopher Crowfield) American novelist, short-story writer, poet, nonfiction writer, and essayist.
The following entry presents commentary on Stowe's novel Uncle Tom's Cabin; or, Life among the Lowly (1852) through 2000.
Uncle Tom's Cabin (1852) is a pivotal work of pre-Civil War American literature and has become a staple on American grade and high school reading lists, with educators frequently citing the text in classroom discussions surrounding the Civil War. Originally serialized in the National Era, an abolitionist magazine, Uncle Tom's Cabin became the best-selling novel of the nineteenth century and played a profound role in the American national debate over slavery, reportedly prompting President Abraham Lincoln to refer to Stowe as "the little woman who wrote the book that started this great war." While firsthand accounts of slavery, most notably the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, were popular among readers of the day, Stowe's novel connected with audiences on an unprecedented level. Despite being labeled racially insensitive by subsequent generations of authors and critics, Uncle Tom's Cabin remains a rare example of the power of fiction to document and influence key historical events.
Stowe was born in Litchfield, Connecticut, on June 14, 1811, the seventh of eight surviving children in a deeply religious family. Her father, Lyman Beecher, was a Presbyterian minister, and her mother, Roxanna Foote, was a well-educated Episcopalian from a prosperous family. When Stowe was five years old, her mother died of consumption, and her older sister Catherine took over as a mother figure to Harriet and her younger brother Henry Ward. Stowe's disposition as a child has been described as sad, even depressed. Hoping to ease this depression, Catherine took her younger sister, at the age of thirteen, to Hartford to live in the woman's seminary she had established. Stowe began teaching at the school in 1827. In 1832 Stowe's father was appointed as president of Lane Theological Seminary, and the family, including Stowe, relocated with him to Cincinnati, Ohio. There, on the border between free and slave states, Stowe gained firsthand knowledge of the increasingly volatile debates over slavery. It was in Cincinnati that she met her husband, Calvin Stowe, who taught biblical studies at Lane. They married in 1836 and had seven children by 1850. The financial strain of raising such a large family inspired Stowe to begin writing in order to supplement her husband's meager salary. In 1850 the family moved to Brunswick, Maine, where passage of the Fugitive Slave Law prompted Stowe to write Uncle Tom's Cabin in an effort to persuade northern readers of the necessity of abolishing slavery in America. The book was enormously successful, earning Stowe not only financial independence, but international recognition as well. None of Stowe's later works, including Dred: A Tale of the Great Dismal Swamp (1856), approached Uncle Tom's Cabin in critical acclaim or popularity with readers. When Stowe's husband retired from teaching in 1863, the family moved again, returning to Hartford, Connecticut, where Stowe continued to write for many years. She died on July 1, 1896.
PLOT AND MAJOR CHARACTERS
The title character of Uncle Tom's Cabin is a devout Christian slave known for his virtuous and humble sensibilities. The novel begins with his impending sale to Mr. Haley, a vile slave trader. Tom's current owners, Arthur and Emily Shelby, are compassionate farmers with a fondness for their slaves, and their young son, George, shares a close bond with Uncle Tom and his wife, Aunt Chloe. Financial hardship has forced Arthur to negotiate the sale of Tom and Harry, the son of the Shelby family's maid, Eliza. Eliza overhears Arthur's plans, warns Tom, and flees with Harry. She heads north in hopes of locating her husband, George Harris. When Haley learns of their escape, he hires slave-hunter Tom Loker to track them down. Eliza and Harry cross the half-frozen Ohio River on foot, leaping across the breaking ice to freedom on the northern bank. They soon happen upon the home of Senator John Bird of Ohio and his wife. Although the senator has pushed for laws forbidding the assistance of fugitive slaves, he personally transports them to safety at a nearby farm. While staying with a family of Quakers, Eliza and Harry are unexpectedly reunited with George Harris. The family departs for Canada, crossing paths with Loker along the way. In the ensuing fight, Loker is badly wounded, but his life is spared.
Back at the Shelby farm, Tom bids farewell to his wife, children, and master before being led away in shackles by Haley. Tom is traveling down the Mississippi River with Haley when he saves a young white girl named Eva from drowning. Augustine St. Clare, Eva's idealistic father, purchases Tom from Haley, taking him to the family home in New Orleans. Tom forms a connection with the angelic Eva, sharing with her a firm belief in Christian values. Tom provides moral guidance to the St. Clares and encourages Prue, a slave girl from a neighboring plantation, to accept Christ. Tragically, Prue is beaten to death by her master shortly afterward. St. Clare brings a troubled young slave named Topsy into the home, and asks Miss Ophelia—his cousin who has come from Vermont to assist with household duties—to act as her tutor. Although she is opposed to slavery, Ophelia feels extremely uncomfortable dealing with Topsy on a personal level. Two years pass, and Eva has become gravely ill. She experiences a vision of heaven on her deathbed, and St. Clare vows to free Tom in her honor. Before he can fulfill his promise, however, St. Clare is stabbed to death at a café, and his self-centered wife, Marie, sells all of the family's slaves. Tom is purchased by a hateful plantation owner, Simon Legree, who tries to crush Tom's faith. Legree also procures a beautiful girl named Emmeline with the intention of using her to replace his current slave mistress, Cassy. While working in the cotton fields, Tom assists a fellow slave with her work. Legree sees this and orders Tom to whip the slave whom he helped. Tom refuses, prompting a savage beating from Legree. Cassy consoles Tom and begs her master to leave him alone. Soon afterward, Cassy and Emmeline escape from the plantation. When Tom keeps silent about his knowledge of the escape, Legree beats him for hours on end. George Shelby, who has been searching for Tom, arrives two days later, and Tom dies from his wounds in Shelby's presence. Later, Shelby coincidentally leaves town on the same boat as Cassy and Emmeline. The two fugitive slaves are disguised, but Cassy worries that Shelby has somehow identified her and proceeds to tell him the details of her situation. A fellow passenger, Madame de Thoux, engages Shelby in conversation. As de Thoux, Shelby, and Cassy exchange stories, they are shocked to discover that George Harris is de Thoux's brother, and Eliza is Cassy's daughter. Madame de Thoux, Cassy, and Emmeline agree to travel together to Canada to find Harris and Eliza. They are reunited in Montreal, head to Paris (where Harris receives a college education), and finally settle in Liberia, a West African nation populated with freed American slaves. In the meantime, Shelby returns home to the family farm and liberates the remaining slaves. He implores them to reflect upon their freedom when they think about Tom's cabin on the Shelby property.
In writing Uncle Tom's Cabin, Stowe intended to sway public opinion among Northerners against the institution of slavery. Specifically, Stowe cited her outrage over the passing of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850—which made it illegal to assist runaway slaves and obligatory to help recapture them—as her motivation for publishing the novel. Uncle Tom's Cabin focuses on the horrors of bondage, presenting it as un-Christian, uncivil, and inherently evil. Stowe addressed the question of slavery from a variety of angles, depicting even the best-case enslavement situations as morally reprehensible. Through her portrayal of the relatively kind treatment of slaves by the Shelbys and St. Clares, for instance, Stowe demonstrated the casual acceptance of slavery by otherwise decent, compassionate people. Although Arthur Shelby and Augustine St. Clare harbor genuine affection for Tom, only their children, George Shelby and Eva St. Clare, take action on Tom's behalf. Stowe also highlighted the external circumstances complicating the complicit behavior of slaveholders. For example, the Shelbys only sell Tom out of economic necessity, and St. Clare's benevolent intentions are thwarted by his grief-stricken and insensitive wife. On the other hand, the interlude with Senator and Mrs. Bird suggests that outwardly unsympathetic people have the capacity to facilitate positive changes. Stowe's rendering of the explicit hardships on the Legree plantation serve to strengthen the argument against slavery, evincing the blatantly cruel and barbaric side of the system of servitude. Moreover, Legree's antagonistic response to Tom's deep-rooted faith advances the characterization of Uncle Tom as a Christ figure and advocates the novel's concern with Christianity as a remedy for the slaveholding mentality. Throughout the novel, Tom exhibits a Christ-like passivity toward his tormentors, and his spiritually informed sense of morality encourages the personal growth of those around him. Stowe further established the redemptive power of Christianity and its tenet of universal love through Tom Loker's religious conversion subsequent to his confrontation with Eliza and George Harris. Uncle Tom's Cabin also underscores the moral strength and integrity of women, suggesting their power to convince the men around them of slavery's ills. The book implies similarities between the oppression of African Americans and women in mid-nineteenth-century America, promoting the notion that socially marginalized groups can provide invaluable aid and support to each other's causes.
Though widely hailed as a groundbreaking, affecting, and persuasive piece of literature, Uncle Tom's Cabin has been marked by ongoing critical debate and inquiry since its publication. The novel was generally well-received in the North, notwithstanding the claim among some abolitionists that Stowe's portrayal of slave culture was too lenient. Southern reviewers, in contrast, accused Stowe of slander, and several authors responded with "anti-Tom" novels written in defense of slavery. In the mid-twentieth century, commentators faulted Stowe for propagating racial stereotypes, interpreting the character of Tom as a servile and impotent man in acceptance of his inferiority rather than a noble individual with deep religious convictions. The term "Uncle Tom," therefore, carries a pejorative connotation in popular culture. Despite these criticisms, scholarly interest in the work from a historical, religious, and feminist perspective has continued to thrive. Recent studies have focused on the novel's portrayal of domestic life among the slaves and their masters, deeming it culturally salient but artistically maudlin. Similarly, scholars have emphasized the centrality of the domestic milieu in Uncle Tom's Cabin, addressing similar concerns in Harriet Jacobs's Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl. Critics also have analyzed the role of religion in Stowe's narrative, specifically focusing on the saintly status assigned to the characters of Tom and Eva. Others have centered on Stowe's accounts of the physical abuse endured by Tom and the other slaves, arguing that the author's descriptions of violence intimate a religious ecstasy bordering on the erotic. Although Stowe was a practicing Christian, some reviewers have attributed the novel's strong ethical foundation to the writings of esoteric spiritualist Emmanuel Swedenborg. Additionally, critics have studied the remarkable commercial success of Uncle Tom's Cabin, construing it as an indicator of prevailing notions of masculinity in nineteenth-century America. The widespread appeal of the book also has been credited to Stowe's evenhanded dispersal of blame and sympathy among Northern and Southern characters. Uncle Tom's Cabin stirred the conscience of the nation at a time of indisputable significance, making Stowe's penetrating polemic, according to critic Cynthia Griffin Wolff, "perhaps the most brilliantly successful piece of political writing in history."
The Mayflower; or Sketches of Scenes and Characters among the Descendants of the Pilgrims (short stories) 1843; enlarged as The Mayflower and Miscellaneous Writings, 1855
Uncle Tom's Cabin; or, Life among the Lowly. 2 vols. (novel) 1852
A Key to Uncle Tom's Cabin: Presenting the Original Facts and Documents upon Which the Story Is Founded. Together with Corroborative Statements Verifying the Truth of the Work (nonfiction) 1853
Dred: A Tale of the Great Dismal Swamp. 2 vols. (novel) 1856; republished as Nina Gordon: A Tale of the Great Dismal Swamp, 1866
The Minister's Wooing (novel) 1859
House and Home Papers [as Christopher Crowfield] (essays and short stories) 1865
Religious Poems (poetry) 1867; republished as Light after Darkness: Religious Poems 1867
Poganuc People: Their Loves and Lives (novel) 1878
Household Papers and Stories (essays and short stories) 1896
The Writings of Harriet Beecher Stowe. 16 vols. (prose and verse) 1896
Lynn Wardley (essay date 1992)
SOURCE: Wardley, Lynn. "Relic, Fetish, Femmage: The Aesthetics of Sentiment in the Work of Stowe." Yale Journal of Criticism 5, no. 3 (1992): 165-91.
[In the following essay, Wardley discusses the elements of spirituality, primitivism, and fetishism in Uncle Tom's Cabin, noting Stowe's sentimental depiction of domesticity.]
When, in the middle of Uncle Tom's Cabin, Miss Ophelia steps into Dinah's kitchen, she enters the "Chaos and Old Night" of the plantation household, evidenced in the infamous catalogue of Dinah's accumulations.1 "The more drawers and closets there were" in the St. Clare pantry, "the more hiding-holes Dinah could make for the accommodation of old rags, hair combs, ribbons, cast-off artificial flowers, and other articles of vertu wherein her soul delighted" (I 298-299). The revelation of the cook's pomade stored in a gilded china dish further alarms the guest from Vermont, for whom such an unpalatable mix as Dinah's "har grease" in her "mistress's best saucers" bespeaks only the jumble of the savage mind (I 300). Ophelia determines that Old Dinah is hopelessly "shif'less" and that Dinah's mistress, the indolent aristocrat Marie St. Clare, is criminally helpless, and here the New England spinster's "reformatory tour" begins in earnest (I 298).
Critics of Uncle Tom's Cabin (1852) have aligned the novel's depiction of disorderly domesticity with its antislavery appeal. Seen this way, Dinah's drawers are one symptom of slavery's violation of the "systematic order" Catharine Beecher, in her popular Treatise on Domestic Economy (1843), judged essential to the harmonious operation of the home. Slavery's abuse of the family wrecks domesticity's soteriological mission to "renovate degraded man," and to serve as the base of the "glorious temple" of a Christian polity.2 But Dinah's system lacks "logic and reason" and her collection coherence to the uninitiated alone: the "fine damask tablecloth" in which "some raw meat" is wrapped graphically expresses the brutality enveloped by an only superficially civilized domesticity (I 298, 299). Dinah's arrangements threaten to move beyond a symbolics of critique and into the realm of intervention, as Ophelia's discovery of Methodist hymnbook, bloody cloth, and "sundry sweet herbs" in another cupboard, implicitly raises the suspicion of occult practices in the slave's domain (I 209). To treat Dinah's kitchen as a symptom risks overlooking another cultural order in the Louisiana interior, represented by what are arguably amulets concealed in Dinah's drawers, and by Dinah's phenomenal success in "ignoring or opposing" unwelcome interference "without any actual or observable contest" (I 298). What happens to Dinah in Uncle Tom's Cabin ? The cook is conspicuously absent when "Tom, Adolph, and about half a dozen others of the St. Clare estate" are sold at auction (II 154).
This essay returns to the scene of Dinah's labors in order to argue that critics of Stowe's sentimental bestseller have too quickly dismissed the fact of its curious success in "ignoring or opposing" business as usual, "without any actual or observable contest." In what follows, I suggest that Stowe's sentimental practice is linked to Dinah's rituals and articles of dissent, that is, to the fetishism intimated in Dinah's unseen opposition and in her accumulation of hymnal, bloody cloth and sundry herbs. To us, Stowe's is a portrait of an orientalized Dinah, described "seated on the kitchen floor, smoking a short, stumpy pipe, to which she was much addicted, and which she always kindled up, as a sort of censer, whenever she felt the need of inspiration in her arrangements" (I 297). But although this description must be read within Stowe's colonizing frame of primitivism and progress, it does not mean that Dinah's gifts should be disregarded. As John Blassingame points out, witches, sorcerers, and conjurers of African extraction practiced among the slave populations, where they were, according to W. E. B. Du Bois, the "chief remaining institution" of "former group life."3 Ongoing historical debate regarding the retention of African cultural practices among the African Americans of the antebellum South has prepared the ground for speculation that the sentimentalist's representation of the canny woman in her "high, brilliant, Madras turban" was informed by the active presence of African survivals (I 302). Such survivals may have left more traces on the aesthetics of sentiment in the United States than we have yet imagined.
For example, Mechal Sobel's examination of Black and white values in eighteenth-century Virginia demonstrates that it is a surviving West African perception of death as a homecoming, and heaven as a home, that by the end of the eighteenth century becomes "an American expectation."4 Students of American sentimental culture, accustomed to associating its domestication of death with the declining faith in Calvinist doctrine, the mysticism of Swedenborg, and the rise of American spiritualism from within the Protestant middle classes, should also take into consideration historians' accounts of the strong affiliation between the belief in mediumship and spirit possession among white American spiritualists in the nineteenth century, and similar beliefs introduced by the cultures of the West African populations predating modern spiritualism's ascent.5
Read in this light, the "anthropomorphising instinct" Ann Douglas has identified in the sentimental writer and disparagingly linked to the sentimentalists' interest in a nascent consumer society might also (or might instead) be connected to a West African under- standing of the afterlife, and to the practice of fetishism.6 "The primitive religion of Africa," writes Du Bois, "as developed by the African village underlies the religions of the world." "Fetish" is a "spiritual explanation of physical evil and it explains by making all things spirit, both the good and the bad, and by seeking a spiritual cure for physical ill."7 Harriet Beecher Stowe's recurrent representation of the uncanny power of Victorian material culture to elicit emotion, provoke somatic response, bewitch, heal, or avenge wrong, resonates not only with the Catholic faith in the power of relics, but also with the Pan-African religions of the antebellum South. Bourgeois sentimentalism empowers such ordinary possessions as old shoes, worn clothing, portraits, and cut hair; but these are objects whose "close contact with the body" also made them "dangerous instruments for conjure."8
Stowe reveals a brief awareness of "fetish and obi" in the Key to Uncle Tom's Cabin (1853).9 The word fetish is notoriously imprecise, and many scholars dismiss it as the product of a colonial or an ethnographic mentality, preferring to translate the term fetish back into the native terminology of the religion or society being described. In tracing the idea of the fetish to the cross-cultural spaces of the coast of West Africa during the sixteenth century, anthropologist William Pietz notes that the origin of the word derives from the Latin for "manufacture" and the Portuguese for "witchcraft" or "magical practice." While the fetish is familiar to us from a variety of popular and social scientific discourses of the nineteenth century (Comte, Marx, and Freud), Pietz argues that a study of its conceptual genealogy must include William Bosman's eighteenth-century text, Accurate Description of the Coast of Guinea, which provided the "image and conception on which Enlightenment intellectuals based their elaboration of the notion [of fetishism] into a general theory of primitive religion."10 It is probably through such a lens, as much as through her friendships with freed Blacks in Cincinnati, that fetishism came down to Harriet Stowe. The Vermont Sinclairs betray, even as they exaggerate, the Northerner's impression of the Southerner's exotic folkways when Ophelia plans her trip to Louisiana. Ophelia's "old gray-headed father" dips into his "Morse's Atlas … and looked out the exact latitude and longitude" of "Orleans," and reads "Flint's Travels in the South and West" in order to prepare his eldest daughter for her adventure. Ophelia's good mother wonders if "Orleans wasn't an awful wicked place, 'most equal to going to the Sandwich Islands" (I 227). One glance at the animated "mystic old aloe," poised "like some hoary old enchanter" on the lawn of her cousin's Moorish mansion, leads Ophelia to judge the admittedly "pretty place" "rather old and heathenish" (I 235).
But Stowe's suggestion that spirit inhabits all things is not only an exoticized import from the Roman Catholic and African American religions of New Orleans and beyond. It is by 1852 a familiar element of the nineteenth-century domestic ideology whose tenets Stowe's writing reflected and helped to shape. Emphasizing the formative nature of both the mother and the domestic interior, theologians (like Horace Bushnell) and domesticians (like Catharine Beecher) described the "spirit of the house" that passes "by transmission" into the "little plastic nature of the child." When here the popular evangelical minister Bushnell refers to the "spirit of the house," he means not only the influence of the "parents but also the impact of inanimate objects on the developing child."11 By 1852, moreover, the irresistible, even supernatural, power associated with maternal transmission and with the impressions left by the immediate environment is even ascribed to the sentimental novel, for the novel, as Richard Brodhead argues, shares some of the domestic woman's labor of "invisible persuasion." Like Eva's lock of hair, Rachel Halliday's rocking chair, or Dinah's accumulations, the sentimental novel itself goes to work "without any actual or observable contest," helping to make one body "susceptible of entering into sympathy with any other."12 In the case of Uncle Tom's Cabin, the text's production, as well as its reception, betrays its "close contact with the body": "The book insisted on getting itself into being," Stowe explains, "and would take no denial."13
Thus even as Stowe claimed that "God" wrote her bestseller, she also described its "birth," anticipating critical evaluations of the peculiarly bodily, as well as the suspiciously spiritual, nature of the sentimental genre and the genre's connection to women. Associated with the physical labors of reproduction, sickness and death, a feminized sentimentalism is also linked to the "sivilizing" work of socialization from which men and boys "light out."14 But it might prove more accurate to remark that the antisentimentalist rebels less against the dominion of white women's civilizing influence than he recoils from the fantasy of femininity, or, more precisely, of maternity, decivilized. To chronicle the reception of the aesthetics of sentiment from the eighteenth century on is to record its rapid transformation from a medium of sympathy to one of vicariousness; from health to morbidity; and from transparency to duplicity.15 James Baldwin captured a shared evaluation of the genre in general, in his seminal essay on Stowe. "The wet eye of the sentimentalist," writes Baldwin, "betrays his [sic] … arid heart; and … secret and violent inhumanity." Baldwin's indictment of "everybody's protest novel" examines the racist components of the abolitionist Uncle Tom's Cabin. 16 Yet the charges of shape-shifting and of violent effects are also leveled by others to implicate not a bourgeois-identified Harriet Stowe, but the female reformer affiliated with the unorthodox or subaltern. Thus critic Helen Waite Papashvily calls sentimental fiction "witches' broth," adding that V. L. Parrington was mistaken to find it weak as "cambric tea." "Like the rest of his sex, he did not detect the faint bitter taste of poison in the cup."17
Recent readings of Stowe's sentimental novel rehearse this earlier fascination for the author's hidden hand. Judgments of the novel's potential to subvert white patriarchal operations—a potential remarked by Papashvily, and celebrated since in Jane Tompkins's account of "sentimental power"—contend with renewed assessments of its conservative and hegemonic character. Sentimentality in general, and Stowe's text in particular, have been rediscovered as the media of racial misalliance and political containment, and not as the vehicles of a feminist-abolitionist reform.18 But before we can settle the question of sentimental fiction's political effects, we need to consider that neither the genealogy nor the scope of American sentimental writing itself can fully be realized without examining its multiple roots in what historian Jon Butler vividly describes as the "antebellum spiritual hothouse."19 Stowe's belief in the force of inspirited possessions cannot be read only as an interested embrace of the mystified character of commodities, as a medium for the cathartic expression of an oppressed female population, or as the bourgeois' gesture to primitive culture. It must also be reassessed within the context of such historically related and proximate beliefs as those exhibited in the art of conjure. In the following two sections, I examine the depiction of domestic animism first in Uncle Tom's Cabin, and then in Stowe's nonfictional Household Papers and Stories, sketching its connection to contemporary evangelical, ethnographic, evolutionary, and less orthodox accounts of maternal, cultural, and spiritual transmission. A final section turns to Charlotte Perkins Gilman's attempted reformation of her great aunt's model domesticity, a remodeling motivated by Gilman's uneasy recognition of the somatic and the necromantic nature of the "spirit of the house."
[T]o be really great in little things … noble and heroic in the insipid details of everyday life.
Stowe, "The Cathedral"
Mid-century American fiction announces itself as sentimental by displaying what Dolf Sternberger describes as the "precious mementos" that play "such a crucial part not only in novels, but also in daily circumstances of the period." Sternberger's catalogue of all the "curls, yellowed letters, preserved childhood garments, dried clovers, withered roses that formed an ever-accumulating, nostalgically redolent mass of memory stimuli" recalls the cults and the cultural debris of motherhood, of childhood, and of mourning we associate with sentimental fiction in general and Uncle Tom's Cabin in particular. Staging Little Eva's death, Stowe makes Eva's "doling out of mementos to the spectators the substance of the scene."20 Detailing the "little coats of many a form and pattern, piles of aprons and rows of small stockings," "even a pair of little shoes, worn and rubbed at the toes" once the property of Mrs. Bird's late son Henry, Stowe is said to have drawn on her personal collection of preserved infant garments once belonging to her dead baby Charley (I 132).21
Linked to the mortal bodies of their original owners, Stowe's sentimental things display the properties of sacred relics, here justified as the Protestant mother's spiritual props. But although the collection performs the conservative work of consolation, it can also serve more subversive ends. As Gillian Brown points out, Henry's garments help Eliza's small son Harry in his escape;22 this links the cherished baby clothes to Dinah's potent objects, and white objects of recollection to Black vehicles of freedom. Augustine St. Clare has always appreciated the volatile power of Dinah's things, and when he cautions Ophelia that prying into the details of slavery is like looking "too close into the details of Dinah's kitchen" (II 8), he suggests that the devil is in the details of each. The devil, as his cousin Ophelia points out, inhabits the slave economy. But other spirits are apparently conjured not only when Dinah needs culinary inspiration, but also when she plots to counter Miss Ophelia's domestic advice as wordlessly she has circumvented the interference of the St. Clares.
Whether Ophelia mistakes them (for the jumble of the shiftless), or St. Clare shuns them (as dangerous to view), Dinah's fetishes help to shape the cousins' shared impression of the African's orientalized nature. Stowe reinforces this apprehension of African difference when, with what Hortense Spillers calls a "fatal binarity," Stowe constructs in The Key to Uncle Tom's Cabin a key to the African's psychology.23 In the African, "sensations and impressions are very vivid and their fancy and imagination lively," while the Anglo-Saxon race is "cool, logical, practical." Like the "Hebrews of old and the Orientals of the present," Africans are endowed with "supposing peculiarities of nervous construction quite different from those of the whites," and this contributes to the fact that in "their own climate" they are "believers in spells, in ‘fetish and obi,’ in the ‘evil eye,’ and other singular influences."24
But in Stowe's personal experience and in her fiction, whites and Blacks are less morphologically distinct than the Key [The Key to Uncle Tom's Cabin ] would have readers believe. "Some peculiarity in the nervous system, in the connecting link between soul and body," notes Stowe's husband Calvin, speaking of himself, "may bring some, more than others, into an almost abnormal contact with the spirit world." If Calvin Stowe was rather regularly visited by ghosts, and Charles Beecher preached on the "Spiritual Manifestations," Harriet joined the ranks of amateur American spiritualists when she called on mediums, participated in seances, and experimented with planchette, a ouija-board-like instrument designed for extra-worldly communication. Pursuing contact with her late son Henry in what biographers interpret as an attempt to challenge the Calvinist's account of the fate of the unconverted, Stowe also communicated with the spirit of Charlotte Brontë, who reassured her that the living are always surrounded by spirits, some of whom serve as sympathetic guides.25
The Protestant spiritism and the popular mesmerism practiced by Stowe and others of her milieu resonated with West African religious beliefs introduced in the slave populations. In her Key to Uncle Tom's Cabin, Stowe identifies the epitome of otherworldly contact in the slaves' accounts "of visions, of heavenly voices, of mysterious transmissions of knowledge from heart to heart without the intervention of the senses, or what the Quakers call being ‘baptized into the spirit’ of those who are distant."26 Specific possessions facilitate such extrasensory transmissions, and in Uncle Tom's Cabin, Blacks and whites are bound equally by the spell of charms that conjure a spectral presence or compel an involuntary response. This is so much the case that precious memento, sacred relic, and African fetish may be indistinguishable, as in the example of Little Eva's lock of hair, given to Uncle Tom on her deathbed to be worn close to his heart. Simon Legree, who eventually recognizes in this token the memento sent him by his own Christian mother, also understands it to be the protective mojo or gris gris of African custom, the "devilish" "witch thing" Sambo now folds into a paper and which threatens to work a fix on Legree.27 "‘What's that, you dog?’ said Legree." Sambo answers that it is "something that niggers get from witches. Keeps 'em from feeling when they's flogged. [Tom] had it tied around his neck with a black string" (II 216). While the reader might have anticipated some occult action on the "superstitious" Simon Legree's gothic plantation, Stowe demonstrates that even in the most orderly of domestic environments—the still Quaker settlement—things are not what they seem. While there is "certainly nothing very startling about such everyday animism" as that exhibited in Quaker Rachel Halliday's "creechy-crawchy" "persuasive old chair" (II 196), the chair's very appeal to familiar associations deflects the fact of the Quakers' historical persecution as witches. Or the fact that a rocker's rocking, like a Quaker's "quaking," might denote possession.28
Witness the transformation of Tom Loker in Quaker hands. If the slave catcher boasts that after three weeks among the Quakers he has not been converted, he cannot deny that he has been cured of a bad heart: although Loker comes among them in pursuit of the runaway Eliza, he helps her plot an escape while he recovers from rheumatic fever and mends his broken leg. A regenerated man, Loker "arose from his bed" to develop his talents "more happily" "trapping bears, wolves, and other inhabitants of the forest" (II 233). What determines his metamorphosis seems neither to be prayer nor instruction, but a more insidious maternal force: a Quaker healer, the "spiritual" Aunt Dorcas swaddles the infantilized trapper in a "chrysalis" of white sheets ("‘the devil!’ says Tom Loker, giving a great throw to the bed-clothes") and feeds him vaguely mysterious nostrums (II 231, 232). The Quakers "do fix up a sick fellow first rate," Tom must confess. "[N]o mistake. Make jist the tallest kind o' broth and knickknacks" (II 233).
The notion of a maternal influence simultaneously homely and arcane, far from being unorthodox, constituted one of the strongest messages of antebellum domestic ideology. This idea assumed a special force in redressing the Calvinist's circumscription of human agency, and in countering the Protestant suspicion of image, art, and sacred maternity, associated with Catholic idolatry. While it is by now a familiar argument that in the nineteenth century a vigorous masculine Calvinism informing elite New England culture succumbed to an enfeebling feminization, in fact it was in Calvinism that liberal Protestants like Stowe discerned the effects of a "slow poison, producing life-thoughts of morbid action."29 When Stowe's reform Protestant faith began to associate sin and vice with corrigible habits, and not with innate depravity, proper nurture and education became all the more crucial to human character formation. Infant nurture and child training were superintended by middle-class women in the context of what historians describe as the ideologies of the "moral mother" or "qualitative motherhood." Catharine Beecher herself identified it as the mother's responsibility to train children
whose plastic nature will receive and retain every impression you make; who will transmit what they receive from you to their children, to pass again to the next generation, and then the next, until a whole nation may possibly receive its character and destiny from your hands!30
Here in Miss Beecher's Housekeeper and Healthkeeper (1876), biological and cultural transmission are inseparably connected. And here Catharine Beecher's account of maternal power resembles that of her sister Harriet, whose mild Quakers rehabilitate Tom Loker body and soul, or that of the Beechers' influential contemporary, the minister Horace Bushnell. In his enormously popular Christian Nurture (1847; 1860), the evangelical Bushnell drew upon the Lamarckian, or Reform Darwinian, doctrine of the deliberate transmission of acquired traits. Although historian George Stocking dates a renewed fascination for Lamarckian thought in the United States sometime closer to the end of the century, Bushnell's agenda for a meliorating Christian training relied on the Lamarckian belief in the heritability of habit.31 "Good principles and habits, intellectual culture, domestic virtue, industry, order, faith, law," pass bodily into the next generation.
Consider a very important fact in human physiology, which goes far to explain, or take away the seeming extravagance of the truth I am endeavoring to establish, viz., that qualities of education, habit, feeling and character, have a tendency to always grow in, by long continuance, and become thoroughly inbred in the stock.
(CN [Christian Nurture] 171)
Identifying the progress of Western civilization with the Christian mission, Bushnell explains the mechanism by which Christianity itself, "by a habit or fixed process of culture, tends by a fixed law of nature to become a propagated quality" functional in the "stock" (CN 172). Bushnell's account of a Christian stock in Christian Nurture introduces the topic of race into the discussion of the transmission, across generations, of "civilization." More explicit is his text of 1860, The Census and Slavery, in which Bushnell describes the situation of the African American, a stock "thousands of years behind, in the scale of culture."32 The minister here raises the specter of amalgamation, only to dismiss the threat it poses to the hegemony of the "civilized type," by which he means the Anglo-Saxon. Even should the "inferior and far less cultivated stock" "intermix with the superior, it will always be seen that the superior lives the other down, and finally quite lives it away" (Census 12).
Uncle Tom's Cabin also addresses American race relations as a problem of transmission, turning the scandal of slavery into the scandal of bad mothering. For instance, the abolitionist sentiments of Augustine St. Clare seem motivated not by a desire to manumit Blacks for their own sakes, but by the judgment that a brutalized Black population passes its characteristics on to white children like his own Little Eva. "They are in our houses;" he explains of his slaves, "they are the associates of our children, and they form their minds faster than we can; for they are a race that children will always cling to and assimilate with" (II 24). Somewhat similar are the objections of a southern planter in 1820, who writes that Blacks "are of necessity the constant attendants upon [white] children in their early years."
From them they learn mostly to talk; from them their minds receive their first impressions; and from them a taint is often acquired which remains through the whole of their succeeding lives. Superstition takes complete possession of a benighted mind, and hence the ready credit which is given to tales of witchcraft, of departed spirits and of supernatural appearances, with which servants terrify the young committed to their care, and impressions are made, which no after efforts of the understanding are able entirely to eradicate.33
Unlike the southern planter, St. Clare is less concerned about the transmission of seemingly premodern beliefs than he is about the contagious "education in barbarism and brutality" of enslaved Blacks, and of whites within the slave system, like his cruel nephew Henrique (II 74). "We might as well allow the small-pox to run among [the slaves], and think that our children will not take to it, as to let them be uninstructed and vicious, and think that our children will not be affected by that." Because his daughter Eva is "more angel than ordinary," she seems to move untainted through the slaves' quarters (II 25). But Eva proves to be affected by the ghastly and ghostly gossip about Prue, that "sink[s] into her heart," while the final tale of Prue's fatal beating drives "every drop of blood" from Eva's lips and cheeks (II 6). Here again, Stowe confounds or combines biological and supernatural influences. Prue's story begins with the death of her infant daughter, deprived of her mother's milk, while Eva's life apparently ends as a consequence of a lethal, if transparent, transmission from poor Prue.34
Slavery engenders noxious mothering, and in so suggesting, Stowe implicates her abolitionist bestseller in the childrearing texts of mid-century, epitomized in Bushnell's Christian Nurture. Contrasting a wholesome Christian nurture to "vicious" feeding, Bushnell resurrects the Puritan trope of the minister-patriarch, or of the Word, as God's maternal breast. But like others of his generation, Bushnell is also indebted to the philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who asserted that mother's milk is the "first education." Maternal neglect is the first depravity, from which "all degeneracy" follows. In his discussion of maternity in Emile, or, On Education, Rousseau focuses on the midwife or wet-nurse alien to the family she enters, as Stowe will focus on slave mothers like Prue, whose maternal nature is perverted under slavery, but whose influence is absorbed by all the members of a house. But if slavery makes Black mothers like Cassy, who nurses her daughter to death with laudanum in order to save her from a life enslaved, it also produces white women like Marie St. Clare. Little Eva perishes not only because of what she has assimilated from Prue, but also because of what she has taken in from her mother, the souffrante Marie, a woman too depraved to have properly nursed, nurtured, and fortified her daughter. Rousseau shifts in Emile from the condemnation of imported nurses to the suspicion of a mother so unnatural that she will put out her child to nurse (and, eventually, cease wanting to bear children altogether). Stowe similarly shifts from portraying slavery's outrages against Black mothers like Prue or Cassy, and the danger such outraged mothers pose to the white children they also nurture, to picturing the unnatural white mothers produced in the patriarchal South. Marie is reminiscent of Rousseau's unfeeling and fashionable French aristocrat, who disdains maternity in order to preserve her beauty.35
At first glance, then, the decadent South hints of the ancient regime or an indolent Orient, and seems an inhospitable environment for the growth and transmission of a Western Christian human nature. If maternal instincts are here distorted, so too is even the growth of plants in St. Clare's garden; the grass seems artificial, cultivated into "green velvet" lawns (I 235). In joining the abuses of slavery to the perversions of an orientalized South, Stowe suggests that slavery itself is an exotic import, grafted onto a United States where it can only perversely develop. Stowe's depiction of southern folkways parallels the crude ethnological accounts of the Ophelia-like missionaries on foreign tours, who provided their supporters back home with descriptions of such shocking phenomena as the polygamy of the Indian rajah, child marriage, female infanticide, eunuchs, bride sale, the bagnio and harem, opium dens and slave markets. Dinah with her addiction to the pipe, the dandified house-slave Adolph, the murderous Cassy, Legree with his multiple mistresses, the precocious Eva and the odalisque Marie, "undulating in all her motions" (I 260), are among the South's symptomatic victims of an orientalized patriarchal culture.36
But if Stowe's South with its unwholesome inhabitants resembles familiar nineteenth-century sketches of the "old and heathenish" Far East, it also strategically functions as a displaced image of the urban North. Reflected in Stowe's depiction of this pathogenic landscape are embedded allusions to the miasmic theories of the cholera epidemics in northern cities, to the popular interest in mesmeric influence, and to the perception of the unnatural habits fostered in artificial urban environments.37 In the figure of the African, "sympathetic and assimilative," who acquires in a "refined family" the "tastes and feelings" which form the "atmosphere" of the house, but who is no less "liable to become the bond-slave of the coarsest and most brutal" of masters (II 168), Stowe also gestures to the impressible white child and the economically dependent mother, born in a northern metropolis in which the poor rise suddenly to wealth and the wealthy no less precipitously fall. Thus Karen Halttunen depicts in Stowe's gothic sketch of the South the author's debt to the eighteenth-century oriental tale, to argue persuasively that Stowe uses the descriptions of decaying southern habitations—the Moorish New Orleans mansion, the East-Indian villa at Lake Pontchartrain, and Legree's denlike plantation—to allude to the resurgence of Calvinism's hereditary taint, experienced by the Beecher woman as a kind of haunting.38
An orientalized decadence figures forth northern as well as southern degeneration in Stowe's novel; yet the presence of the oriental tale also gestures to a charismatic cure of the kind offered by the sentimental novel. A visionary and sometimes subversive genre in the literature of the early Republic, the ori- ental tale served as a vehicle of liberal, anti-Calvinist, or antipatriarchal opinion—of protest delivered "without any actual or observable contest." In the oriental tale, Emerson writes, "man passes out of the torpid into the perceiving state" to see "things in their causes, all facts in their connections." Literary historians have recorded the tale's absorption into other popular genres; in Uncle Tom's Cabin, Stowe subtly threads elements of the eighteenth-century tale throughout her sentimental narrative, just as she indirectly connects the West African fetish with sentimental possessions.39
Stowe's use of the oriental or the African as a now endangering, now restorative influence, and her increasing emphasis on the potentially subversive power of the visionary and the supernatural are best illustrated in two linked passages in Book II of Uncle Tom's Cabin : the scene at Lake Pontchartrain, and Little Eva's deathbed farewell. In Chapter 22 of Book II, Eva and Tom read the Bible together beside Lake Pontchartrain, and Eva sees images from the New Testament come to life (II 63-64). Here, Tom's education in Christianity is arguably matched by Eva's Africanization, as what appears to be a Protestant act—the private reading and revelation of the Word— takes place on highly charged ground. It was well known by 1852 that Pontchartrain served as the site of annual voodoo celebrations, led by such priestesses as the two Marie Leveaus, a mother and daughter of influence in New Orleans between 1830 and 1890. Open to the public and to the press, the Pontchartrain assemblies attracted northern as well as southern attention, and white as well as Black participants. Incorporating so notorious a landscape into the novel's eschatological tableau, Stowe hints that the dying Eva St. Clare absorbs the occult powers of the New Orleans priestess Marie, and of the matriarchy behind her, even as Eva also identifies with the ascendent Virgin Mary.40
Eva's vision at the Lake, with its panorama of the afterlife, is a prelude to her death in Chapter 26, and a deathbed scene Ann Douglas has described as "essentially decorative." But to agree with Douglas about the visual quality of the passage is not to conclude, as Douglas does, that Eva's death is ineffective "in any practical sense."41 Just as even the "dullest and most literal were impressed" by Eva's "singular and dreamy earnestness of expression" "without exactly knowing why," so are readers moved by the invisible persuasions of the beautiful death to "see to it that they feel right" (II 317). Harriet Stowe attempts to stir anti-slavery sentiment by means of a protest novel conceived as a series of pictures, because "there is no arguing with pictures," Stowe explains. "[A]nd everybody is impressed by them, whether they mean to be or not."42
The mesmerizing features of the sentimental novel link the next to the talismanic lock of hair, or the persuasive old chair in the Quaker settlement. They also link an aesthetics of sentiment to the increasingly established power of the mother—and of the house—to impress the "sympathetic and assimilative" human being through an ineluctable transmission. Uncle Tom's Cabin not only mirrored the growing bourgeois preoccupation with the civilizing mother and the spirit of the house; it also gave that preoccupation an irresistible form. It is clearer than ever that the joint establishment of an aesthetics of sentiment and an imperial mother advanced the interests of a white middle class, even as it fostered abolition, in the antebellum United States. If this were the whole story, there would be no small irony in realizing that Stowe appropriates an African fetishism in order to eliminate (through repatriation), as well as to emancipate (through civil disobedience), African Americans. We may, however, take from Stowe what she takes from fetishism, as Du Bois described it: an awareness of the dynamic flow of power. Sentimentalism, literary history suggests, is never enlisted in precisely the same way, but can be refunctioned to serve radical, as well as conservative, ends. Retaining within it the remnants of a primitivistic, as well as a Lamarckian, apprehension of the force of maternal transmission—namely, the idea that "an image placed before [a pregnant woman's] eyes and strongly impressed upon her imagination would be reproduced on the body of her child"—and exploiting the notion that such adornments as human hair return as the weapons of Blacks and women, Stowe's sentimental art offers up everyday details as tools for redressing asymmetries in social and cultural power.43 She would pursue the limits of such details in her nonfictional Household Papers and Stories.
First published in installments in the antislavery journal National Era, the chapters of Uncle Tom's Cabin might have unfolded like genre scenes of slavery, enabling the reader/viewer to "pass out of the torpid into the perceiving state." The "object of these sketches," writes Stowe, "is to awaken sympathy and feeling" (vi), and such sympathy is structured, as David Marshall argues, by "theatrical dynamics that … depend on peoples' ability to represent themselves as tableaux, spectacles, and texts before others."44 Like Emerson's "actors" who, the poet writes, employ the "power of Sympathy" "to chain the affections of the populace," Little Eva's powers famously derive from her melodramatic gestures, speech, and death—from the spectacle she makes of herself.45 Eva's dazzling appearance enchants her cousin Henrique, and breaks him of his habit of striking slaves. He confesses: "I could love anything for your sake, dear Cousin; for I really think you are the loveliest creature I ever saw" (II 80, 81).
Readers of Uncle Tom's Cabin arguably came to it especially prepared to appreciate, and, like Henrique, to absorb its spectacular appeal. For they came to it with some expectation that the visible environment in general, and the house in particular, left their marks on human behavior. Within the advice literature collected in Household Papers and Stories (1896), Stowe returns to the "influence of dwelling houses for good and for evil, their influence on the brain, the nerves, and through these on the heart and mind." In this she echoes the nineteenth-century architect Oliver Smith, who opined that our minds and our morals are "subject to constant influence and modification, gradual yet lasting, by the inanimate walls with which we are surrounded."46 If in Bushnell's Christian Nurture, influence is as "subtly pervasive as the atmosphere [we] breathe" (83), even the smallest changes in the built environment leave impressions on vulnerable subjects. Phrenologist-architect Orson Fowler buttressed Bushnell's belief in human rehabilitation, and even in antenatal modification, when he commented that an "unhandy house" that "irritated mothers" would "sour the tempers of their children even before birth." A "convenient" house would render all of the inmates "amiable and good."47
Establishing contiguity between the formative labors of the mother and the determining details of the house, architects and advice-givers prescribed for expectant mothers both antenatal regimens and postpartum blueprints for interior decoration. Mid-century domestic manuals offered the new mother pointers in how she and her house might appear coextensive: she might wear a kerchief made of the same stuff out of which she has sewn a tablecloth, or weave cuttings of her own hair into picture frames.48 This particular stress on the material and the visual represented a shift in thinking about houses. Catharine Beecher's Treatise on Domestic Economy (1843) had emphasized a dynamic, functional interior by focusing not on the still retreat of the (gentrified, gentleman's) parlor, but on the kitchen in which work takes place. But while Beecher's emphasis on an "economy of labor" and the incorporation of technology into even modest homes was a reaction against the influential Andrew Jackson Downing's special interest in "the beautiful in architecture" as a medium of display, Stowe recombined Beecher's and Downing's interests to describe an "economy of the beautiful" that fell to middle-class women to labor to achieve.49 In effect, Stowe redefined the beautiful as that which functions in the service of a meliorative training, and functions as efficiently as its does (witness the submission and transformation of Eva's cousin) precisely because of its material charm.
If Stowe's project in Uncle Tom's Cabin was to effect conversions of the kind Henrique enjoys, and to reform from within the domestic interior the slave system vitiating the civilizing transmissions of domesticity, her agenda in Household Papers and Stories can be interpreted as an effort to preserve and extend the mystic, organic connections between women and objects she had worked to establish in her novel. Ann Douglas's account of the growth of commodity culture as one obvious, if politically suspect, avenue of feminine entitlement does not hold up well for Stowe. The integrity of Stowe's matrifocal domesticity is revealed in Household Papers and Stories to be threatened by a milieu in which, as one nineteenth-century manufacturer put it, the "business of this age is to make the products of civilization cheap."50 For Stowe strongly distinguished between the products of civilization and the mother's civilizing props, the props that could also serve as agents of resistance. Stowe's response to the flow of commodities, however, is not to stop shopping, or to boycott manufactured goods in favor of those produced at home, but to instruct her readers in just which purchases will renew the simultaneously spiritual and material force she had previously associated with objects in close contact with the maternal body.
Turning in Household Papers and Stories to the decoration of interiors, Stowe offers in "The Economy of the Beautiful" a parable of proper consumption. Narrator Christopher Crowfield details the extravagant tastes of homeowner Philip, whose purchases include wallpapers of the "heaviest French velvet, with gildings and traceries"; Axminster carpets, designed with "flowery convolutions and medallion-centres, as if the flowers of the tropic were whirling in waltzes"; curtains of "damask, cord, tassels, shades, laces" and "sofas, lounges, screens, etageres, and chairs of every pattern and device" (58-60). Crowfield's reaction to Philip's vertiginous and enervating display of purchasing power is to clean house, not by refusing to purchase, but by selecting among the commodities of "artistic culture," made available, thanks to plaster casts and chromolithographs, even to democratic citizens of modest means.
Pictures … and statuary … speak constantly to the childish eye, but are out of reach of childish fingers…. The beauty once there is always there; though the mother be ill and in her chamber, she has no fears that she shall find it wrecked and shattered. And this style of beauty, inexpensive as it is, is a means of cultivation. No child is ever stimulated to draw or read by an Axminster carpet or a carved centre-table; but a room surrounded with photographs and pictures and fine casts suggests a thousand inquiries, stimulates the little eye and hand. The child is found with its pencil, drawing; or he asks for a book on Venice; or he wants to hear the history of the Roman Forum.
Part museum, part schoolroom, this efficient shelter is fashioned to induce specific desires, habits, and character in subjects, as Stowe's attempt to make the private home the normative carrier of the signs of a homogeneous ethnic and class identity corresponds to Bushnell's preoccupation with the conscious cultivation of the "civilized type."
But however familiar this blueprint is to us as the guide to the formation of the privileged subject of the middle class, Stowe also attempts to install within it a map of feminine opposition to the bourgeois institution of separate spheres. For just as the uncanny lock of hair gains purchase on its viewer long after its owner's death, so too can the domestic interior impress its inhabitants, even if the mother has left home for extradomestic engagements. Installed within such reproductions ("photographs and pictures and fine casts") as help to preserve the "enchantment that was once about [the mother's] person alone" and has come to "interfuse and penetrate the home which she has created," maternal charisma resurges not in relics from beyond the grave but from inside the commercial market and the public space from which the members of the sphere of the domestic are cordoned off. Enlightened consumption finds the ideal sentimental purchase in a copy of the "San Sisto ‘Madonna and Child,’" for "such a picture, hung against the wall of a child's room, would train a child's eye from infancy" (67-68). If here the bourgeois domestic takes advantage of the technology of mass culture (the inexpensive reproduction of a Raphael Madonna) it is not to compensate her, as Ann Douglas argues, for real power, but to function for her as another potential, if discreet, instrument of national reform. Premodern in its imputation of a cosmological domestic system complete with spiritual props, Stowe's spiritualism was not antimodern in its thrust, serving her abolitionism and influencing a generation's approach to the related issue of women's rights. If, after Ann Douglas, we begin to question the real effects of a materialist politics with a spiritist component, we are well reminded that the careers of the spirit-mediums and trancers who agitated for abolition did not come to an end with the Civil War. Spiritualism, as Henry James's The Bostonians (1886) demonstrates, provided an especially enabling vehicle for women's political action in postbellum national life, and the fact that the female medium proved vulnerable to commercialization did not necessarily compromise the meaning of her spectacularly disseminated message.51
Stowe's suggestion that even manufactured articles exert the necromantic force of Victorian curls, yellowed letters, and preserved childhood garments is perhaps best demonstrated in her approval of an especially modern kind of object, the photograph, for use in the decoration of houses. Exemplary of the work of art in the age of mechanical reproduction, daguerreotypes and photographs were also seen as "opening onto a larger, preternatural world." Alan Trachtenberg writes that the initial "suspicion of occult practices" never entirely faded from considerations of photography, while "spirit photographers" did a robust trade in capturing not only the likenesses of portrait sitters and of the deceased, but also those of their paranormal friends and relatives whose otherwise invisible appearances could be caught by the camera. After Walter Benjamin, then, we could say that the photograph entertained residual ritual powers, in its use in the (chiefly maternal) work of memorial and mourning.52
But like the sentimental relics in Uncle Tom's Cabin, the photograph can be recruited to serve more subversive ends than the quietus of consolation. In entirely different hands, the photograph might even further the interests of those social groups excluded from the bourgeois norm, even though this is a norm in part constructed, as "The Economy of the Beautiful" suggests, through the culturally homogenizing effects of photographs. Photography's oppositional potential is only suggested in Charles W. Chesnutt's "The Wife of His Youth" (1899), but the suggestion is instructive.53 In Chesnutt's story, a woman who has never ceased searching for her runaway slave husband knocks unexpectedly on his door. He has altered his identity in order to pass as a member of the light-skinned caste of the Northern city now his home, and she seems not to recognize him. She requests his assistance in locating the man whose portrait she carries in the form of an "old fashioned daguerreotype in a black case" "fastened to a string that went around her neck" (16). Although it means the sacrifice of his place in the bourgeois Society of the Blue Veins, this husband acknowledges his wife, and simultaneously his race, impressed, it seems, both by the hard fact of the daguerreotype and the sympathetic story she tells of her tireless journey toward reunion. But perhaps the motherly old woman's persuasive powers come not only from the material likeness of the picture, which could expose him, or the melodramatics of the story, which move him, but also from the spirit work of conjure. The Black woman's "blue gums" inform us that she is a conjure woman (10).54 Perhaps she makes use of the image tied around her neck by a string as both African American fetish (Uncle Tom's "witch thing") and "precious memento" (Little Eva's curls): only two of the faces of "sentimental power."
There is higher work for Art than the arts. They are the abortive births of an imperfect or vitiated instinct.
At the end of the nineteenth century, Harriet Beecher Stowe's grandniece Charlotte Perkins Gilman mounted an indirect attack on her great-aunt's matrifocal domesticity by recognizing the symbiotic presence within domestic life of primitive retentions. The "bodily nature" of Stowe's aesthetics of sentiment symptomized its dysfunctional and decadent character. That domestic women possessed only the "habits of a dark untutored past" Gilman saw evidenced in domestic art, and she was appalled that women were at home within "a continuous accumulation of waste," that they decorated the interior with "of all the awful things!—the hair of the dead."55 Gilman's numerous analyses of the socioeconomic relation between the sexes were influenced by the work of the neo-Lamarckian sociologist Lester Ward.56 Lamarckian thought drew her to the conclusion that the bourgeois woman kept by patriarchy in her separate sphere is "confined to a primitive, a savage plane of occupation," from which she manifests an "equally savage plane of aesthetic taste," visible in outré furnishings, ornamental details, and personal dress tantamount to self-mutilation. "With no evolutionary check on ensuing mutilation," a woman puts her offspring at risk (Home 153). Unspecialized in art, as in industry, the bourgeois woman's arrested or atavistic traits surface in her inability to transcend the body to produce an aesthetics advanced beyond "the arts," beyond the "first-hand industries of savage times" (WE [Women and Economics] 67).
Charlotte Gilman, like Emerson, dissevered "the arts" from "Art," associating the former with the primitive sphere of bodily labor, the decorative and the detail. Gilman's critique of the decorative, like her great-aunt's recuperation of it for use in the home, took place within a long tradition of Western aesthetics in which, as Naomi Schor explains, the primitive, the oriental, the ornamental, the masses, the detail, "brute Matter," and the feminine are aligned.57 Although the eighteenth century had witnessed an attempt to theorize a relation between an obsession with ornament and disease, an obsession articulated in terms of primitivism, numerous nineteenth-century writers recast the attempt in the context of the conclusions generated by evolutionary studies. The association of the love of ornament with savagery and degeneracy came down to Harriet Stowe in the Protestant polemic against painted and graven luxuries; by the time one intellectual of Gilman's generation, Adolph Loos, had published his manifesto of 1908, Ornament and Crime, it was almost commonplace to assume that "cultural evolution is equivalent to the removal of ornament from articles of everyday use."58
Yet even as Gilman rejects her great-aunt's understanding of the influence immanent in such ornamental and sentimental articles as "the hair of the dead," she never questions Stowe's assumption that the immediate environment left an impression on (even unborn) human subjects. On the contrary, Gilman's now notorious The Yellow Wallpaper (1892) reveals her belief that the impressions made on minds and bodies of mothers reappear in offspring through the mechanisms of inheritance. The maternal power of cultural and biological transmission is on trial in Gilman's gothic short story, as the "pointless pattern" on the four walls exerts a "vicious" and "sickly" influence on the narrator confined inside them.59 While Gilman argues that the "race reared under the laws of Beauty" will be "nobler" (Home 158), the yellow wallpaper's commission of "every artistic sin" threatens the race with deculturation and extinction (YW [The Yellow Wallpaper] 20). The "love of Beauty at home," Gilman elsewhere explains, has been "cruelly aborted" in women consigned to a home that is but a "little ganglion of aborted economic processes" (Home 151). To look closely at the imagery in the yellow wallpaper is to detect a scene of aesthetics, and of obstetrics, gone awry.
In what is arguably the story's half-hidden joke, Gilman grounds her allusions in a contemporary problem of interior decoration. Reversing the mid-century axiom of separate spheres ideology that the world of commerce and industry is poison, and its only antidote, the home, The Yellow Wallpaper plays off the late Victorians' suspicion that the Victorian interior is literally toxic.60 By 1870, to cite one example, Drs. Brinton and Napheys "accepted moderate arsenic eating" as an aid to the complexion, but "believed that the popularity of wallpaper in homes, which were covered in arsenical dyes … had threatened the woman beyond her tolerance level."61 But while arguing that the middle-class mother long modified by a pernicious patriarchal culture—literalized in the paper's "pointless pattern" and in its lethal charge—is herself too unfit to ensure the sound reproduction of the Anglo-Saxon stock, Gilman never abandons Stowe's suggestion that domestic women have recourse to antipatriarchal strategies. And these strategies are intimately tied to the very body and the particular environment Gilman seeks to transcend. The hysterical, atavistic narrator of The Yellow Wallpaper, whom we last find creeping on all fours along the walls of her place of confinement, enjoys a perverse mastery over the doctor-husband, who suddenly swoons at her feet. The feasibility of this female's successful, if costly, resistance is indirectly sounded in the fantastic warning issued by Drs. Brinton and Napheys as well: "although long use of arsenic had rendered many women immune to the mineral, their husbands occasionally came to untimely deaths as a result of a romantic embrace."62 We could say that the male physicians' shared fantasy rehearses the very thematics of a duplicitous, even poisonous, femininity we have already remarked in critical responses to the sentimental author. But history suggests that the persistence of such a fantasy is motivated, at least in part, by the actual practices of such heterodox figures as midwives, healers, conjurers, and even voodoo matriarchs, at the century's end, upon whose archaic knowledge even Charlotte Gilman cannot resist depending for her vision of opposition.
Recent critical attempts to counter the devaluation of nineteenth-century sentimentalism point to its stylistic legacy of what Melissa Meyer and Miriam Shapiro have dubbed femmage. Modern art's technique of collage and assemblage, and, arguably, the irrational arrangements of the surrealists, indicate homage to the salvage aesthetics of scrapbooks, photograph albums, quilts, and valentines—femmage—practiced by sentimental artists. The legacy of the culture of sentiment bears implications for the subjects of culture as well. Emily Apter, commenting on the incorporation in artist Mary Kelly's Post-Partum Document (1982) of the sentimental paraphernalia of "first shoes, photographs, and locks of hair," takes Kelly's postmodern Document as an occasion for articulating a "post-partum sentimentality." Apter speculates that postpartum sentimentalism offers a model of a counter-Freudian female fetishism, wherein the breach between mothers and infants is healed in the mnemic traces of saved and reassembled objects.63
I have argued that Stowe's investment in the natural supernaturalism of things owes something to the viability of the fetish in the heterogeneous cultures of antebellum America, and that heterodox practices transmitted to Stowe, as she transmitted to others, prescient strategies for disrupting dominant operations, as witches will. Stowe's sentimental aesthetics is motivated in part by her investment in a Western conception of progress, and this means that her writing fails to inhibit the colonizing agenda of her imperialist contemporaries. Uncle Tom's Cabin concludes with a picture of a Christianized Africa, after the model provided by the romantic racialist (and Swedenborgian) Alexander Kinmont. But if this is the end of Stowe's project it does not inevitably mark the ends of the sentimental, only the limits of this abolitionist's application. I suggest in conclusion that its imputation of sympathetic magic and its emphasis on ritualistic arrangement have made sentimentalism itself a difficult medium to dispel. If in her sensational story of the potent expression of the "inanimate thing" on the walls (YW 16), Charlotte Perkins Gilman exploits the "anthropomorphising instinct" of the feminine sentimentalist whose "primitive arts" she elsewhere repudiates, we might look to her contemporaries, the masculine naturalists. Like Gilman's, albeit with a difference, the literary experiments of Jack London, Frank Norris, and Stephen Crane are taken to represent a revolt against the feminization of American culture epitomized in the aesthetics of sentiment. But if Raymond Williams is correct that in naturalism, physical details and entire environments become, as if inspired, "actors and agencies" in their own right, we might acknowledge even here the survival of the sentimental writer, and of the Africanisms animating her.64
For their very helpful comments, I thank Ann Fabian, Inderpal Grewal, Cara Hood, Lora Romero, Shirley Samuels, and the members of the Americanist Reading Group of UCB/UCD, especially Dorothy Hale.
1. Harriet Beecher Stowe, Uncle Tom's Cabin, Or, Life among the Lowly (Columbus, Ohio: Charles E. Merrill Pub. Co., 1959). Page numbers to this edition will be given in parentheses in the text.
2. Catharine E. Beecher, A Treatise on Domestic Economy, For the Use of Young Ladies at Home and at School (1843; rpt. New York: Shocken, 1977), 12-14. See the important argument of Gillian Brown in Domestic Individualism: Imagining Self in Nineteenth-Century America (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990), 13-38.
3. John W. Blassingame, The Slave Community: Plantation Life in the Antebellum South, revised and enlarged ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1979), 40-41. W. E. B. Du Bois, "The Religion of the American Negro," New World 9 (December 1990): 618.
5. See Ann Douglas, "Heaven Our Home: Consolation Literature in the Northern United States, 1830-1880," in Death in America, ed. David E. Stannard (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1975), 49-68. See also Ann Douglas, The Feminization of American Culture (New York: Avon Books, 1977) and Karen Halttunen, Confidence Men and Painted Women: A Study of Middle-Class Culture in America, 1830-1870 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1982), 124-152. On Emanuel Swedenborg and the "emergence of a modern idea of heaven," see Colleen McDannell and Bernard Lang, Heaven, a History (New York: Vintage Books, 1990), 181-227. On white and Black spiritualism, see Sobel, The World They Made Together (222-224) and Ann Braude, Radical Spirits: Spiritualism and Women's Rights in Nineteenth-Century America (Boston: Beacon Press, 1989), 28-31.
6. Douglas, Feminization, 271.
7. W. E. B. Du Bois, The Forum 73.2 (February 1929): 182-183.
8. Albert J. Raboteau, Slave Religion: The "Invisible Institution" in the Antebellum South (New York: Oxford University Press, 1978), 278. See also Blassingame, Slave Community, 109-110. Raboteau summarizes the debate over the existence of survivals or Africanisms exemplified in the scholarly argument between Melville J. Herscovits and E. Franklin Frazier; see Raboteau, Slave Religion, 48-87. On the side of the plausibility of retentions, see also Eugene D. Genovese, Roll, Jordan, Roll: The World the Slaves Made (New York: Vintage Books, 1976); Herbert G. Gutman, The Black Family in Slavery and in Freedom, 1750-1925 (New York: Vintage Books, 1976); and two recent texts, Africanisms in American Culture, ed. Joseph E. Holloway (Bloomington: University of Indiana Press, 1990) and Jon Butler, Awash in a Sea of Faith: Christianizing the American People (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1990), 129-163. This list falls short, but several of the above contain helpful bibliographies.
9. Harriet Beecher Stowe, The Key to Uncle Tom's Cabin (Boston: John P. Jewitt and Co., 1853), 27-28. On "obeah's" origins in African, Christian, and Amerindian beliefs, see Roger D. Abrahams and John F. Szwed, After Africa (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1983), 139.
10. William Pietz, "The Problem of the Fetish, I," Res 9 (Spring 1985): 5, 7. Pietz notes that the earliest fetish discourse concerned witchcraft and the control of female sexuality (6). See also David Simpson, Fetishism and Imagination: Dickens, Melville, Conrad (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1982).
11. Horace Bushnell, Christian Nurture (New York, 1860), 175; hereafter cited as CN in parentheses in the text. Christian Nurture appeared first as Views to a Christian Nurture in 1847. Catharine E. Beecher, Miss Beecher's Housekeeper and Healthkeeper (New York: Harper and Row, 1876), 462. David Handlin, The American Home: Architecture and Society, 1815-1915 (Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1979), 10, 40.
12. Richard H. Brodhead, "Sparing the Rod: Discipline and Fiction in Antebellum America," Representations 21 (Winter 1988): 91. Michel Foucault, Madness and Civilization: A History of Insanity in the Age of Reason, trans. Richard Howard (New York: Vintage Books, 1973), 153. In Foucault's discussion of sympathy, sentiment, and the social order, he actually refers to the organs within an individual body entering into sympathy "with any other [organ]." The object of Stowe's sentimental novel, however, is arguably to produce sympathetic identifications between individual bodies.
13. Stowe's account of the novel's composition is in Annie Fields, "Days with Mrs. Stowe," reprinted in Critical Essays on Harriet Beecher Stowe, ed. Elizabeth Ammons, (Boston: G. K. Hall, 1980), 294.
14. On the implications and consequences of the specifically bodily nature of Stowe's sentimental genre, see especially Karen Sánchez-Eppler, "Bodily Bonds: The Intersecting Rhetorics of Feminism and Abolitionism," Representations 24 (Fall 1988): 28-59; Brodhead, "Sparing the Rod," 67-96; and Lora Romero, "Bio-Political Resistance in Domestic Ideology and Uncle Tom's Cabin," American Literary History 1.4 (Winter 1989): 715-734. For an analysis of sentimentalism's early connection to studies of physiological responses, see G. S. Rousseau, "Nerves, Spirits, Fibres: Towards the Origin of Sensibility," in Studies in the Eighteenth Century III, ed. F. R. Brissenden (Canberra: Australian National University Press, 1975), 137-157. On the sentimentalists' materialism, see Douglas, Feminization, 240-271; and Jane Tompkins's opposing account of the "sentimental power" within domestic paraphernalia in Sensational Designs: The Cultural Work of American Fiction, 1790-1860 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1985), 122-146. I see my work as an elaboration of Tompkins's argument for the formative and subversive power of specific objects. In her recent description of Stowe's refinement of the logic of possessive individualism in Uncle Tom's Cabin, Gillian Brown defines Stowe as a practitioner of a "sentimental fetishism," which Brown identifies as an empathetic and anti-acquisitive strategy. Brown sees Stowe revising, and chiefly reversing, Marx's account of commodity fetishism, in an effort to remove objects entirely from the "exchange values" of a market society. This "market antipathy," however, has a "xenophobic character," and Stowe's oppositional gestures capitulate to racism. See Brown, Domestic Individualism, 39-60.
15. Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick describes sentimentality's reputation in Epistemology of the Closet (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990), 144, 147-154, 171-178. The best work on the career of sentimentalism is David Marshall's The Surprising Effects of Sympathy: Marivaux, Diderot, Rousseau, and Mary Shelley (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988), 1-8 and passim. On healthy sentimentality see Jan Goldstein, Console and Classify: The French Psychiatric Profession in the Nineteenth Century (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987), 118. On the perception of sentimentality as a feminine pathology, see Emily Apter, "Splitting Hairs: Female Fetishism and Postpartum Sentimentality in the Fin de Siecle," in Eroticism and the Body Politic, ed. Lynn Hunt (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1991), 167.
17. Helen Waite Papashvily, "All the Happy Endings," rpt. in Hidden Hands: An Anthology of American Women Writers, 1790-1870, Lucy M. Freibert and Barbara White, eds. (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1985), 376.
18. On sentimentalism's radical potential, see Tompkins, Sensational Designs, 122-46; and Elizabeth Ammons, "Heroines in Uncle Tom's Cabin," American Literature 49.2 (May 1977): 161-79. Recent strong analyses of the genre's capitulation to a conservative and hegemonic ethos include Sanchez-Eppler, 28-59; Lauren Berlant, "The Female Complaint," Social Text 19/20 (Autumn 1988): 237-259; and Brown, 39-60.
19. Butler, Awash, 225.
20. Dolf Sternberger, Panorama of the Nineteenth Century (New York: Urizen Books, 1977), 60-62.
21. Charles Edward Stowe, Life of Harriet Beecher Stowe Compiled from Her Letters and Journals (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, 1890), 123-124; and Brown, Domestic Individualism, 50.
22. Brown, Domestic Individualism, 50.
23. Hortense Spillers, "Changing the Letter: The Yokes, the Jokes of Discourse, Or, Mrs. Stowe, Mr. Reed," in Slavery and the Literary Imagination, Deborah A. McDowell and Arnold Rampersad, eds. (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1989), 27.
24. Stowe, Key, 27-28.
25. Calvin Stowe is quoted in Charles Edward Stowe, Life of Harriet Beecher Stowe (Boston, 1889), 420. On Stowe's supernatural activities and the middle-class interest in spiritism see Howard Kerr, Mediums, Spirit-Rappers, and Roaring Radicals: Spiritualism in America, 1850-1900 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1972), 100-125. Also relevant is Charles Beecher, Spiritual Manifestations (Boston: Lee and Shepard, 1879 ). On Stowe and Brontë, and on Stowe's personal interest in unconverted souls, see Kerr, "The Blessed Dead: Transformation of Occult Experiences in Harriet Beecher Stowe's Oldtown Folks," in Literature and the Occult: Essays in Comparative Literature, ed. Luanne Frank (Arlington: University of Texas Press, 1977), 174-187.
26. Stowe, Key, 30. Stowe's description of Quaker and Black experiences echoes the contemporary understanding of mesmeric correspondence; mesmerism also came to Stowe through Swedenborgianism. See Robert C. Fuller, Mesmerism and the American Cure of Souls (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1982).
27. On conjuring, see Blassingame, Slave Community, 109-110.
28. For a different perspective on what he calls the "everyday animism" of Rachel's chair, see Mark Seltzer, "Physical Capital: The American and the Realist Body," in New Essays on The American, ed. Martha Banta (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987), 132. Carol F. Karlsen discusses the accusations of witchcraft leveled at the Quakers in The Devil in the Shape of a Woman: Witchcraft in Colonial New England (New York: Vintage Books, 1989), 120-125. If Blacks and Quakers shared spiritual practices, it might be because they shared lives. On the settlement of "Free Negroes" and Quakers in Ohio, see Booker T. Washington, The Story of the Negro, vol. 1 (New York: Peter Smith, 1940 ), 233-50.
29. Stowe is quoted in Charles H. Foster, The Rungless Ladder: Harriet Beecher Stowe and New England Puritanism (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1954), 106.
30. Ruth H. Bloch, "American Feminine Ideals in Transition: The Rise of the Moral Mother, 1785-1815," Feminist Studies 4 (June 1978): 105; Kathryn Kish Sklar, "Victorian Women and Domestic Life: Mary Todd Lincoln, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Harriet Beecher Stowe," in The Public and the Private Lincoln, ed. Cullom Davis, et al. (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1976), 20-37; Beecher, Miss Beecher's Housekeeper, 462.
31. On the importance of Lamarckian doctrine to the science and social thought of the nineteenth-century United States, see George Stocking, Jr., Race, Culture, and Evolution: Essay in the History of Anthropology (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1982), 234-269; and Cynthia Eagle Russett, Sexual Science: The Victorian Construction of Womanhood (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1989).
32. Horace Bushnell, The Census and Slavery (Hartford, 1860), 12; page numbers to this edition will be given in parentheses in the text. George M. Fredrickson links Bushnell and the Christian racists and imperialists of the late nineteenth century; see The Black Image in the White Mind: The Debate on Afro-American Character and Destiny, 1817-1914 (New York: Harper and Row, 1972), 155-157.
33. Quoted in Blassingame, Slave Community, 100.
34. Philip Fisher, Hard Facts: Setting and Form in the American Novel (New York: Oxford University Press, 1985), 88.
35. On the maternal patriarch, see David Leverenz, The Language of Puritan Feeling: An Exploration in Literature, Psychology, and Social History (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1980), 142-143. Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Emile, Or, On Education, with intro., trans., and notes by Allan Bloom (New York: Basic Books, 1979), 37, 44. For an original analysis of Marie St. Clare as the "partial product of patriarchal education," an analysis to which I am indebted, see Romero, "Resistance," 722.
36. Sternberger, Panorama, 37-52. Stowe's portrait of the South and her sense of the African as an exotic "import" was partly influenced by her belief in the theory of "climactic racial determinism," or the idea that the North American continent, as George Fredrickson writes, was "set aside by the laws of ethnology for the exclusive use of the white race." This idea was offered among the (scientific) rationales for Black expatriation; see Fredrickson, Black Image, 146, 145-152. On female evangelical "ethnologists" on foreign missions, see Joan Jacobs Brumberg, "Zenanas and Girlless Villages: The Ethnology of American Evangelical Women, 1870-1910," in The Journal of American History 69.2 (September 1982): 347-371. I thank Elizabeth Abrams for directing me to this essay. On white European captives in Arabic cultures, male captives as well as female, see Blassingame, Slave Community, 49-65. Stowe's text gestures to the fact of male concubinage; Leg- ree has "learned his trade well, among the pirates…" (II 233).
37. See Halttunen, Confidence Men, 4-6 and passim; Charles E. Rosenberg, The Cholera Years: The United States in 1832, 1849, and 1866 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1962); and Catharine E. Beecher, Letters to the People on Health and Happiness (New York: Harper and Bros., 1865), 161.
38. Karen Haltunnen, "Gothic Imagination and Social Reform: The Haunted Houses of Lyman Beecher, Henry Ward Beecher, and Harriet Beecher Stowe," in New Essays on Uncle Tom's Cabin, ed. Eric J. Sundquist (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986), 107-134.
39. Emerson is quoted in David S. Reynolds, Faith in Fiction: The Emergence of Religious Literature in America (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1981), 13. On the oriental tale in American fiction, see Reynolds, 13-68.
40. Lyle Saxon describes the Lake Pontchartrain meetings and the Leveaus in Fabulous New Orleans (New Orleans: Robert L. Crager, 1928), 233-246, 309-322. See also Zora Neal Hurston, Mules and Men (New York: Harper and Row, 1970), 239-260; Raboteau, Slave Religion, 79-80; Mechal Sobel, Trabelin' On: The Slave's Journey to an Afro-Baptist Faith (Westport, Ct.: Greenwood Press, 1979), 49-50. Sobel points out that the third Marie Laveau [b. 1827], the "most important voodoo practitioner in North America," also regarded herself as a "good Catholic" (50). Jessie Gaston Mulira notes that in nineteenth-century New Orleans, voodoo appears to have been a matriarchy. See Mulira, "The Case of Voodoo in New Orleans," in Africanisms in American Culture, ed. Holloway, 34-68. On the fusion of Madonna and Christ in the Victorian cultural imagination, see Colleen McDannell, The Christian Home in Victorian America, 1840-1890 (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1986), 130. Elizabeth Ammons describes Eva's identification with Christ, in Elizabeth Ammons, "Stowe's Dream of a Mother-Savior: Uncle Tom's Cabin and American Women Writers Before the 1920s," in Sundquist, ed., New Essays, 162-170.
41. Douglas, Feminization, 2.
42. Stowe is quoted in E. Bruce Kirkham, The Building of Uncle Tom's Cabin (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1977), 66-67.
43. Alan Bewell, "An Issue of Monstrous Desire: Frankenstein and Obstetrics," The Yale Journal of Criticism 2.1 (Fall 1988): 109. On such beliefs in the Mende culture of Africa, see Sylvia Ardyn Boone, Radiance from the Waters: Ideals of Feminine Beauty in Mende Art (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1986), 91. Phrenologists like Orson Fowler disseminated this version of maternal imprinting in the American Phrenological Journal. See his Hereditary Descent (New York: O. S. and L. N. Fowler, 1843), 201, 218, 226.
44. Marshall, Sympathy, 5.
45. Ralph Waldo Emerson, The Journals and Miscellaneous Notes of Ralph Waldo Emerson, vol. 2, ed. William H. Gilman, et al. (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1960), 9, 8. Eva's melodramatic gestures are viewed as if through a parted proscenium during her exchange with Topsy (II 92-93). Peter Brooks notes that melodrama offers a "complete set of attitudes, phrases, gestures, coherently conceived [to dramatize] essential spiritual conflict" in his The Melodramatic Imagination (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1985), 183. On the use of the parted curtain motif in Marian iconography, see Johann Conrad Eberlein, "The Curtain in Raphael's Sistine Madonna," Art Bulletin 65 (1983): 65-71. (It is a copy of this Raphael that Stowe urges her readers to hang in their homes; see below.) On Marian shrines in Victorian parlors, see McDannell, Christian Home, 41.
46. Harriet Beecher Stowe, Household Papers and Stories (Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin and Co., 1896); Handlin, American Home, 40; Oliver Smith, The Domestic Architect (Buffalo: Derby and Co., 1857), iii.
47. Fowler is quoted in McDannell, Christian Home, 24. See also his The Octagon House: A Home for All (New York: Dover Pub., 1973 ).
48. Handlin, American Home, 17; on hair art see also McDannell, Heaven, 99.
49. The renovation, mechanization, and decoration of the domestic interior are detailed in Catharine Beecher, A Treatise on Domestic Economy, For the Use of Young Ladies at Home and at School (New York: Harper, 1846); Catharine E. Beecher and Harriet Beecher Stowe, The American Woman's Home (Hartford, Ct.: The Stowe-Day Foundation, 1975 ); Siegfried Giedion, Mechanization Takes Command: A Contribution to Anonymous History (New York: Norton, 1969 ); Dolores Hayden, The Grand Domestic Revolution: A History of Feminist Designs for American Homes, Neighborhoods, and Cities (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1983); and Witold Rybczynski, Home: A Short History of an Idea (New York: Penguin Books, 1986), 123-161.
50. Louis Prang, cited in Neil Harris, Cultural Excursions: Marketing Appetites and Cultural Tastes in Modern America (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990), 320.
51. Braude, Radical Spirits, 76-81.
52. Cathy N. Davidson, "Photographs of the Dead: Sherman, Daguerre, Hawthorne," The South Atlantic Quarterly 89.4 (Fall 1990): 682 and passim; Alan Trachtenberg, Reading American Photographs: Images as History, Matthew Brady to Walker Evans (New York: Hill and Wang, 1989), 14; and Walter Benjamin, "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction," in Illuminations: Essays and Reflections, ed. Hannah Arendt (New York: Shocken Books, 1969), 219-253.
54. Raboteau, Slave Religion, 276.
55. Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Women and Economics: The Economic Factor Between Women and Men as a Factor in Social Evolution (New York: Harper and Row, 1966), 69; hereafter cited as WE in parentheses in the text; and Gilman, The Home: Its Work and Influence (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1972); hereafter cited as Home in parentheses in the text.
56. On Gilman and Ward, see Mary A. Hill, Charlotte Perkins Gilman: The Making of a Radical Feminist, 1860-1896 (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1980), 263-271. The most helpful studies of the ideological components of Gilman's aesthetic reform remain Hayden, Domestic Revolution, 183-205, and Roger B. Stein, "Artifact as Ideology: The Aesthetic Movement in Its American Cultural Context," in In Pursuit of Beauty: Americans and the Aesthetic Movement, ed. Doreen Bolger Burke, et al. (New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Rizzoli, 1987), 43-48.
57. Naomi Schor, Reading in Detail: Aesthetics and the Feminine (New York: Methuen, 1987), 11-12 and passim.
58. See Simpson, Fetishism, 4-38; and Adolph Loos, "Ornament and Crime," in Adolph Loos: Pioneer of Modern Architecture (New York: Praeger, 1966), 266.
59. Charlotte Perkins Gilman, The Yellow Wallpaper (Brooklyn, N.Y.: The Feminist Press, 1973), 16, 20; hereafter cited as YW in parentheses in the text. Gilman's sense that this pattern is "pointless" and archaic derives from her observation that it lacks the classical attributes of radiation, symmetry, and proportion (YW 20). On the classical human figure as an evolutionary ideal, see also Catharine E. Beecher, Letters, 8. On the political uses put to the concept of symmetry by feminist reform movements in the postbellum United States, see William Leach, True Love and Perfect Union: The Feminist Reform of Sex and Society (New York: Basic Books, 1980).
60. Nancy F. Cott, The Bonds of Womanhood: "Woman's Sphere" in New England, 1780-1835 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1977), 68.
61. John W. Haller and Robin M. Haller, The Physician and Sexuality in Victorian America (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1974), 144. For a reading of the narrator's peculiar triumph as a triumph in the market, see Walter Benn Michaels, The Gold Standard and the Logic of Naturalism: American Literature at the Turn of the Century (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1987), 3-28.
62. Cited in Haller and Haller, Physician and Sexuality, 164.
63. Melissa Meyer and Miriam Shapiro, "Waste Not, Want Not: An Inquiry into What Women Saved and Assembled," Heresies 4: 66-69; Apter, "Splitting Hairs," 175-176; Mary Kelly, Post-Partum Document (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1985), xvi; Brown, Domestic Individualism, 51. My sense of sentimental culture as a symbolic order is indebted to French historian Bonnie G. Smith's account of a "tribal" domestic system in which "female reproductive potency" is its "own kind of law"; Smith, Ladies of the Leisure Class: The Bourgeoises of Northern France in the Nineteenth Century (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1981), 201-202.
64. On Kinmont's theories of the Black's inferior intellect, superior Christian nature, and the fulfillment of millenial perfection in Africa, see his Twelve Lectures on the Natural History of Man (Cincinnati, 1839). See also Fredrickson on Kinmont's Swedenborgianism, in Black Image, 104. In Swedenborg's heaven, the highest angelic communities resemble African societies. Emanuel Swedenborg, The Spiritual Diary (London: Swedenborg Society, 1977), No. 5518. Raymond Williams, Problems in Material Culture (London: Verso, 1980), 128. On the naturalists' sentimentalism, and sentimentalism's naturalist traits, see also June Howard's Form and History in American Literary Naturalism (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1985), 181; and Fisher, Hard Facts, 17, 125-126.
Arthur Riss (essay date December 1994)
SOURCE: Riss, Arthur. "Racial Essentialism and Family Values in Uncle Tom's Cabin." American Quarterly 46, no. 4 (December 1994): 513-44.
[In the following essay, Riss explores the relation between racialism, Christianity, and politics in Uncle Tom's Cabin, underscoring notions of family and nationalism.]
When Harriet Beecher Stowe introduces her readers to Uncle Tom's cabin, she remarks that the "wall over the fireplace was adorned with some very brilliant Scriptural prints and a portrait of General Washington."1 In their privileged position over the hearth, these domestic adornments, one sacred and the other secular, prefigure the Christian virtue and the desire for personal liberty that Tom's life, and by extension his home, will come to embody. As George Shelby tells the slaves he manumits at the novel's conclusion, "think of your freedom every time you see Uncle Tom's Cabin ; and let it be a memorial to put you all in mind to follow in his steps, and be as honest and faithful and Christian as he was" (437). Of course, it was not unusual to find either Scriptural prints or a portrait of Washington in a typical nineteenth-century American home.2 One might assume, therefore, that Stowe places these generic household icons in the cabin of a slave to demonstrate that the American slave and the American citizen are essentially similar. However, readers quickly learn that there is a striking difference between the slave and the citizen. Tom's portrait of Washington is "drawn and colored in a manner which would certainly have astonished that hero" (20). Tom's Washington is black.3
The strange form of this presidential portrait is of more than passing significance. It suggests more than the fact that Tom yearns for, yet is denied, the personal liberty that the figure of Washington represents. The portrait implies that Tom's attraction to Washington depends as much on Washington's physical appearance as upon his connotation. Indeed, even though Washington may seem the ideal symbol of Tom's desire for freedom and domestic tranquility, it is not sufficient for Tom merely to worship what this Founding Father represents.4 If Washington is to be Tom's hero, he must be black like Tom.
Rather than seeing this "negrification" of Washington as Stowe's effort to expose the hypocrisy of distributing liberal rights according to race, I will argue that this moment exemplifies Stowe's belief that racial homogeneity can provide the only secure foundation for either a familial or a political community. Stowe projects onto Tom, "a full black" with "truly African features," her prejudice for having literal and figurative fathers be of the same race (21). According to Stowe's account of political genealogy, even though Washington's whiteness certainly does not prevent him from literally fathering black slaves, it does prevent him from serving as the symbolic national Father of black slaves.5 Stowe's blackening of Washington, in other words, foregrounds color as the empirical "fact" that marks the disjunction between the Father of this country and the inherited condition of Tom's race. And, as Uncle Tom's Cabin unfolds, it becomes clearer that Stowe is interested not in denying the significance of racial differences but in affirming the material importance of race in the formation of both personal and national families.
Stowe's patent interest in racial difference has disturbed critics since the publication of Uncle Tom's Cabin. William Lloyd Garrison, for example, focused on the Christian self-sacrifice motivating Tom's heroism in order to question whether Stowe believed that "there are two Christs"—a passive, nonresistant one for black slaves and an active, rebellious one for whites. Garrison charged Stowe with dangerously segregating Christian virtues along racial lines.6 In contrast to this tradition of attacking Uncle Tom's Cabin because the novel does not condemn a belief in racial essences as forcefully as it indicts slavery, I will argue that Stowe's commitment to racial difference is precisely what enables her denunciation of slavery. The lesson of Uncle Tom's Cabin is not that there are two Christs but that there must be two Washingtons. Stowe's argument against slavery does not depend upon a racialized version of Christianity but upon a racialized nationalism. Although Stowe certainly uses the transcendent unity of Christianity to legitimate her appeal for the human rights of black slaves, she ultimately describes the rights of slaves in nationalistic and temporal terms. Thus, to a large extent, Stowe's political program in Uncle Tom's Cabin works against the universalizing force of Christianity; she advocates colonization rather than naturalization, the removal of American blacks to Africa rather than their amalgamation into the citizenry of the United States. Ultimately, rather than advocating individual rights irrespective of color, Uncle Tom's Cabin justifies liberal pluralism by means of racialism.7 Such biological essentialism cannot be separated from Stowe's sentimental rescue of the black slave. Therefore, rather than dismissing Stowe's blatant racialism as a curious but marginal nuance, or as an embarrassing superannuated element that can be exorcised from the novel, I will investigate the ways in which racialism motivates the novel's "progressive" politics.* * *
Until recently, critics who cited Stowe's obvious use of racial stereotypes regularly condemned her as a racist and declared that Stowe's belief in inherent racial characteristics tainted, and perhaps even wholly negated, the sincerity and the value of Uncle Tom's Cabin 's manifest antislavery politics.8 In probably the most scathing attack on the novel's racial stereotypes, J. C. Furnas in Goodbye to Uncle Tom argues that Stowe's books in general and Uncle Tom's Cabin in particular are intrinsically "racist propaganda" and that "their effect must always have been to instill or strengthen racist ideas."9 The stereotype that Furnas most objects to is the notion that the African race is inherently affectionate and peaceful. Such a sentimentalization of the "Negro,"10 according to Furnas, has "sadly clogged the efforts of modern good will" and is responsible for "the wrongheadedness, distortions and wishful thinkings about Negroes … that still plague us today." Furnas acknowledges that the popular use of the Uncle Tom epithet "is unfair to the figure that Mrs. Stowe created," but he nevertheless reproves Stowe for having so "persuasively formulated and thus frozen" an "apparently authoritative racist doctrine to plump out" her readers' "previously inchoate notions." As Furnas melodramatically concludes, the "devil could have forged no shrewder weapon for the Negro's worst enemy."11
Recently, however, critical interest has turned away from such condemnations of Stowe's sentimental stereotyping of the black slave and has moved towards a more favorable examination of the ways in which Stowe's use of domestic sentimentality works to secure social authority for women. This revisionist account of Uncle Tom's Cabin has effectively recast the tenor of investigations into the novel; positive characterizations of Stowe's gender politics have subsumed anxieties about her racial politics. Although such a feminist revaluation of Stowe's domestic sentimentality has allowed Uncle Tom's Cabin to be effectively incorporated into the canon, this identification of the novel's sentimental power has "muted" the issue of race. Indeed, contrary to Furnas's assertion that Stowe's sentimentalism and racialism function as mutually supporting reactionary strategies, current discussions of Stowe have tended to separate her sentimentalism from her account of race.12
When critics do register their uneasiness about Stowe's representation of race, they tend to treat her racialism as a perplexing anomaly, an unfortunate historical residue that obscures the political and social work of Uncle Tom's Cabin. Gillian Brown, for example, has noted the "troubling contradictions of Uncle Tom's Cabin : the novel's simultaneous advancement of domestic feminism, anti-slavery, and racism." Unlike Furnas, who has no trouble condemning the novel, Brown has "difficulty in accounting for … the disconcerting fact that Stowe's sentimentalism forwards both abolitionism and racism."13 Brown's difficulty stems from the widely held assumption that racial essentialism, a dangerously reactionary formation, should not dovetail with the progressive politics of abolition and sentimentality. Expressing a similar logic, Brook Thomas has argued that Stowe's "racial and gender essentialism" are "self-contradictory" ideological positions profoundly at odds with Stowe's powerful condemnation of slavery.14 But, in emphasizing Stowe's essentialism, Thomas acknowledges that he "neglect[s] one of the most effective ways in which Stowe elicits sympathy for blacks"—her effort to show "how character is shaped by existing economic systems" and "perpetuated through cultural, not hereditary, transmission." It is only reluctantly, therefore, that Thomas confesses, "I accuse Stowe of essentialism."15
The reactions of Brown and Thomas are representative of the widespread sentiment among the novel's critics that Stowe's admirable antislavery position should be accompanied by and derive from an equally praiseworthy liberal stance against racial essences.16 Like most critics today, Brown and Thomas accept a social constructionist account of identity as both more accurate and more politically responsible and, thus, repudiate any account of "natural" identities as reactionary and destructive. Given that, in the present day, the racial essences attributed to African Americans are usually invoked to authorize an invidious social hierarchy, Brown's and Thomas's rejection of racial essences makes sense in terms of contemporary political debates. But the assertion that Stowe's antislavery politics and racial essentialism are "self-contradictory" is both theoretically imprecise and historically inadequate.
Theoretically, this line of argument depends upon the contemporary liberal belief that racialism intrinsically supports an oppressive social hierarchy and thus too quickly conflates racialism with racism. Indeed, this typically liberal judgment against any attribution of an essential identity based on one's biological or physical nature ultimately reinscribes the fundamental premise of essentialism. It imputes a fixed essence to all "natural" accounts of the self; it relies on the "fact" that essentialism possesses a self-evidently pernicious ideological character. The anti-essentialist notion of identity, at least as exemplified by Thomas and Brown, does not abandon transhistorical claims but is contingent upon an assumption that occludes historical context just as profoundly as an explicitly essentialist account would.17
Historically, this tendency to condemn essentialism axiomatically becomes suspect once Stowe's account of racial essences is situated within an antebellum context. The fact that Stowe believed in racial essences means little in and of itself since the assumption that race crucially formed personal and national identity thoroughly pervaded antebellum culture.18 Rather, it is Stowe's particular version of racial essentialism that must be recovered. For when it is, it becomes clear that Stowe advocates the abolition of slavery not by discrediting racialism but by advocating a stronger sense of biological racialism. One cannot forget that the most effective way Stowe elicits sympathy for Negroes is by giving them an essentially Christian character. To the extent that a modern liberal prejudice against essentialism guides interpretations of Uncle Tom's Cabin, discussions of Stowe's work will continue to regard her simultaneous embrace of racialism and opposition to slavery, her concomitant efforts to segregate the races and to secure equal rights for Negroes, as logical contradictions rather than as reciprocal historical effects affiliated by their common dependence upon Stowe's fundamental commitment to biological essentialism. Stowe can persuade her readers to hate slavery only because she can rely on the fact that they could be convinced to love particular racial stereotypes. As long as this connection between racialism and the antislavery impulse is minimized, the way in which Uncle Tom's Cabin works to grant basic human rights to black slaves will continue to be interpreted as an example of the extension of abstract liberal values to previously excluded groups rather than as a materialist critique and rewriting of prevailing antebellum conceptions of the nature of the person. In Uncle Tom's Cabin, Stowe establishes the "grossly biological" nature of the African as paradigmatic of personal identity rather than as a sign of the African's deficiently "human" character.
The Christian Race
Stowe regretted that the ever-increasing size of The Key to Uncle Tom's Cabin had forced her to "omit one whole department—that of the characteristics and developments of the colored race in various countries and circumstances," but, despite this omission, Stowe's writing makes clear that she believes in essential racial characteristics.19 For example, it is only because Stowe believes so deeply in the permanence of race that she declares "that the half-breeds often inherit, to a great degree, the traits of their white ancestors"; similarly, she is careful to specify the proportion of blackness in the exemplary free blacks she lists at the conclusion of Uncle Tom's Cabin. 20 Personal characteristics, according to Stowe, are transmitted through biology rather than through culture and environment. That Stowe is a racialist, in short, requires elaboration rather than demonstration.
For Stowe, the most significant personal characteristic of Africans is their essential affinity for Christianity.21 Negroes, as Tom most clearly demonstrates, have "a natural genius for religion"; "in their gentleness, their lowly docility of heart, their aptitude to repose on a superior mind and rest on a higher power, their child-like simplicity of affection and facility of forgiveness … they will exhibit the highest form of the peculiarly Christian life" (183, 178).22 Of "all races of the earth," Stowe repeatedly tells her readers, "none have received the Gospel with such eager docility" (393). Although the Negro's natural love of Christianity could have been attributed to cultural rather than genetic transmission, Stowe very carefully defines this distinctive feature as biological. The "principle of reliance and unquestioning faith," the foundations of Christianity that Stowe represents so vividly in Uncle Tom's Cabin as "more a native element" (393) to the African race than any other, she explains in The Key to Uncle Tom's Cabin to be an effect of the fact that the African race is "possessed of a nervous system peculiarly susceptible and impressible."23 Deeply indebted to Jonathan Edward's account of the importance of the affections in religious conversion, Stowe believes that religious faith is essentially sensational, a matter of the heart. Since the African race is the race most open to sensations, Negroes constitutively possess the greatest sensitivity to the Word of God and are naturally great Christians: "the divine graces of love and faith, when inbreathed by the Holy Spirit, find in [the Negro's] natural temperament a more congenial atmosphere."24
This racialist claim about the African's instinct for Christianity is clearly a powerful strategy to secure white sympathy for the Negro slave. Such "romantic racialism" opposes the charge of biologically based racial inferiority not by denying biologism but by arguing that the biological identity of the African has been misidentified.25 In claiming that the Negro race is naturally a Christian race, Stowe appeals to her audience's belief that the Negro is a distinct race but then proceeds to define this biological uniqueness in terms of the moral values that her audience already privileges. Rather than repudiating racialism, Stowe seeks to intensify a particular brand of racialism.
Despite Stowe's undisguised racialist claims about the nature of Africans, many critics uncomfortable with notions of racial essences have tried to argue that Stowe ultimately emphasizes nurture rather than nature. Such attempts at a liberal redemption of Stowe's racial stereotypes, however, overlook the fact that such an environmentalist account of African character would undermine her antislavery argument. If Stowe maintained that the surroundings wholly constituted a slave's character, Southerners could then invoke her positive characterization of Tom to prove that slavery benefitted the African. A predominantly environmental or social account of the effects of slavery upon the Negro character either would make it extremely difficult for Stowe to present a heroic slave or would require her to de-emphasize the evils of slavery and to acknowledge that slavery can produce virtuous slaves.
Southern apologists for slavery, in fact, commonly insisted that the novel in general, and Tom in particular, provided proof of their contention that slavery was a "positive good" for the African. Even Thomas Wentworth Higginson, a staunch abolitionist, felt compelled to admit, "if it is the normal tendency of bondage to produce saints like Uncle Tom, let us offer ourselves at auction immediately."26 Proslavery advocates, such as the novelist William Gilmore Simms, an ardent defender of all things Southern (or "Southron," as he, appropriating the term from Walter Scott's Waverly novels, called it), stated the case even more strongly. He declared that Southerners could easily recognize Uncle Tom as a typical product of slavery:
That such a negro should grow up under the institution of slavery, is perhaps sufficiently conclusive in behalf of the institution. The North has no such characters. We shall not deny Uncle Tom. He is a Southron all over. He could not have been other than a Southron. We have many Uncle Toms.27
Unless Tom's heroism exists despite, not because of, the Southern slave system, his actions would support rather than undermine Southern claims that
SLAVERY MADE UNCLE TOM. Had not it been for slavery, he would have been a savage in Africa, a brutish slave to his fetishes, living in a jungle, perhaps; and had you stumbled upon him he would very likely have roasted you and picked your bones.28
Although Stowe's biological essentialism clearly could not silence Southern claims about the positive influence of slavery, its presence did work to anticipate and counter the logic of nurture over nature that supported many proslavery arguments.* * *
Stowe's understanding of the priority of race in forming a Negro's character certainly would not have surprised her contemporary readers. Indeed, during the antebellum period, it would have been more surprising had Stowe done anything other than attribute cultural differences to race. As one historian of ethnology has stated, "although the United States shared in a general Western movement toward racialist thinking, American writers in the years from 1830 to 1850 led Europeans in expounding views of innate racial difference."29 Turning away from the universalism implicit in Enlightenment thought, American intellectuals, by 1850, had embraced as scientific fact the significance of inherent racial characteristics.30 By the time Uncle Tom's Cabin was published, essential racial difference was considered a self-evident fact.31
Not only did the discipline of ethnology, supported by the anatomical "science" of craniometry, steadily produce extensive "scientific proof" of racial differences, but the period's most influential historians—Bancroft, Prescott, Motley, and Parkman—also detailed the ways in which the historical differences between nations were the product of "blood."32 More- over, political scientists and ministers commonly explained the American love of liberty as an instinct inherited from primitive Teutonic tribes and averred that this nation's democratic institutions were more racial than historical in origin.33 At its most extreme, such racialist thinking produced works, such as Dr. Robert Knox's Races of Men, designed to prove that "race is everything. Literature, science, art, in a word, civilization, depend on it."34
Emerson's discussion of the English race in English Traits, however, is more typical of the way in which antebellum intellectuals racialized what we would now consider cultural traits. Emerson does not think it possible to understand the English without taking account of their racial nature. Emerson begins his chapter "Race" by acknowledging that Knox's Races of Men is "charged with pungent and unforgettable truths."35 Although Emerson admits that he has doubts about the precise number of races, he declares that one must recognize that:
It is race, is it not? that puts the hundred millions of India under the dominion of a remote island in the north of Europe. Race avails much, if that be true, which is alleged, that all Celts are Catholics, all Saxons are Protestants; that Celts love unity of power, and Saxons the representative principle. Race is a controlling influence in the Jew, who, for more than two millenniums, under every climate, has preserved the same character and employments. Race in the Negro is of appalling importance. The French in Canada, cut off from all intercourse with the parent people, have held their national traits. I chanced to read Tacitus "on the Manners of the Germans," not long since, in Missouri, and the heart of Illinois, and I found abundant points of resemblance between the Germans of the Hercynian forest, and our Hoosiers, Suckers, and Badgers of the American woods.
Clearly Emerson regards race, which he calls "a symmetry that reaches as far as to the wit" because it forms both personal and national identity, as a formidable natural force.36
But Emerson also makes clear that the material influence of race can be mitigated and perhaps even wholly transcended. Although race in the case of the Negro "is of appalling importance," Emerson notes that for the Hoosier, race merely marks "points of resemblance." Emerson's discussion of race exemplifies the tendency among antebellum intellectuals to regard race as wholly determinative when discussing the Negro but only as influential when discussing the constitution of the Anglo-Saxon. Thus, Emerson states that the "Arabs of to-day are the Arabs of Pharoah; but the Briton of today is a very different person from Cassibelaunus or Ossian." "Civilization," Emerson claims, is the source of the changing character of the Anglo-Saxon. For even as "race works immortally to keep its own, it is resisted by other forces," chiefly by the counterforce of a civilized culture. Thus, "civilization," according to Emerson, "is a re-agent, and eats away the old traits," thereby carrying the Anglo-Saxon beyond the bounds of his biological nature.37
Given this claim, Emerson is interested in detailing the extent to which the English, unlike more "primitive races," have resisted, rather than been determined by, the effects of their racial nature. According to Emerson, the more advanced races mark the "limitations of the formidable doctrine of race," because they possess the culture necessary to work as "counteracting forces to race." Since the ability to transcend race becomes the most reliable sign of Anglo-Saxon superiority, Emerson's analysis of the force of race simply reproduces the hierarchy of the races in terms of the ability to repudiate racial characteristics: the "civilized" Anglo-Saxons have risen above the "primitive" African race precisely because they have managed to challenge rather than simply reflect the "fixity or inconvertibleness" of their racial essence.38
According to Emerson, if race is determining, civilization is lacking. Stowe, however, argues that what Emerson identifies as the Anglo-Saxon's ability to escape the influence of race is only an expression of the Anglo-Saxon's essential racial character. Rather than defying his racial nature, the Anglo-Saxon, in Stowe's account, reveals his most pronounced racial trait when he desires to transcend the force of materialist influences. What Emerson views as the Anglo-Saxon's independence from race, Stowe regards as the distinctive feature of this race's essential nature. Whereas Emerson identifies a man's greatest strength as the moments when he overcomes all restraints, Stowe consistently seeks to reinscribe Man within his biological limits, to affirm the abiding force of each race's invariable nature. For Stowe, in short, Emerson's transcendental liberalism is in the blood of the Anglo-Saxon.
Stowe represents the Emersonian struggle against nature as representative of Anglo-Saxon "coldness." For example, Senator Bird betrays a typically Anglo-Saxon love for the transcendental realm of the "coldly and strictly logical" when, discussing the dangers of disobeying the Fugitive Slave Law, he counsels his wife about letting "feelings run away with our judgment" (77). As he explains to his wife, even though "your feelings are all quite right, dear, and interesting, and I love you for them," there are nevertheless "great public interests involved,—there is such a state of public agitation rising, that we must put aside our private feelings" (77). Though Senator Bird eventually abandons his claims for abstract "duty" when he comes face to face with Eliza, an actual fugitive slave, his sympathy reveals not his ability to go against his racial nature but the tension between Anglo-Saxon coldness and the Christian ethic of compassion.39
According to Stowe, it is precisely this instinct for cold abstraction that motivates the essential antagonism between the Anglo-Saxon and the African. As Stowe avers in the first sentence of the novel's preface, "Polite and refined society" in the United States has ignored, misunderstood, and degraded the Negro precisely because the Negro is an "exotic race, whose ancestors, born beneath a tropic sun, brought with them, and perpetuated to their descendants, a character … essentially unlike the hard and dominant Anglo-Saxon race" (xvii). This opening gesture immediately signals Stowe's intention of reinterpreting the Anglo-Saxon's hostility toward the Negro as determined by each race's opposing essences rather than by the superiority or inferiority of each race's level of civilization or intellectual ability. The Negro's racial essence does not simply conflict with the racial essence of the "colder and more correct white race"; it contradicts the talent for abstraction that the Anglo-Saxon regards as the summum bonum of civilization (161). As Stowe explains, "the Anglo-Saxon race—cool, logical, and practical—have yet to learn the doctrine of toleration for the peculiarities of other races."40 Since the Anglo-Saxon mistakes his partial racial genius for a universal principle, he is unable to appreciate the native genius of the African.
By positing racial materialism as the foundation of the Anglo-Saxon and the African character, Stowe strikes at the hierarchy Emerson constructs between the literally higher and materially lower races. But in doing so, Stowe does not simply urge her readers to accept the natural order of racial differences. Instead, she attempts to establish a new hierarchy founded on a particular account of Christian values, one that emphasizes the very virtues of docility and submission that the African "naturally" possesses and that the Anglo-Saxon "naturally" shuns. Such an account of the essential nature of the Anglo-Saxon recalls William Ellery Channing's assertion that it is "one of the most remarkable events of history" that Christianity should ever have "struck root" among Europeans since they are a race "distinguished by qualities opposed to the spirit of Christianity."41
Though the Anglo-Saxon's racially determined ability and desire to be logical and cold are not conducive to Christian morality, these traits do effectively collude to excuse the cruelty of slavery. Stowe identifies the Anglo-Saxon's natural impulse "to generalize and to take enlarged views" as the primary reason that the slave system, despite its obvious brutality, has been able to be legitimated (128). According to Stowe, if the "unutterably horrible and cruel actions" of slave owners and slave traders had not been successfully refigured in terms of abstract relations—reimagined as relations which, Stowe sarcastically declares, "an American divine tells us has ‘no evil but such as are inseparable from any other relations in social and domestic life’"—such actions could never have been tolerated (128). In other words, Stowe claims that the Anglo-Saxon's "natural" desire to transcend the literal and the material cannot be separated from the fact that "American state law coolly classes" human beings with "bundles, and bales, and boxes" (128, emphasis added). The Anglo-Saxon's racial nature and the "fiction of law" that legitimates slavery are mutually reinforcing; each is informed by a similar urge to deny the materiality of the literal and affirm figural abstractions (308). Stowe, in fact, sees the elegantly scientific harshness of the American slave code as an expression of the Anglo-Saxon race's love of abstract precision:
The French and the Spanish nations are, by constitution, more impulsive, passionate and poetic, than logical; hence it will be found that while there may be more instances of individual barbarity, as might be expected among impulsive and passionate people, there is in their slave-code more exhibition of humanity. The code of the State of Louisiana contains more human provisions, were there any means of enforcing them, than that of any other state in the Union.42
The reason that the slave code of America is "more atrocious than any ever before exhibited under the sun," Stowe explains, is precisely because the "Anglo-Saxon race are a more coldly and strictly logical race, and have an unflinching courage to … work out an accursed principle, with mathematical accuracy, to its most accursed result." One of the principle goals of Uncle Tom's Cabin, therefore, is to reveal the disturbing fact that the natural impulses of the Anglo-Saxon perfectly conspire with a system that is "designed in the most precise and scientific manner to DESTROY THE IMMORTAL SOUL."43
Racializing the Family
Although Stowe's biological essentialism is clearest in her strategy for representing the Negro character, such racialism also grounds her critique of the patriarchal nature of slavery. The notion of the family, as many critics have noted, stands at the heart of Stowe's moral indictment of slavery. In one of the most elegant and compelling discussions of Uncle Tom's Cabin, Philip Fisher has argued that the social power of the novel stems from Stowe's redescription of slavery as a series of offenses against the integrity of the family. Fisher argues that Stowe makes "the separation of families" the "central psychological and social evil of slavery."44 By doing so, Stowe is able to make the family into the bridge by which the reader can "cross over to the inner world" of the slave. Although the reader probably "had no experience of having a member of his family suddenly sold off to a distant plantation … the reader did almost certainly undergo traumatic, unexpected separation from someone, often a child, by death."45 The sentimental novel, in Fisher's account, mobilizes the emotions an average reader felt for his or her own family in order to forge "experimental equations" between the reader and "novel objects of feelings," equations that encourage the reader to extend "full and complete humanity to classes of figures [such as children, prisoners, and slaves] from whom [humanity] has been socially withheld."46
Fisher's revisionary argument responds to standard complaints about the moral and political emptiness of sentimental literature by characterizing sentimentality not as a genre that exploits sympathy but as an aesthetic strategy designed to initiate and energize a radically new form of social egalitarianism. But even as recent investigations of the progressive cultural work of sentimentality have focused with particular intensity on the genre's representation of the family, critics have tended to regard the family as a self-evident concept, one that could be forcefully invoked by sentimental authors precisely because it is always powerfully loved rather than fundamentally contested. But, by assuming that the family exists as a substantively stable institution intrinsically opposed to slavery, critics ignore the fact that familial rhetoric provided the South with its most effective means of defending slavery.47 Not only had slaves and slavery been integrated into Southern society under the auspices of the family, but the notion of the family was also instrumentally conjoined to the Southern legitimation of the slave system. Therefore, in order for Stowe to call slavery a crime against the family, she could not depend upon a monolithic view of this domestic institution but needed to replace representations of the family that complemented defenses of slavery with a notion that opposed the putatively paternalistic character of slavery. Stowe could not simply place the family at the moral center of her novel; she had to establish and privilege a very particular configuration of the family. The cultural work of Stowe's novel is to persuade her readers that slavery and the family are essentially antagonistic institutions.
Citing slavery's familial character, Southerners consistently considered slavery a "domestic question" and warned that any interference with the institution threatened "the safety of our families, our altars, and our firesides."48 Southern slavery thoroughly appropriated the rhetoric of kinship relations: "Auntie," "Uncle," "Mammy" were the common forms of address that owners, or "Fathers," used toward their slaves. This identification of the family and slavery provided the terms with which to defend slavery. For example, C. G. Memminger, later Secretary of the Treasury of the Confederacy, declared that because slavery is founded upon the household economy, it is merely an extension of the family. According to Memminger, in slavery,
domestic relations become those things which are most prized—each family recognizes its duty—and its members feel a responsibility for its discharge. The fifth commandment becomes the foundation of Society. The state is looked to only as the ultimate head in its external relations while all internal duties, such as support, education, and the relative duties of individuals, are left to domestic regulation.49
Memminger argues, in short, that Southerners "dignify the family" by advocating the domestic relations of slavery.
Implicit in Memminger's representation of slavery is an indictment of the North. The North and the South, Memminger argues, "work upon different principles."50 The North, he claims, imagines the family as a refuge from the world precisely because Northern capitalism has isolated the family from the public realm and has segregated the duties of the family from the rest of society. The South, in contrast, has avoided such a harmful dichotomy by establishing the family as the underlying principle of its entire social and political structure. By affirming the familial character of slavery's social and economic organization, Southerners, like Memminger, were able to construct formidable arguments for slavery as a "positive good."51
This strategy of equating slavery with the family was articulated perhaps most clearly by George Fitzhugh, the era's most rigorous philosopher of slavery. Fitzhugh rests his defense of slavery on the notion that slavery reproduces the structures and duties of the patriarchal domestic household and thus promotes a system of civil society ethically superior to Northern "wage slavery." Whereas the Northern laborer shares only an economic relation with his employer, the Southern slave is linked to his master by an organic bond, a bond that allows the slave to both accepted into and protected by the master's household. Thus, as powerfully as Stowe condemns slavery for separating families, Fitzhugh praises slavery for supporting family values:
Slavery protects the infants, the aged and the sick; nay takes far better care of them than of the healthy, the middle-aged and the strong. They are part of the family, and self-interest and domestic affection combine to shelter, shield, and foster them.52
As Fitzhugh put it, slavery "leaves but little of the world without the family."53 For Fitzhugh, the social status of the slave differed only gradually rather than qualitatively from that of women, children, and other dependents. In Fitzhugh's social theory, therefore, slavery not only loses its morally anomalous character but also becomes the ideal social system, one that, he declares, mankind is morally obligated to extend over all of society.54 "Human law," Fitzhugh contends, could never "beget benevolence, affection, maternal and paternal love…. It may abolish slavery; but it can never create between the capitalist and the laborer, between the employer and the employed, the kind and affectionate relations that usually exist between master and slave."55
Asserting that only within "the family circle" of slavery does "the law of love prevail," Fitzhugh sets out to reverse liberal political theory's valorization of an individual's inalienable right to liberty and autonomy; he declares that "about nineteen out of every twenty individuals have ‘a natural and inalienable right’ to be taken care of and protected, to have guardians, trustees, husbands, or masters; in other words, they have a natural and inalienable right to be slaves."56 The power of Fitzhugh's defense of slavery, in other words, does not derive from the limited claim that slavery benefits black slaves but from his radical attempt to overturn the foundation of the American liberal tradition by advocating the moral superiority of the paternalism of slavery. Not interested merely in finding the means to tolerate slavery, Fitzhugh aims to make all of society conform to the familial principles of slavery.
Since Fitzhugh's social theory depends upon the identity of slavery and the family, a corollary argument inevitably follows: the defense of slavery is inseparable from a devotion to the family. According to Fitzhugh, all those who attack slavery actually attack the family. The "tendency and terminus of all abolition," Fitzhugh warns, "is to the sovereignty of the individual" and this plan only becomes possible with "the breaking up of families and no government." As Fitzhugh sees it, abolition contemplates nothing less than "the total overthrow of the Family." Indeed, for Fitzhugh, abolitionism epitomizes modern attacks on all forms of the family:
All modern philosophy converges to a single point—the overthrow of all government, the substitution of the untrammelled ‘Sovereignty of the Individual’ for the Sovereignty of Society…. First domestic slavery, next religious institutions, then separate property, then political government, and finally family government and family relations, are to be swept away. This is the distinctly avowed programme [sic] of all able abolitionists.57
Since "the family is threatened," Fitzhugh declares that "all men North or South who love and revere it, should be up and a-doing," protecting slavery from the family-hating abolitionists.58
Clearly, Fitzhugh imagines the family he wants to save as a patriarchal and hierarchical one:
The father is the natural representative of his family…. His feelings and affections, as well as his interests, are so blended and interwoven with theirs, that whatever affects them, beneficially or injuriously, in like manner affects him. He is the natural head or ruler of his family, and their natural and faithful representative. This is patriarchical government, the oldest, the best, and still the most common, and seemingly the most despotic form of government.59
But in order for Fitzhugh to represent plantation slavery as the family writ large, he must affirm a very particular representation of this patriarchy. In Fitzhugh's account of slavery, the master rules over quite an extended family: "besides wife and children, brothers and sister, dogs, horses, birds and flowers—slaves, also, belong to the family circle." Fitzhugh's family is spectacularly encompassing precisely because it is grounded in sociology rather than biology.60
For this reason, Fitzhugh deliberately separated his championing of slavery from arguments that legitimated slavery in terms of the biological character of the black slave.61 Fitzhugh is quite explicit: "He who justifies mere negro slavery, and condemns other forms of slavery does not think at all—no, not in the least…. Domestic slavery must be vindicated in the abstract … as a normal, natural and, in general, necessitous element of civilised society, without regard to race or colour."62 Although some commentators have been perplexed by Fitzhugh's rejection of racial inferiority as an adequate justification for the institution of slavery, Fitzhugh recognized that a slave system based on the biological peculiarity of the Negro would undermine any attempt to universalize the principles of slavery. Indeed, since he denies that the family is a genealogically specific unit, Fitzhugh's family can, at least theoretically, include anyone—black or white, human or nonhuman, plant or animal. The plantation, according to Fitzhugh, is a family not because everyone is substantially related but because everyone is part of the same domestic economy. The kinship of the plantation is familial but not necessarily consanguineous, sociological rather than inevitably genealogical.63
The cultural power of Stowe's attack on the Southern image of the plantation family lies in her claim that Southerners fundamentally misunderstand the nature of the domestic institution. Distinguishing her notion of the family from Southern domestic rhetoric, Stowe posits substantive blood relations as the only determining sign of a family. In Uncle Tom's Cabin, the only real families are biological families. Thus, slavery is dangerous precisely because it substitutes imaginary families for real families and attempts to replace actual, substantive kinship with metaphorical and inauthentic forms of kinship. According to Stowe, the difference between freedom and slavery is the difference between "real" and "pseudo" families. Figural families, Stowe argues, offer only fictional protection.
Stowe initiates this critique by attacking popular legends about the patriarchal nature of slavery. In the first chapter of Uncle Tom's Cabin, she explains to her readers that those who visit some estates in the South
might be tempted to dream the oft-fabled poetic legend of a patriarchal institution, and all that; but over and above the scene there broods a portentous shadow—the shadow of law. So long as the law considers all these human beings, with beating hearts and living affections only as so many things belonging to a master,—so long as the failure, or misfortune, or imprudence, or death of the kind owner, may cause them any day to exchange a life of kind protection and indulgence for one of hopeless misery and toil,—so long it is impossible to make anything beautiful or desirable in the best-regulated administration of slavery.
This popular account of slavery as a beneficial patriarchal institution morally offends Stowe, for such beliefs allow the crimes that slavery commits against "real" families to be concealed.64 So easily rent, the bonds between master and slave reveal that slavery is a patriarchy manqué, an immaterial paternalism in which any familial bond can be easily dissolved.
It is no accident, for example, that one plot (the story of Eliza) of the novel is initiated by the sale of a slave child and the other (the story of Tom) by the sale of a slave father or that the novel marks the end of slavery by reunifying a biologically related family. Indeed, Stowe devotes so much of The Key to Uncle Tom's Cabin to gathering evidence to prove the extent to which economic relations support the slave trade precisely because Southerners devoted commensurate energy to "proving" the security and stability of a plantation patriarchy. Because defenders of slavery contended that the sale of slaves and the separation of slave families occurred only in a "rare case for some crime," Stowe strategically emphasizes that slaves were commonly sold and families often separated purely for the sake of money. In doing so, Stowe intends to persuade her audience that it is impossible to regard a master's self-professed paternal relation to his slave as anything but a crass economic relation. For example, when Topsy replies to a question about her parents, "Never was born … never had no father nor mother…. I was raised by a speculator," she crystallizes how thoroughly slavery perverts the familial structure (240). Since slavery replaces the patriarch with the speculator, Stowe suggests that Topsy's wildness is to be expected; market relations are inherently unstable. The master's love of money will inevitably overwhelm his "love" of his putative children. In other words, rather than attacking the patriarchy, as many critics have argued, Stowe is attacking slavery for so poorly imitating a true and secure patriarchy. Stowe's account of the family, in other words, is antipatriarchal only insofar as it is an attack on counterfeit fathers.
Just as Stowe's indictment of the falsely patriarchal nature of slavery is not an indictment of patriarchs per se, her attack on the way in which slave masters own slaves is not an attack on the idea of owning persons in itself.65 Stowe quite explicitly presents moments when persons are in rightful possession of others. For instance, just after he is reunited with his family, George Harris declares to his wife:
O! Eliza, if these people only knew what a blessing it is for a man to feel that his wife and child belong to him. I've often wondered to see men that could call their wives and children their own fretting and worrying about anything else.
In a novel about owning other human beings, such language cannot be inadvertent. According to Stowe, George is a legitimate owner of his family.
Similarly, when Legree claims to own Tom "body and soul," Tom defends himself not by repudiating the notion of ownership but by insisting on the inadequacy of Legree's power to own: "No! no! no! my soul an't yours, Mas'r! You haven't bought it,—ye can't buy it! It's been bought and paid for by One that is able to keep it" (356). Completely indebted to a logic of ownership, Tom's exclamation makes it clear that ownership in itself is not the source of slavery's immorality. Rather, according to Stowe, the problem with slavery is that it allows false patriarchs to become owners. Thus, although it may seem paradoxical that George equates freedom with the ability to own his family and that Tom imagines freedom as his death ("The Lord's bought me, and is going to take me home"), it is only so if one assumes that slavery is substantially defined as the treatment of human beings as property (416). Such a definition of slavery, however, fails to give an adequate account of the institution represented in Uncle Tom's Cabin. The novel repeatedly shows that slaves are not a category of persons incorrectly treated as property objects but a subcategory of human proprietary objects.66 The ownership of others as property thus incompletely defines both the nature and the immorality of slavery. Stowe does not object to the principle of persons being owned but to the way that slavery institutionalizes the wrong kind of ownership.
The Biology of Ownership
Slavery, according to Stowe, makes it too easy for anyone to be legally nominated an owner. In response to this significant moral problem at the heart of the slave system, Stowe proposes that biology can serve as the only reliable test for proper ownership. Whereas slavery offers "to the half-maniac drunkard, to the man notorious for hardness and cruelty, to the man sunk entirely below public opinion, to the bitter infidel and blasphemer" the power to own others, biological relations limit the category of the proper master.67 Given the inadequacy of the metaphorical family of the plantation, Uncle Tom's Cabin reimagines true families in terms of a biology of ownership; individuals can, according to this logic, only properly own their own flesh and blood. For Stowe, the substantive feelings that biology generates for other kin is the only guarantee of authentic ownership. Throughout the novel, the bond of biology secures the only relations untainted by the pressures of the market and independent of the contingency of circumstance. As many critics have noted, Stowe repeatedly represents the emotional bond of mothers and children as surpassing and prior to all the contingent vicissitudes of slavery, but what has not been sufficiently recognized is that this bond is exemplary, rather than exhaustive, of the force of biology. That is, even though the mother-child bond instantiates perhaps the most powerful representation of the kind of ownership entitled by biology, it is not the only example of a legitimate biological relation.
In contrast to such a genealogical account of the family, Christianity might seem to offer the promise of a universal family that transcends biological relations. But even the Christian universal family, Stowe reveals, ultimately serves as an inadequate temporal family. The seemingly ideal Quaker community—embodied in the utopian nurture of Rachel Halliday's kitchen—most clearly marks the limits of the universal family. Certainly the rhetoric of the familial love is more justly used by the Quakers than by slave masters, and surely the Quaker community is sincerely willing to accept into its egalitarian family circle both slaves and slave masters, runaway slaves and slave catchers. But it is important to note that no one accepts the "overflowing kindness" of the Quakers. When the runaway slaves Eliza, Harry, and George Harris are offered a home in this utopian community, George recognizes that even though "this was indeed a home,—home—a word that George had never yet known a meaning for," this place is not his family's home (138). Even the reformed slave catcher Tom Loker, though tempted to stay, feels he does not really belong among the Quakers. Thus, although the Quakers may welcome all, no one seems to want to join their family. The rejection of this invitation suggests how thoroughly biology circumscribes Stowe's representation of the true family.
The fact of miscegenation, however, seems to contradict seriously Stowe's utopian vision of the coincidence of the proper family with genealogical kinship. Clearly, this apparent tension does not result from Stowe's blindness to the fact of miscegenation. She recognized that white masters often fathered many of their slaves and that such biological paternity did not guarantee a proper sense of obligation toward one's kin. In examples such as Cassy's tragic life story, Stowe forcefully represents the fact that white husbands and white fathers often did betray, abandon, and sell their black "wives" and their black children. Just as the speculator proves himself a false father, the biological father shows himself to be a mock parent in the case of miscegenation. Although it may seem paradoxical that Stowe simultaneously defends the biological family and condemns miscegenation, these bad biological fathers are not exceptions to Stowe's faith in biological racialism. Rather these ersatz fathers illustrate the extent to which Stowe's notion of the family is hyper-biological and hyper-racialist. Stowe argues for the integrity of the family not as a normative social unit that can be constructed and reconstructed in various ways among various individuals but as a group that must be racially unified. Grounded not simply in the literal blood relations of a parent to a child (which are ultimately mysterious since plausible grounds can always be summoned to deny such relations) but in the physical signs of a racial essence, the family's inviolability, according to Stowe's idealized vision, can only be guaranteed if all involved are of the same race.68 Failures of the family, in short, are actually failures of race.
Families, according to Stowe, are constituted not by the fact that the children are related to the parents but by the fact that the parents are biologically related to one another. Only members of the same racial family can produce true families. Rather than simply conflating the category of the family and the notion of race, Stowe imagines that ascriptions of race actually replace paternity as the ultimate mark of belonging to a family. Surpassing all juridical contracts and the mere fact of sexual relations, race serves as the only legitimate sign of the family.
Stowe reproduces her notions of the family on the level of national identity. National solidarity is simply the extension of loving one's family, the familial bond modulating seamlessly into national citizenship. Feelings of nationality are merely an effect of possessing a shared race. Thus, one should not be surprised when Topsy, having been taken North by Miss Ophelia, never becomes part of the "deliberative body whom a New Englander recognizes under the term ‘Our folks’" (432). Topsy's real family remains elsewhere. She leaves "our folks" for her folks: she becomes a missionary, goes to Africa, and devotes her life to "teaching the children of her own country" (433, emphasis added). By claiming that Africa is Topsy's "own country," despite the fact that Topsy was born and raised in the United States, Stowe implicitly invokes a racial notion of nationality. Topsy is African simply because she is black; her personal history is subsumed by her racial identity. Although Topsy grows up in the South and is educated in the North, Stowe imagines that Topsy has more in common with Africans than Americans.
Stowe's yearning for the success of such a racialist logic explains why the novel ends not simply by revealing that so many Negroes are actually related to one another but also by miraculously reuniting these families: Cassy turns out to be Eliza's mother, Cassy's son and Eliza's brother turns out to be alive, and Madame de Thoux turns out to be George Harris's long-lost sister.69 That this racialist logic is fundamentally tied to a notion of the polity becomes clearest when, as soon as these families are reunited, they begin attending to questions of where their national allegiance belongs. At the novel's conclusion, George Harris reveals the extent to which Stowe's appeals for freedom are grounded in the material permanence of race. In a letter explaining why he has decided to leave the United States and settle in Liberia, George argues for the priority of race:
But, you will tell me, our race have equal rights to mingle in the American republic as the Irishman, the German, the Swede. Granted, they have. We ought to be free to meet and mingle,—to rise by our individual worth, without any consideration of caste or color; and they who deny us this right are false to their own professed principles of human equality. We ought, in particular, to be allowed here. We have more than the rights of common men;—we have the claim of an injured race for reparation. But, then, I do not want it; I want a country, a nation, of my own. I think that the African race has peculiarities, yet to be unfolded in the light of civilization and Christianity, which, if not the same with those of the Anglo-Saxon, may prove to be morally, of even a higher type.
The movement of George's thought from the moral register of "ought" to the personal language of "want" is matched by a shift from an explicitly liberal to an explicitly racialist logic. George begins in a traditionally liberal fashion by discussing equality and citizenship in terms of individual rights and merits and as deriving from choice. Such rights, he claims, should be color-blind. But he then alters his account of rights and argues a position that some modern social theorists would label "affirmative action." He claims that the shared oppressions of his race entitle them to be granted more rights as compensation for past inequities. George's argument pivots on the idea that one can make discriminations on the basis of race provided that such acts correct previous wrongs committed as a result of racial prejudices. The rhetoric of equal rights gives way to a call for preferential treatment precisely because George sees groups rather than individuals as the subject of equality.
Indeed, it is because George comprehends equality in terms of collectivities that the language of liberal rights fails him altogether. According to George, all efforts for Negroes to gain rights in the United States are empty as long as such rights are insistently characterized as independent of one's communal identity and ostensibly offered without any "consideration … of color" (432). George cannot imagine rights as the abstract entitlements guaranteed to persons, yet the liberal theory expressed in the Constitution articulates rights in precisely such terms. For George, rights gain importance only if they are affiliated with one's communal identity, with one's family, and with one's nation: in short, with one's race. George's speech makes clear Stowe's inability to understand human rights as separated from one's communal identity. And this speech also makes clear that, according to Stowe, an individual's communal identity is not generated by culture or by choice but by race. Nature is nation, and a nation is just a large family.70* * *
I have been arguing that Stowe generates the "progressive" politics of Uncle Tom's Cabin by means of racial essentialism.71 Although this claim may seem idiosyncratic, it is more compatible with current ideological discussions of American literature than one might at first imagine. Indeed, the recent recovery of Stowe as a protofeminist, an advocate of sentimental domesticity and of women's social authority, has been galvanized by an identity politics remarkably similar to the logic of Stowe's racial essentialism. For example, Jane Tompkins has argued that specious notions of disinterestedness mask what is actually a masculinist standard of literary value and thus that literary critics have traditionally denigrated sentimental novels such as Uncle Tom's Cabin because these novels institute "a monumental effort to reorganize culture from a woman's point of view."72 Although Tompkins would certainly dispute that her corrective reading of the sentimental is intended to reinforce the essential difference of women, her discussion of sentimentality is nevertheless founded upon the claim that women can gain social authority by embracing the "natural" differences attributed to them.73 Tompkins's revisionary reading of the sentimental, in other words, depends upon the tremendous ideological force that essentialist notions of the woman can summon; indeed, according to Tompkins's argument, it is only because a woman is culturally imagined as possessing a nature essentially different from a man's that sentimentality can perform its progressive cultural work. Therefore, even though Tompkins may "lapse" into essentialist thinking when she imputes to antebellum women a unified feminine experience, she does so in order to demonstrate the way in which such an essence works to resist patriarchal authority.74
Not only Tompkins's affirmative work on the sentimental novel but also more recent critiques of the sentimental depend upon essentialist notions. Hazel Carby, Karen Sánchez-Eppler, Lauren Berlant, and Jean Yellin, for example, have argued that an uneven power relationship is encoded in female abolitionists' claims for a resemblance between the position of white bourgeois women and black male and female slaves.75 These critics argue that the racial differences between white women and their black objects of concern have been elided and need to be acknowledged. But, in order for these critics to recover such differences, their work must be governed, even more foundationally than Tompkins's is, by an essentialist logic. They are able to challenge abolitionist claims for the possibility of cross-racial identification because they assert that such identifications inevitably obscure the irreducible racial differences that constitute an individual's personal social identity. To make this argument, however, they need to assume that a person's racial nature precedes and determines cultural experience. In other words, before they can begin to recover the experience of the black subject, these critics need to homogenize and departicularize black identity.
To put it most boldly, recent efforts to show the limits of notions of unity do not replace the logic of essentialism but displace it onto a new, usually smaller, collectivity. The development of a cultural-materialist criticism, sensitive to multiple subject positions, in effect appropriates the strategies of essentialism and multiplies essences in order to break unitary categories of identity. The problem raised by such efforts to champion difference (whether of gender or of race) lies not necessarily in the fact that these projects are motivated by essentialist premises but in the axiomatic repudiation of essentialist categories as regressive. To do so is to maintain a covert and underhistoricized essentialism.
Of course, one reason essentialism has been regularly demonized is clear: essentialist premises have often instituted a dangerously false universalism. Aware of the pernicious results that many ideological arguments for commonality and unity have implemented, recent cultural theorists have tried to distance themselves from such dangerous consequences by privileging the notion of difference as a self-evident truth. This confidence in difference, however, exemplifies rather than rejects essentialist thinking; the category of difference is reinscribed in critical discourse as if it were a quasi-metaphysical entity, one that is by definition progressive. This idealizing of difference produces a style of social thought in which the notion of "separate but equal," once condemned as legitimating invidious social distinctions based on race and class, now serves as the rallying cry of an identitarian criticism that legitimates plural perspectives. Within this context, the criticism devoted to recovering notions of difference recapitulates the essentialist project of Uncle Tom's Cabin. Both Stowe's essentialism and recent redeployments of essentialist categories are committed to establishing "the fact" of human difference. Indeed, perhaps one reason Uncle Tom's Cabin was successfully rediscovered is that, once again, notions of essential difference have captured our theoretical and cultural interest. This coincidence suggests that the particular effects of essentialist premises need to be more thoroughly historicized before essentialism can be legitimately condemned.
1. Harriet Beecher Stowe, Uncle Tom's Cabin; or, Life among the Lowly, ed. Alfred Kazin (1852; New York, 1981), 20. All further references to the novel will be from this edition and will be cited parenthetically in the text.
2. For example, Walt Whitman patriotically announces in a contemporary editorial that Washington's portrait "hangs from every wall, and he is almost canonized in the affections of our people" (Walt Whitman, I Sit and Look Out: Editorials from the Brooklyn Daily Times, ed. Emory Holloway and Vernolian Schwarz [New York, 1932], 59).
3. The use of a lowercase "b" in "black" is American Quarterly style. In my original essay, I had used an uppercase "B." For, even though the word "Black" does not derive from a proper name, I consider Blackness in the American context, at least, to designate not merely a color but a particular heritage, experience, and form of cultural and personal identity, which, in the same way as a religious, tribal, or linguistic identity, should be recognized by capitalization.
4. Nineteenth-century Washington hagiography emphasized above all else Washington's love of "domestic felicity," his commitment to the family and to Christian virtue; it continually placed Washington's devotion to peace above his success in war. See, for example, Edward Everett, Orations and Speeches on Various Occasions (Boston, 1850-1868), 4:20-40. See also, George Forgie, Patricide in a House Divided (New York, 1979), esp. 159-200. It is interesting to note that Forgie's discussion of Washington's "feminized character" resembles many recent critical discussions of Tom's feminine nature. Forgie, for example, asserts that "some accounts of the father of his country seemed prepared to transform him into the mother of his country" (189). On Tom's femininity, see Elizabeth Ammons, "Heroines in Uncle Tom's Cabin," American Literature 49 (May 1977): 161-79; and Amy Schrager Lang, Prophetic Woman (Berkeley, 1987), 193-214. See also Garry Wills, Cincinnatus: George Washington and the Enlightenment (Garden City, N.Y., 1984).
5. Unlike in the case of Jefferson, there is no evidence that Washington took a slave mistress. See Nathan I. Huggins, "The Deforming Mirror of Truth: Slavery and the Master Narrative of American History," Radical History Review 49 (winter 1991): 25-49, on the way in which African Americans have used the illicit sexual unions between white slaveholders and black slaves, such as that between Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemmings, to legitimate their claims to the birthright of national citizenship.
By the novel's conclusion, Tom, as if he were following in Washington's footsteps or perhaps usurping Washington's place, comes to be called Father Tom by his fellow slaves.
6. William Lloyd Garrison, The Liberator, 26 Mar. 1852; quoted in Documents of Upheaval: Selections from William Lloyd Garrison's "The Liberator," 1831-1865, ed. Truman Nelson (New York, 1966), 240 (emphasis added).
7. I am following K. Anthony Appiah in distinguishing between "racialism" and "racism." According to Appiah, racialism is the view that human beings are defined by heritable characteristics that justify the categorization of races; in effect, it simply is the belief in the biological notion of race. Racism, in contrast, uses racialism for socially pernicious ends, such as the legitimation of invidious social hierarchies. But unlike Appiah—who, in his effort to show that racialism is scientifically and morally irrational, very elegantly unhinges the cultural notion of race from the biological question of race—I am detailing the ways in which Stowe's use of race for a particular cultural purposes ultimately depends upon biology. See Kwame Anthony Appiah, In My Father's House: Africa in the Philosophy of Culture (New York, 1992).
8. In addition to the works discussed later in this essay, see Richard Yarborough, "Strategies of Black Characterization in Uncle Tom's Cabin and the Early Afro-American Novel," in New Essays on Uncle Tom's Cabin, ed. Eric Sundquist (New York, 1986), 45-84. Yarborough states that "although Stowe unquestionably sympathized with the slaves, her commitment to challenging the claim of black inferiority was frequently undermined by her own endorsement of racial stereotypes" (46). Yarborough sees her interest in racial difference as a "tragic failure of imagination" (65). See also Thomas Graham, "Harriet Beecher Stowe and the Question of Race," The New England Quarterly 46 (Dec. 1973): 614-22, for one of the few defenses of Stowe's understanding of race and "inborn temperament." Unfortunately, Graham defends Stowe by simply denying that there is a problem with her use of racial stereotypes: he argues that even though Stowe "shared many of the misconceptions about race common in her lifetime … her tendency was to minimize racial differences in the formation of character and to stress social and environmental factors" (614, 622). Graham uses the most common strategy for defusing the problem of Stowe's racial essentialism; he discusses Uncle Tom's Cabin as if it proposed an environmentalist understanding of a black slave's character. See also Moody E. Prior, "Mrs. Stowe's Uncle Tom," Critical Inquiry 5 (summer 1970): 651-62. Any effort to redeem Stowe by claiming that she privileges nurture over nature, however, is problematic since it seems to discount the consensus among historians that environmentalist arguments were extremely unpopular during the 1850s. See also Winthrop D. Jordan, White over Black (Chapel Hill, N.C., 1968); and George Fredrickson, The Black Image in the White Mind (Middletown, Conn., 1971).
9. J. C. Furnas, Goodbye to Uncle Tom (New York, 1956), 50. Furnas's argument expands on the claims made by James Baldwin in "Everybody's Protest Novel," reprinted in James Baldwin, Notes of a Native Son (Boston, 1955), 13-23.
10. I will be using the anachronistic term Negro rather than the currently conventional term African American throughout the essay to emphasize that Stowe's representation of the African-American slave is a rhetorical, historically specific construction.
11. Furnas, Goodbye to Uncle Tom, 8, 51.
12. See Hortense J. Spillers, "Changing the Letter," in Slavery and the Literary Imagination, ed. Deborah E. McDowell and Arnold Rampersad (Baltimore, 1989), on the question of the "muting of ‘race’ in this [style] of cultural analysis" (58-59). This separation of the novel's racial and gender politics is perhaps most evident in Jane Tompkins's discussion of the "sentimental power" of Uncle Tom's Cabin. According to Tompkins, the "novel's deepest political aspirations are expressed only secondarily in its devastating attack on the slave system; the true goal of Stowe's rhetorical undertaking is nothing less than the institution of the kingdom of heaven on earth"—an apocalypse that Tompkins sees as initiating "a world over which women exercise ultimate control" (Jane Tompkins, Sensational Designs: The Cultural Work of American Fiction, 1790-1860 [New York, 1985], 141). See also Lang, who states in Prophetic Woman that in "Uncle Tom's Cabin racial categories are subsumed by those of gender" (206).
13. Gillian Brown, Domestic Individualism (Berkeley, 1990), 41.
14. Brook Thomas, Cross-Examinations Law and Literature (New York, 1987), 130.
15. Ibid., 130-31, 130.
16. See also Eric Sundquist's introduction to New Essays on Uncle Tom's Cabin, in which he ar- gues that Stowe's investment in racial stereotypes marks the "limits of abolitionist idealism" (New Essays on Uncle Tom's Cabin, 32).
17. Indeed, essentialism always survives despite these antifoundationalist critiques precisely because an essentialist logic supports the very arguments with which constructivist critics justify the need to privilege context. For a more extensive discussion of the way essentialism is entrenched in social constructivism and vice versa, see Diana Fuss, Essentially Speaking (New York, 1989).
18. See Eugene H. Berwanger, "Negrophobia in Northern Proslavery and Antislavery Thought," Phylon 33 (fall 1972): 266-75, for an example of how racism provides an inadequate standard for distinguishing pro- and antislavery discourse. For an example of the way in which racism and antislavery were at times powerfully congruent, see Hinton Rowan Helper, The Impending Crisis (New York, 1857).
19. Harriet Beecher Stowe, The Key to Uncle Tom's Cabin (1853; New York, 1968), v.
20. Ibid., 17.
21. See also Alexander Kinmont, Twelve Lectures on the Natural History of Man (Cincinnati, 1839); and William Ellery Channing, "Emancipation" (1840), in The Works of William E. Channing, D.D. (Boston, 1867), for other examples of the ways in which antislavery advocates summoned the essential character of the Negro to demonstrate the fundamental immorality of slavery. It is interesting to note that Channing moves away from his earlier claim in Slavery (Boston, 1836) that slavery violates universal human rights (i.e., liberal rights) toward the essentialist view that slavery is a sin against the Christianity inherent in African race.
22. Although instinctive Christianity is clearly the race's most redeeming characteristic, Stowe also notes some of the race's more mundane inherited traits: "they are not naturally daring and enterprising, but home-loving and affectionate," they possess "an indigenous talent" for cooking, and because he holds "deep in his heart" "a passion for all that is splendid, rich, and fanciful," the Negro is enchanted by bright colors and ornate displays (93, 205, 161).
23. Stowe, Key, 45 (emphasis added).
24. Ibid., 41.
25. The term "romantic racialism" is George Fredrickson's. See Fredrickson, Black Image, 97-129. See also John L. Thomas, "Romantic Reform in America, 1815-1865," American Quarterly 17 (winter 1965): 656-81. My discussion of Uncle Tom's Cabin is indebted to Fredrickson, but, in distinction, I am interested in the way that racialism can effect a progressive social movement rather than in viewing romantic racialism with suspicion.
28. Nehemiah Adams, The Sable Cloud: A Southern Tale, with Northern Comments (Boston, 1861), 135; quoted in Yarborough, "Strategies of Black Characterization," 81.
29. Reginald Horsman, Race and Manifest Destiny (Cambridge, Mass., 1981), 157. See also Fredrickson, Black Image, esp. 43-130.
30. Of course, it is unclear whether the universalism implicit in Enlightenment thought ever could have been explicitly extended to the African race. See for example Thomas Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia (1787; New York, 1982); and Immanuel Kant, Anthropology from a Pragmatic Point of View (1798; Carbondale, Ill., 1987) for two examples of the racial limitations of Enlightenment universalism.
31. In addition to Horsman and Fredrickson, see Thomas F. Gossett, Race: The History of an Idea in America (1963; New York, 1965).
32. See for example Josiah C. Nott and George R. Gliddon, Types of Mankind (Philadelphia, 1854). In this massive compilation of the scientific findings of the American School of Ethnology, which eventually ran through ten editions, Nott proclaimed that "the permanence of existing physical types will not be questioned by any archaeologist or Naturalist of the present day. Nor … can the consequent permanence of moral and intellectual peculiarities of type be denied. The intellectual man is inseparable from the physical man" (50). See Stephen Jay Gould, Mismeasure of Man (New York, 1981), for a powerful indictment of the "scientific" methods of leading craniometers Samuel George Morton and Josiah C. Nott. For a discussion of antebellum historians' account of the Teutonic Germ Theory, see David Levin, History as Romantic Art: Bancroft, Prescott, Motley, and Parkman (Stanford, 1959), esp. 74-92, 126-59. For a general discussion of scientific and popular justifications of slavery, see William Sumner Jenkins, Pro-Slavery Thought in the Old South (Chapel Hill, N.C., 1935).
34. Robert Knox, Races of Men: A Fragment (Philadelphia, 1850), 7.
35. Ralph Waldo Emerson, English Traits (1856) in The Library of America, Emerson: Essays and Lectures, ed. Joel Porte (New York, 1983), 791. See also Emerson's essay "Fate," where he repeats this assessment of Knox, whom he calls "a rash and unsatisfactory writer, but charged with pungent and unforgettable truths" (The Library of America, 950).
36. Emerson, English Traits, 792 (emphasis added), 791.
37. Ibid., 792.
38. Ibid., 793, 792, 793. A similar logic pervaded contemporary explanations of the inferiority of the Native American. Francis Parkman in The Conspiracy of Pontiac (1851; New York, 1962), for example, declared that the "Indian is hewn out of rock. You can rarely change the form without destruction of the substance … and it is this fixed and rigid quality which has proved his ruin" (63).
See Philip L. Nicoloff, Emerson on Race and History (New York, 1961), for an example of the energy critics expend in an attempt to excuse Emerson's racist hierarchy of human essences.
39. Although I do not examine the issue in this essay, it is crucial to note Stowe's deliberate affiliation of the essential Christianity of white women and black slaves. It is not surprising that Stowe's Christian recasting of republican politics in racialist terms is recapitulated in the tenor of her feminism since both discourses are inflected by Stowe's commitment to the logic of biological essentialism.
40. Stowe, Key, 46.
41. Channing, "Emancipation," 6:88. See also Alexander Kinmont's claim that "all the sweeter graces of the Christian religion appear almost too tropical and tender plants to grow in soil of the Caucasian mind; they require a character of human nature, of which you can see the rude lineaments in the Ethiopian, to be implanted in, and grow naturally and beautifully withal" (Kinmont, Twelve Lectures, 218).
43. Ibid., 155.
44. Philip Fisher, Hard Facts (New York, 1987), 102.
45. Ibid., 119, 118-19.
46. Ibid., 98, 99.
47. For an example of this conflation of notions of the family see Domestic Individualism, in which Brown uses the notorious proslavery apologist George Fitzhugh's claims for family values to support her argument about Stowe without commenting upon the very different notions of the family that each imagines (22-23). The tradition of reading Uncle Tom's Cabin as a "profamily" novel is, of course, not recent. Ever since George Sand noted in her 1852 review that "this book is essentially domestic and of the family," critics have emphasized the absolutely domestic character of the book, but they have not discussed the particular version of the family that Stowe proposes (George Sand, "Review of Uncle Tom's Cabin," La Presse, 17 Dec. 1852). See, for instance, the essays collected in Elizabeth Ammons ed., Critical Essays on Harriet Beecher Stowe (Boston, 1980).
48. Robert Hayne, quoted in William W. Freehling, Prelude to Civil War (New York, 1966), 41.
49. C. G. Memminger, Lecture Delivered before the Young Men's Library Association of Augusta, April 10, 1851, Showing African Slavery to be Consistent with the Moral and Physical Progress of a Nation (Augusta, Ga., 1851), 14. See also Stephanie McCurry, "The Two Faces of Republicanism: Gender and Proslavery Politics in Antebellum South Carolina," The Journal of American History 78 (Mar. 1992): 1245-64, for a discussion of the ways Southerners imagined slavery as continuous with the power relations within the family, particularly the submission of the wife to the husband.
50. Memminger, Lecture, 15.
51. This claim was most forcefully presented by John Calhoun. Although Calhoun did not place the family at the center of his defense of slavery, he did emphasize the communal nature of rights and often pointed to the family as a model of natural subjection. See, for example, John C. Calhoun, "Speech on the Reception of Abolition Papers" (1837); "Speech on the Importance of Domestic Slavery" (1838). Both are reprinted on Eric L. McKitrick, Slavery Defended: The Views of the Old South (Englewood Cliffs, N.J., 1963).
52. George Fitzhugh, Sociology for the South; or, The Failure of Free Society (Richmond, 1854), 46.
53. George Fitzhugh, Cannibals All! or, Slaves without Masters, ed. C. Vann Woodward (1857; Cambridge, Mass., 1960), 36.
54. One writer in the Southern Quarterly Review, in fact, refused to call the Southern system slavery. Slavery, he argued, existed only in Europe, in the South there existed "patriarchal government," the "same form of government to which the abolitionists subject their wives and children" (Samuel A. Cartwright, "Canaan Identified with the Ethiopian," Southern Quarterly Review 2 [Oct. 1842]: 364-65).
55. Fitzhugh, Cannibals All!, 205-206. According to Fitzhugh, abolitionists have forgotten that the slave holder is obligated to his slaves:
Infant negroes, sick, helpless, aged and infirm negroes, are simply a charge to their master; he has no property in them in the common sense of the term, for they are of no value for the time, but they have the most invaluable property in him. He is bound to support them, to supply all their wants, and relieve them of all care for the present or future…. What a glorious thing to man is slavery, when want, misfortune, old age, debility, and sickness overtake him.
(Fitzhugh, Sociology, 68)
By arguing that slaves have as much property in the master as the master has in them, Fitzhugh is able to contrast the antagonism between worker and employer that characterizes Northern capitalism to the organic reciprocity of slavery. See also Eugene D. Genovese, The World the Slaveholders Made: Two Essays in Interpretation (New York, 1969), 118-244.
56. Fitzhugh, Cannibals All!, 69.
57. Ibid., 194, 198, 190 (emphasis added).
58. Ibid., 198. Indeed, in an interesting reversal of Stowe's strategy, Fitzhugh cites the statistic that "there are ten fugitives from Northern matrimony for one from Southern slavery" in order to infer "very logically" that slavery rather than capitalism promotes "real" family, or, as Fitzhugh puts it, "the necessity of abolishing the family at the North is ten times as great as that for abolishing slavery at the South" (Fitzhugh, Cannibals All!, 192).
59. George Fitzhugh, "Popular Institutions," De Bow's Review 28 (May 1860): 523.
60. Fitzhugh, Cannibals All!, 205 (emphasis added). Fitzhugh was the first writer in the United States to foreground Auguste Comte's recently coined term "sociology" in a title; Henry Hughes published A Treatise on Sociology (Philadelphia, 1854) later the same year.
61. Later in life, Fitzhugh did accept racialist premises. See Fredrickson, Black Image, 60-68. But Fitzhugh appreciated that the antimaterialist logic of the familial defense of slavery required that he not depend on race to legitimate the system. See also Hughes, Treatise on Sociology, who argued that the "ethnical qualification" of the South's labor system was, in his words, "accidental" (42).
62. Fitzhugh, "Southern Thought," De Bow's Review 23 (May 1857): 337-84; quotation on 339.
63. This is not to deny miscegenation but only to argue that Fitzhugh does not see biology as determining the relations between master and slave.
64. Unlike Severn Duvall, "Uncle Tom's Cabin: The Sinister Side of Patriarchy," in Images of the Negro in American Literature, ed. Seymour L. Gross and John Edward Hardy (Chicago, 1966), 163-80, I am not arguing that Southern representations of the family were false and that Stowe merely "exposed the legend" but that Stowe develops an alternative model of the family. In other words, before Stowe could assert the "hypocrisy" of the Southern model, she needed to propose a persuasive alternative model of the family. Thus, rather than revealing the "basic inconsistencies" or the "crushing paradoxes" of the patriarchal model of slavery, Stowe conjured these contradictions (171, 168).
65. There is a vast critical tradition, both contemporaneous and modern, that sees the fundamental problem of slavery as the "ineradicable contradiction" of treating the slave as both property and a human being. For the most concise articulation of this position, see Kenneth Stampp, The Peculiar Institution (New York, 1956). Stampp declares that "there was no way to resolve the contradiction implicit in the very term ‘human property.’ Both legislators and judges frequently appeared erratic in dealing with bondsmen as both things and persons … the slave's status as property was incompatible with his status as a person" (193). See also Mark V. Tushnet, The American Law of Slavery 1810-1860: Considerations of Humanity and Interest (Princeton, 1981); Tushnet also cannot reconcile the apparent illogic of a law that sometimes treats slaves like persons and sometimes treats them as property. By acceding to the belief that this contradiction constitutes the essence of the internal law of slavery, Tushnet continues to perpetuate the myth that persons cannot be property objects. For an exemplary literary playing out of this definition of slavery, see Walter Benn Michaels, "Romance and Real Estate," Raritan 2 (winter 1983): 66-87; reprinted both in The American Renaissance Reconsidered: Selected Papers from the English Institute, 1982-1983, ed. Walter Benn Michaels and Donald Pease (Baltimore, 1984); and in Walter Benn Michaels, Gold Standard and the Logic of Naturalism (Berkeley, 1987). In contrast to Michaels, I argue that Stowe attempts to repudiate a specific form of ownership rather than to repress or avoid the concept of ownership in itself.
66. For a discussion of the ways in which slavery cannot only be defined as a property relation, see Orlando Patterson, Slavery and Social Death (Cambridge, Mass., 1982); and M. I. Finley, Ancient Slavery and Modern Ideology (New York, 1980).
67. Stowe, Key, 69.
68. See Marc Shell, The End of Kinship (Stanford, 1988), esp. 3-25, for a discussion of the problematics of determining the "true" family.
69. Although such textual events are obviously melodramatic conventions, Stowe uses them for a particular effect.
70. This fact, as I have argued, is as true for the African as the Anglo-Saxon. And it is in this materialist account of all rights that Stowe's progressive politics become manifest.
71. I have not, of course, discussed the ways in which such racialism negatively affected those subject to such a mode of thought.
72. Tompkins, Sensational Designs, 124.
73. See J. Haller and R. Haller, The Physician and Sexuality in Victorian America (Urbana, Ill., 1974), 53-61; Caroll Smith-Rosenberg and Charles Rosenberg, "The Female Animal: Medical and Biological Views of Woman and Her Role in Nineteenth-Century America," Journal of American History 60 (Sept. 1973): 332-56; for an account of medical determinations of the essentially different biological nature of women.
74. Gayatri Spivak has suggested the ideological importance of "strategic essentialism." see "Subaltern Studies: Deconstructing Historiography" in Gayatri Spivak, In Other Worlds: Essays in Cultural Politics (New York, 1988), 197-221. The problem, in other words, is not whether essentialist concepts have been adequately expunged from contemporary theory and criticism but how such concepts are deployed and how rigorously they are theorized.
75. Karen Sánchez-Eppler, "Bodily Bonds: The Intersecting Rhetorics of Feminism and Abolitionism," Representations 24 (fall 1988): 28-59; Lauren Berlant, "The Female Complaint," Social Text 19 (autumn 1988): 237-59; Hazel Carby, Reconstructing Womanhood (New York, 1987); Jean Fagan Yellin, Women and Sisters (New Haven, 1989).
Josephine Donovan (essay date fall 1995)
SOURCE: Donovan, Josephine. "A Source for Stowe's Ideas on Race in Uncle Tom's Cabin." NWSA Journal 7, no. 3 (fall 1995): 24-34.
[In the following essay, Donovan considers the influence of Swedish mystic Emmanuel Swedenborg on Stowe's implied belief in the moral superiority of African Americans in Uncle Tom's Cabin.]
Harriet Beecher Stowe's treatment of race in Uncle Tom's Cabin (1852) and the colonization scheme with which she ends the novel have long been its most controversial features. Colonization was a term then in use for returning African Americans to Africa as a solution to the race/slavery problem. Stowe concludes Uncle Tom's Cabin by sending most of the surviving black characters—George, Eliza, their children, George's sister Emily, and Eliza's mother, Cassy—to Africa where George dreams of founding a Christian republic. In a lengthy letter George explains his colonizationist ambitions: "On the shores of Africa I see a republic" (609). "I want a country, a nation, of my own. I think that the African race has peculiarities, yet to be unfolded in the light of civilization and Christianity, which, if not the same with those of the Anglo-Saxon, may prove to be, morally, of even a higher type" (610).
As a Christian, I look for another era to arise. On its borders I trust we stand; and the throes that now convulse the nations are, to my hope, but the birth-pangs of an hour of universal peace and brotherhood.
I trust that the development of Africa is to be essentially a Christian one. If not a dominant and commanding race, [Africans] are, at least, an affectionate, magnanimous, and forgiving one. Having been called in the furnace of injustice and oppression, they have need to bind closer to their hearts that sublime doctrine of love and forgiveness, through which they alone are to conquer, which it is to be their mission to spread over the continent of Africa.
Stowe soon came to regret her decision to end the novel on a colonizationist note. Early criticism of the novel from both black and white abolitionists focused on the colonization scheme (see Donovan, Uncle Tom's Cabin 18). The 1853 American and Foreign Anti-Slavery convention meeting in New York condemned the novel's colonization ending. Stowe, however, sent a note to the convention, in which she stated that she was not (or no longer) a colonizationist. And a delegate reported that she had told him that if she were to do it again, "she would not send George Harris to Liberia" (Gossett 173, 294).
Stowe might readily have changed the ending of the novel, but her conception of Africans and African Americans as harbingers of a utopian future pervades Uncle Tom's Cabin and could not have been so easily erased. Early in the work, for example, Stowe projects a utopian future for Africa in the following exotic terms.
Life will awake there with a gorgeousness and splendor of which our cold western tribes faintly have conceived. In that far-off mystic land of gold, and gems, and spices, and waving palms, and wondrous flowers, and miraculous fertility, will awaken new forms of art, new styles of splendor; and the negro race, no longer despised and trodden down, will, perhaps, show forth some of the latest and most magnificent revelations of human life.
Stowe believed, in short, that Africans, because they are "natural" Christians, are the chosen race. They will lead humanity into a utopian future by turning Africa into a heavenly abode.
Certainly they will, in their gentleness, their lowly docility of heart, their aptitude to repose on a superior mind and rest on a higher power, their childlike simplicity of affection, and facility of forgiveness. In all these they will exhibit the highest form of the peculiarly Christian life, and, perhaps, as God chasteneth whom he loveth, he hath chosen poor Africa in the furnace of affliction, to make her the highest and noblest in that kingdom which he will set up, when every other kingdom has been tried, and failed; for the first shall be last, and the last first.
While there is much that is objectionable in this passage, I am not going to develop a critique here, since that has been done extensively elsewhere.1 The passage exemplifies what George Frederickson has called the "romantic racialism" of Uncle Tom's Cabin. Unlike modern racism, which Frederickson defines as "a belief in de facto Negro inferiority and opposition to black aspiration to equality" (Frederickson 13 n. 22), romantic racialism often posited the members of racial or ethnic groups as superior by virtue of ascribed cultural attributes. It derives from the ideas of cultural nationalism developed by nineteenth-century German scholar Gottfried von Herder, who held that cultural groups were characterized by their Volksgeist, or spiritual identity.
Thus, as the passages cited above indicate, Stowe was not a racist in the modern sense of the term (of considering one race as inferior), but she did believe Africans to have certain cultural, behavioral, and attitudinal traits (a certain Volksgeist) that made them more inclined to be good Christians than other races and ethnic groups. She saw African Americans as morally superior, and as therefore proleptic of a utopian future, established first as a Christian republic in Africa.
The source of Stowe's vision of a utopian Christian Africa appears to have been Swedish mystic Emmanuel Swedenborg (1688-1771). Swedenborg's influence on nineteenth-century ideas was extraordinary. It is well known that he provided major Romantic and Transcendentalist concepts. Not so well known is the enormous impact he had on nineteenth-century American women writers. From Lydia Maria Child and Margaret Fuller to Elizabeth Stuart Phelps and Sarah Orne Jewett, women writers picked up on as- pects of Swedenborg's doctrine (Donovan, "Jewett and Swedenborg" 748 n. 2).
I theorize that the main attraction of Swedenborgianism for these women was that it provided a feminized theological alternative to Calvinism. Unlike the stern pessimism of the latter, Swedenborgianism was a cheerful, optimistic creed that emphasized the importance of love, friendship, and good works as means to salvation, and which imagined a friendly familiar afterlife where people are retrained rather than eternally damned (Donovan, "Jewett and Swedenborg" 732; McDannell and Lang 181-83, 200). For example, what for women had been one of the most tormenting aspects of Calvinism—infant damnation—was replaced by a notion of heaven as a kind of day-care center. "When infant deaths bring children to heaven, they are given over to women who want to care for them, not to their natural mothers. It is a woman's psycho-spiritual state which enables her to rear children properly" (McDannell and Lang 221).
Charlotte Perkins Gilman presented a similar idea in her utopian novel Herland (1915), which may have derived from this Swedenborgian source. Her mother, Mary Beecher Perkins, was for a while involved with Swedenborgianism, and she and her daughter lived in a Swedenborgian collective where Swedenborg's ideas were discussed (Lane 51-52). While she later rejected Swedenborgianism, Gilman in any event was wholly familiar with its tenets and seems to have incorporated some of them in her own utopian theorizing. An even more pronounced absorption of Swedenborgian ideas about the afterlife may be seen in Elizabeth Stuart Phelps's utopian novels Beyond the Gates (1883) and The Gates Between (1886) (see Donovan, New England 94-95).
Harriet Beecher Stowe, immersed from birth in orthodox Christianity (both her father and her husband were theologians) would probably have resisted the more heterodoxic aspects of Swedenborg's theology. However, she clearly picked up his views about Africans, in particular his idea of them as feminine, as opposed to the masculine "Anglo-Saxons." As Frederickson has shown, the direct source of many of Stowe's racial theories was Alexander Kinmont, a Swedenborgian minister who lectured in Cincinnati in 1837 and 1838 (Stowe lived in Cincinnati from 1832 to 1850). His lecture series was entitled Twelve Lectures on the Natural History of Man, and the Rise and Progress of Philosophy. It is Lecture 7, "Origin and Perpetuation of Natural Races of Mankind," and part of Lecture 8, "Unity and Variety of the Human Race," that concern us here.
Kinmont believed in a kind of cultural evolution wherein the different races succeed one another in dominating the cultural and moral climate. "Caucasians" are currently dominant; other races will lead in future epochs (170, 188). When African ascendancy occurs, civilization will be milder and gentler, more truly Christian, reflecting Africans' allegedly natural predispositions. "[A] voluntary choice would never have led the Negro into exile; the peninsula of Africa is his home, and the appropriate and destined seat of his future glory and civilization … [where] humanity, in its most advanced and millenial (sic) stage, will reflect, under a sweet and mellow light, the softer attributes of the divine beneficence" (191).
Kinmont believed that "there is more of the child, of unsophisticated nature, in the Negro race than in the European" (190) but urged that this should not be seen as a sign of inferiority. Rather, as a Swedenborgian, he believed that moral progress requires not intellectual sophistication but a liberation of authentic, spontaneous emotion and unmediated intuition, becoming less educated and more like a child. "In Swedenborg's concept of spiritual progress, the soul does not become more sophisticated, as it progresses, but more childlike" (McDannell and Lang 202). Thus Africans' ascribed childlike character means they are higher on a scale of moral progress than Caucasians. Africans, Kinmont further maintains, are the "very type itself of affection and of gentleness" (199).
He argues moreover that the Caucasian race is so constituted that it has failed to nourish the "sweetness and gentle beauty of the Christian religion" (219); rather, "a race more feminine and tender-minded than the Caucasian" is required for true Christianity to flourish" (218). Caucasians are characterized by their "manly sense of justice" and "rational love of truth," but "all the sweeter graces of the Christian religion appear almost too tropical, and tender plants, to grow in the soil of the Caucasian mind" (218). Thus African traits are seen as superior; Africans' "natural ground of a sweetness and serenity of moral perception [is] more valuable than a vigorous capacity for scientific research or political legislation," which Caucasians manifest (221). In the African ascendancy, then, "the reign of goodness shall at last supersede the supremacy of truth, and the feminine prevail over masculine virtue" (200).
We do not know whether Stowe actually heard or read the Kinmont lectures, but their publication in Cincinnati in 1839 was a major local event; and given her voracious intellectual curiosity, it seems beyond question that she gave the Kinmont theories serious attention. The evidence is, in any event, apparent in Uncle Tom's Cabin, where she appears to have taken over his racial theories with little modification. I have cited above her prophesy of a future Christian-African civilization. She also adopted the notion that Africans have a naturally childlike character, considering this, as did Kinmont, a virtue that allows unmediated emotional truth and virtue full expression.2 Uncle Tom, for example, is conceived as a character who has a kind of direct intuitive understanding of good and evil and of the divine (see 209, 229). Tom's sermons, delivered in the slave quarters on the Shelby plantation, are marked by their "hearty, sincere style": "Nothing could exceed the touching simplicity, the childlike earnestness of his prayer, enriched with the language of Scripture, which seemed so entirely to have wrought itself into his being, as to have become a part of himself, and to drop from his lips unconsciously" (79). Tom thus has a direct, unmediated religion; he is a "natural" Christian.3 In his religious discussions with one of his owners, Augustine St. Clare, who is agnostic, Tom again expresses an intuitive faith. "How do you know there's any Christ, Tom!" St. Clare asks. "You never saw the Lord." Tom responds, "Felt Him in my soul, Mas'r" (436). When Tom analyzes a biblical passage, St. Clare remarks in surprise, "this is all real to you!" (437). And he asks Tom whether his own sophisticated skepticism does not shake Tom's faith. No, Tom replies, because the Lord "hides from the wise and prudent, and reveals unto babes" (437).
Stowe also subscribed to Kinmont's notion that the Caucasians or "Anglo-Saxons" are more masculine, analytical, and "a more coldly and strictly logical race" (Stowe, The Key [The Key to Uncle Tom's Cabin ] 155). In seeing Africans as repositories of feminine sensitivities, Stowe's romantic racialism combined with her utopian feminism, in which she, like many nineteenth-century cultural feminists, hoped the ascendancy of women would mean, as Margaret Fuller put it, a "reign of plant-like gentleness" (113).4
Swedenborg's own views about Africans consisted mainly in some sketchy remarks made in his Spiritual Diaries (1747-65) and his Last Judgment Posthumous (1762). Although a decidedly minor and obscure tributary of his overall work, these texts nevertheless became an important source of early colonizationist theory.
In the Spiritual Diaries (no. 5946) Swedenborg claims that in the interior of Africa there are those "who communicate with the angels of heaven; that the communication is not by speech from angels but through interior perception" (qtd. in Odhner 259).5 In another entry (no. 5518) he claims, "the Africans are they who on our earth are of the genius in which are the angels of the celestial kingdom" (qtd. in Odhner 255); and "they … possess a book which is the Word to them, but it is not like ours. It is written in like manner by correspondences. It was written through enlightened men: these are in Africa" (no. 5909, qtd. in Odhner 255).
Swedenborgians, like most Gnostic mystics, were very interested in discovering an unmediated language, a presymbolic communication, where "words" and "things" coalesce. The American Swedenborgian Sampson Reed, for example, hypothesized a prelapsarian world in which "there is a language, not of words but of things": "Adam and Eve knew no language but their garden. They had nothing to communicate by words; for they had not the power of concealment" (Cameron 266; see also Donovan, "Jewett and Swedenborg" 742).
Thus Swedenborg's theorizing about Africans must be seen in the context of this search for unmediated "language." The Africans' mystical book also appears to be written in a symbolic code of "correspondences" rather than in linguistic script. Correspondences in Swedenborgian theory are moral and spiritual allegorical representations whereby earthly figures signify a corresponding heavenly or spiritual feature ("as above, so below"). While the character and contents of this knowledge remain vague, the idea of direct nonrational, nonverbal access to truth is clear enough and it is this idea that Kinmont and apparently also Stowe picked up on.
In the Last Judgment Posthumous Swedenborg claims that "the best and wisest are in the interior of Africa…. The Africans are more receptive of the Heavenly Doctrines than most others on this earth, because they readily accept the Doctrine…. They are in the faculty of receiving truths of faith and especially its goods, because they are of a celestial genius" (qtd. in Odhner 256). Swedenborg believed that Africans are the closest to heaven among human races, largely because of their intuitive, preverbal perceptual abilities, which allow direct apprehension of spiritual realities. African life for Swedenborg "most clearly resembles life in the celestial kingdom. When Africans die they form communities and live much the same way they did on earth. Africans ‘think interiorly’ and actively follow their religion and its laws out of love," as opposed to Europeans who follow doctrine not out of love but out of deference to its authority (McDannell and Lang 201). Swedenborg divided heaven itself into three spheres: the natural, the spiritual, and the celestial. Africans corresponded to the highest sphere, the celestial, while Europeans only correlated to the middle sphere, the spiritual.6
Thus Uncle Tom in Stowe's novel exemplifies the "celestial genius" that Swedenborg saw as characteristic of Africans; he thinks "interiorly" and intuits truth preverbally, and his understanding of scripture is rooted in love—"Felt Him in my soul, Mas'r" (Stowe, Uncle Tom's Cabin 436).
Swedenborg was strongly opposed to the enslavement of Africans, and Swedenborgian adherents established what was apparently the first abolition society in the world in Sweden in 1779. It founders—Carl Bernhard Wadström and Augustus Nordenskjöld—also developed the first colonization plan, having as its purpose to abolish slavery and "to create the New Jerusalem in Africa" (Paley 83). Nordenskjöld went to Sierra Leone in 1792 to participate in the British founding of a colony of free blacks and whites. In following the Swedenborgian idea that Africans in the interior "maintained a direct intuition of God," Nordenskjöld (according to Wadström) "signified an ardent desire to penetrate immediately into the country, where he always hoped to find an innocent, hospitable people, among whom he could pursue his researches" (Paley 83). Wadström published three influential antislavery and procolonization works: An Essay on Colonization (1794-95), Observations on the Slave Trade and a Description of Some Parts of the Coast of Guinea (1789), and (with Nordenskjöld) A Plan for a Free Community on the West Coast of Guinea (1789).
The Sierra Leone colony, peopled in part by American ex-slaves freed by the British during the American Revolution, became a prototype for American colonization theorizing, which intensified after the Revolutionary War. In 1816 the American Society for Colonizing the Free People of Color in the United States (generally referred to as the Colonization Society) was formed.
While some early American proponents appear to have endorsed the Swedenborgian idea of Africans as a spiritually gifted elect establishing a paradisiacal society in Africa (see Staudenraus 18, 20, 38), the idea does not seem to have taken hold in the American colonization movement, which became progressively conservative and racist in its views.
Indeed, the black abolition movement appears to have arisen in the early nineteenth century largely as a reaction against the growing popularity of the white-led colonization movement. In his work Black Protest Robert C. Dick notes that
colonization was a most pressing issue demanding a response from black men early in their crusade for freedom…. The launching of the Freedom's Journal, the issuance of David Walker's Appeal, and the calling of the first National Negro Convention all came about at least partly in response to colonization, particularly to the plan of the white-sponsored American Colonization Society to export free blacks to the West Coast of Africa.
Between 1817 and 1830 numerous conventions of free blacks condemned colonization. Their statements were published in 1832 as Part 2 of William Lloyd Garrison's Thoughts on African Colonization (1-76). Garrison, a leading white abolitionist, also vehemently opposed colonization, seeing it as a ploy to subvert abolition and to weaken the black protest movement (by removing free blacks from proximity to slaves and thereby rendering them incapable of inciting slave rebellion) (21). Moreover, as Garrison notes, colonization rhetoric became increasingly racist, characterizing African Americans as debased and degenerate in order to legitimatize the idea of deportation to whites (124-28). Thus by mid-century the American Colonization Society was far removed from the Swedenborgian vision of a utopian Africa peopled by diaspora Africans.
Harriet Beecher Stowe's attraction to the Swedenborgian theory is therefore anomalous in the American historical context—of both the colonization and the abolition movements. One of the main supporters of colonization in the United States was, however, Harriet's father, Lyman Beecher. At the Lane Theological Seminary in Cincinnati, where Beecher served as president for several years, twenty-one of the twenty-five trustees were colonizationists, but the student body tended toward the abolitionist position. Lengthy debates on the issue were held in the 1830s. By 1852 all of the Beecher children—except Harriet and Catharine—had abandoned colonizationism and became abolitionists (Kirkham 23-27). And, as noted, Stowe repudiated colonizationism in 1853.
So Stowe's adherence to the colonization plot in Uncle Tom's Cabin could not have been an offhand decision; colonization must have been an issue she had devoted considerable attention to. That she was swayed largely by the Swedenborgian view of Africans and Africa as millennial and proleptic reveals something about her own visionary yearnings, reflecting what Ernst Bloch has called "anticipatory illumination." All great art, he maintains, expresses a dialectical critique of social evil and offers prophetic glimpses of alternative possibilities (Zipes xxvi-xxvii). Stowe's vision of Africa in Uncle Tom's Cabin projects this utopian hope.7
While Stowe does not detail the specifics of the imagined African utopia, in general her utopian imagination projected a world dominated by cultural-feminist values. Like many other utopian women writers, Stowe dreamed of a society that was "home-like" and governed by a female value system. It was a society, as Carol Pearson has noted, that had "done away with the division between the inhumane marketplace and the humane hearth," and that was patterned "on the principles which have ideally governed the home" (qtd. in Kolmerten 74).8
In the tradition of American women's utopian writing only two subsequent writers seem to have picked up on the colonization scheme and projected Africa as a utopian locale, but their elaborations are of some significance. Both probably wrote their works in response to Uncle Tom's Cabin.
First was Sarah Josepha Hale, more or less Stowe's contemporary and celebrated as the editor of Godey's Lady's Book, a women's journal. Hale developed a colonization scheme in two novels. In 1852, the same year as the book publication of Uncle Tom's Cabin, Hale revised her novel Northwood for its fifth edition, retitling it North and South: Showing the True Character of Both and adding a colonization plot. According to Barbara A. White, in that work Hale proposed first teaching slaves Christianity and then sending them to Africa to "plant Free States and organize Christian civilization" (White 214). It seems likely Hale borrowed this idea from Uncle Tom's Cabin (which had appeared in serial form the preceding year).
In 1853 Hale elaborated these ideas in the novel Liberia; or, Mr. Peyton's Experiments, which concludes with the establishment of a utopia in Africa by the "Liberian Colonization Society." Carol Farley Kessler in her study of American women's utopias notes that Hale's work is the only full-scale nineteenth-century utopian novel that dealt with the subject (Kessler 10, 237).
Even more significant, however, is the fact that the first utopian novel by an African American woman—Five Generations Hence (1916) by Lillian B. Jones—followed a colonization plot. In this novel the protagonist is a black woman whose "life work" is promoting colonization: "convincing Negroes that they should emigrate to Africa, where five generations hence, they can live a utopian existence" (Kolmerten 120). By the end of the novel many of the main characters have emigrated to Africa, where they found not a paradise but nevertheless a place where through hard work they could achieve a measure of success (ibid.). One might hypothesize that Jones proposed this more realistic view of Africa in response to Stowe's exotic Swedenborgian a fantasy in Uncle Tom's Cabin. If so, Jones's work fits into a tradition of African American critiques of Uncle Tom's Cabin (see Donovan, Uncle Tom's Cabin 19).
Thus Swedenborg's utopian ideas about Africa and Africans became an important source for Harriet Beecher Stowe's similar utopian projections in Uncle Tom's Cabin. While her decision to end the novel on the colonizationist theme may have been hastily and poorly conceived (as noted, she soon regretted it), Swedenborgian ideas on race infuse the novel and help to explain Stowe's conception of African American characters, especially that of her protagonist, the slave Tom.
1. For a further discussion see Donovan, Uncle Tom's Cabin 19-20, 55-56, 92, 94-95. I do wish to note here that the phrase that seems to be the most patently racist—"their aptitude to repose on a superior mind"—likely refers to God rather than to whites, and therefore is simply a further indication of Stowe's notion that Africans have a "natural" tendency toward religious devotion. Today, of course, we find such egregious generalizations both erroneous and offensive.
2. In her new biography Joan Hedrick suggests that Stowe's emphasis on "childlike dependence" in African Americans stems from the fact that her main experience with African Americans was with domestic servants (209). Hedrick also considers that Stowe hadn't really thought through the implications of her "colonizationist valedictory" (235).
3. Stowe is not entirely consistent in her characterization of African Americans. Topsy, for ex- ample, probably the most "natural" character in the novel, having had no education or socialization when she is discovered by St. Clare, is hardly a natural Christian. Indeed, she tends to exemplify the idea that goodness is environmentally produced, rather than innate, for she becomes a devout Christian only after years of education. Kinmont did believe, however, that the moral and political environment has a significant influence on the development of cultural traits (175), but he does not explain how the African cultural environment created natural Christians.
Another ideological source for Tom's (and Eva's) natural religiosity is Edwardsean Calvinism. See Donovan, Uncle Tom's Cabin 57, 78.
4. Fuller was heavily influenced by Swedenborg. See Urbanski 159-60 and Donovan, Feminist Theory 35-36.
5. J. Durban Odhner, a contemporary Swedenborgian, believes the modern Ituri Pygmies of Zaire are the tribe Swedenborg described. Odhner visited them in Africa and found them to be "sweet child-like" with a "simple, exquisitely perceptive lovingness" (265). They exhibit no cruelty, have no sense of possession, and have amazing psychic powers (268).
6. There is apparently an ancient tradition in European thought of locating the biblical paradise or Garden of Eden in Africa, particularly in Ethiopia, and of postulating the existence of a body of natural Christians in Africa. Thus when Portuguese explorers began voyaging along the African west coast in the fifteenth century, "one of their principal aims was to find a channel of communication with that mysterious Christian kingdom," according to Henri Baudet (18; see also 15-17). The bon nègre was thus an early version of the "noble savage," which superseded it in the European mind in the sixteenth century (Baudet 26). So Swedenborg may have been tapping into this tradition.
7. On a moral level one might well criticize Stowe for using a group she did not belong to as a vehicle for her own millenarian hopes.
8. On the cultural-feminist values in Uncle Tom's Cabin see Ammons, Berkson, and Tompkins; on Stowe's "female Arcadia" in her local-color novels see Donovan, New England 50-67; and on nineteenth-century cultural feminism in general see Donovan, Feminist Theory 31-63.
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Paley, Morton D. "‘A New Heaven Is Begun’: William Blake and Swedenborgianism." Blake 13 (1979): 64-91.
Staudenraus, P. J. The African Colonization Movement, 1816-1865. New York: Columbia UP, 1961.
Stowe, Harriet Beecher. The Key to "Uncle Tom's Cabin." 1853. New York: Arno, 1968.
———. Uncle Tom's Cabin; or Life among the Lowly. 1852. Ed. Ann Douglas. New York: Penguin, 1981.
Tompkins, Jane P. "Sentimental Power: Uncle Tom's Cabin and the Politics of Literary History." The New Feminist Criticism: Essays on Women, Literature, and Theory. Ed. Elaine Showalter. New York: Pantheon, 1985. 81-104.
Urbanski, Marie Mitchell Olesen. Margaret Fuller's "Woman in the Nineteenth Century." Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1980.
White, Barbara A. "Sarah Josepha Buell Hale." American Women Writers: A Critical Reference Guide from Colonial Times to the Present. Ed. Lina Mainiero. 4 vols. New York: Ungar, 1980. 4: 211-16.
Zipes, Jack. Introduction to The Utopian Function of Art and Literature by Ernst Bloch. Cambridge: MIT P, 1988.
Cynthia Griffin Wolff (essay date December 1995)
SOURCE: Wolff, Cynthia Griffin. "‘Masculinity’ in Uncle Tom's Cabin." American Quarterly 47, no. 4 (December 1995): 595-618.
[In the following essay, Wolff investigates Stowe's "radically revisionist notions" of manliness in Uncle Tom's Cabin and the factional nature of the abolitionist movement.]
In his analysis of the three thousand page Beecher Tilton adultery trial (1875), historian Richard Wightman Fox comments upon the difficulty of retrieving meaning from this Victorian discourse of sentiment and gender: "Both the spoken and written word meant something different to them than they do to us."1 And if the language of 1875 is opaque to a modern reader, the language of 1852-1853—carrying as it does the freight of confusion, fear, and factionalism that followed the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850—is even more so. Uncle Tom's Cabin was written in the immediate wake of that act and was a direct consequence of it. Thus, whatever our ultimate judgment of Mrs. Stowe's immensely popular antislavery novel, we must recognize the extent to which its discourse is encoded by the dense semiotics of this singular historical moment.
From the beginning, Uncle Tom's Cabin was controversial; one of Stowe's consistent responses to her critics was to cite the novel's polemical aim. It was intended neither as entertainment nor as a "realistic" portrayal of slavery: "slavery, in some of its workings, is too dreadful for the purposes of art," the author observed bitterly. "A work which should represent it strictly as it is would be a work which could not be read."2 In fact, this piece of propaganda became so much more popular than any other narrative of slavery that its discourse must have touched deep reservoirs of responsive passion; somehow, its language transcended even the issue of slavery in 1852. Designed as a polemic, it became perhaps the most brilliantly successful piece of political writing in history.
In approaching Uncle Tom's Cabin, perhaps the single most important thing to remember is that, contrary to what we might suppose today, in the America of 1850, abolition was an unpopular, minority cause; its proponents were generally regarded as a dangerous, unsavory fringe group—trouble-making radicals who were not "received" in polite social circles.3 "Proper" readers of all classes nurtured an appalling tolerance for the institution of slavery. Stowe's intended audience was, by definition, white (there was no need to convince African Americans of slavery's evils), and it was an almost uniformly hostile audience. Thus the novel's success is astonishing in every way.
Given the moral urgency with which she felt her propagandistic mission, Stowe was constrained to maneuver carefully when formulating her imaginative construction of "slavery." Myra Jehlen has observed that simply by taking black men and women seriously as fictional entities—postulating that they might even become "heroic"—Stowe's literary endeavor presented "an overwhelming challenge to the existing law and order." More recently, Joan Hedrick has concurred in her major biography of the author: "Just the mere act of carefully listening to and recording the voices of a colonized people acknowledges their presence and their self-created subjectivity."4 Today's readers may trivialize such strategies (and may be inclined to pay more attention to the novel's undeniable traces of sentimental racism). However, at the time, these were bold, radical innovations—experiments that enraged many readers and even fellow abolitionists.5
Inevitably, perhaps, writing this polemic was a delicate balancing act. On the one hand, Stowe could not allow her revolutionary fictional world—a novel "peopled" by black American slaves—to offend the conservative, often bigoted readers whose support of the slave system she hoped to undermine. On the other hand, to avoid alienating her fellow abolitionists (people whose sentiments had already been shaped by particular allegiances or elaborate theories and thus people who often disagreed with each other), she had to be circumspect regarding a series of issues that were being debated within the antislavery movement itself. The consequent narrative is filled with snares for an unwary twentieth-century reader.
For example, the vast majority of whites believed that African Americans were by "nature" emotionally, intellectually, and morally inferior—more like farm animals than people and not worthy of sustained attention. Marketing a "sympathetic" slave novel of any length or complexity to such an audience (not to mention a novel of such Balzacian scope) was an extraordinary feat; prior to Stowe, no one had done anything like it. Thus both the vast popularity and the intimate appeal of Uncle Tom's Cabin, which we may take unthinkingly for granted today, were probably its most astonishing achievements in 1852. The success of the novel and the seductive immediacy of its principal characters conferred unprecedented respectability on the cause of abolition.
To get at the reasons for the astonishing success of Uncle Tom's Cabin —indeed, fully to comprehend the meaning of this work (with sensibility in many ways so foreign to our own)—requires a two-part excursion. The first part of the journey examines the terms that were used in 1850 to deliberate the vexed issue of "manliness," for one essential element of Stowe's abolitionist argument relies upon radically revisionist notions of "masculinity." The second component explores, at least in part, the complex, often contentious network of factions (both white and African American) within the abolitionist movement itself. Only with these as a lengthy preface can we understand Stowe's tactics as polemicist/novelist; only thus can we begin to discern the sources of her success.* * *
The years from 1840 to 1860 constituted a generalized age of reform and social unrest in this country. Some causes have been largely forgotten (temperance and the establishment of vegetarian communal societies); some seem surprisingly contemporary (the women's rights movement and school reform). Certainly abolition was one such movement; however, it was far from encapsulated or isolated, for many abolitionists were themselves affiliated with other movements, crusades, or loose theoretical associations: Fourierism, female suffrage, evangelical Christianity, and transcendentalism (to name just a few). Often, the issue of gender was at stake, for during the mid-1850s, defining the appropriate social roles for men and women and delineating appropriate ways of enacting femininity and masculinity were being hotly debated in a variety of arenas.
Almost twenty years ago, Ann Douglas described a process that she termed the "feminization" of America. Douglas's work took two things for granted: that feminization was an intrinsically devitalizing force and that it was associated with an essentially conservative strain of American politics in the mid-nineteenth century.6 Feminist study compels us to wonder whether feminization ought ever to be casually dismissed as negative; recent scholarship makes it clear that we cannot limit this less belligerent definition of masculinity to an essentially conservative process rather than understanding its equally powerful ties with radical attempts to expand or alter the social definitions of both genders. To do so would be to ignore precisely the difficulty Fox has described: written and spoken words that meant "something different to them than they do to us."
Since the publication of Ann Douglas's book, a great deal of excellent work has linked Uncle Tom's Cabin with Stowe's acknowledged esteem for the force of the mother, and some of these studies have encouraged us to infer that Tom's manliness had been compromised, his aggressive masculinity relinquished for the more feminine values of sentiment. However, as the study of mid-nineteenth-century femininity expanded, a correlative study of masculinity during the same period began. The results of these, when combined with an analysis of the abolitionists' own agonized disagreements about masculinity, enable us to appreciate the complexity of Stowe's slave hero and allow us to comprehend the paradox of a thoroughly masculine protagonist who exhibits apparently feminine virtues. Perhaps most important, it will even help us to understand the immense popularity of Stowe's propagandistic narrative in 1852.7
During the century preceding the publication of Uncle Tom's Cabin, generally accepted definitions of masculinity underwent a number of changes in America. Our Puritan heritage had offered a balanced definition of manly behavior: "For men [there was] a compromise between communal ideal and individual desire[;] assertive individualism was contained without being suppressed."8 The era of revolution began to disrupt this equilibrium: although the civic virtues that promoted the establishment of a viable new nation were not dismissed, self-assertiveness and the demand for individual freedom attained new respectability. As the country moved forward, this balance tilted increasingly toward aggression and competition:
Men were using manliness with new meanings[;] they were also creating a new society based on the free expression of the traditional manly passions—assertiveness, ambition, avarice, lust for power.
While Franklin [had clothed] the reality of his entrepreneurial success in the appearance of retrospective patrician mellowness, a newer generation would seek the main chance with less attentiveness either to self-image or civic usefulness…. The bullyboys now set the pace and the model for manhood in the marketplace. The social structure no longer restrained them.9
By mid-nineteenth century, a formulaic image of ruthless, power-hungry American manhood had developed: "To be a real man, as every foreign observer remarked of Americans at this time, was to have strong opinions on a narrow range of subjects while bending one's life and liberty to the pursuit of money and property."10 Traits such as self-sacrifice and sensitivity to the needs of others were anathema to this crude masculine stereotype. Such "virtues" were deemed feminine—ignominious and sissy!
Yet, if this self-assertive, acquisitive, power-hungry stereotype of masculinity in America seemed an inevitable paradigm to many, it seemed more like a parody to others; thus, there were powerful currents of resistance to it that urged alternative, nonaggressive norms for men.
As David Leverenz and others have shown, the widely read literature of the American Renaissance itself offered a substantial challenge to such coarse definitions of manliness, and "for men in or aspiring to the middle and upper classes of towns and cities, manners were a form of emotional expression as well as emotional control or restraint."11 Agitation for female suffrage and for reform of the laws governing marriage and property was another locus of resistance, one that generally proposed a more sensitive, other-directed, and pacific role for men.12 Organized religion was often another site of opposition, as was the emergent peace movement, which was sometimes (but not always) associated with abolitionism.13
Finally, within the abolition movement itself, there was a powerful, often urgent inclination to redefine masculinity. Influenced in part by affinities with the female suffrage movement, in part by evangelical Christianity, in part by the peace movement, in small part by transcendentalism, and in large part by what seemed the political realities of the moment, a considerable number of abolitionists began to formulate fundamental criticisms of America's culture and of its sense of mission as a country; as part of this revisionary attitude, more than a few saw belligerent, combatative masculinity as one source of the nation's moral and political crisis.
They deplored the extent to which America had always enacted its notions of masculinity through expressions of conquest and colonization; by mid-century, they devoted their energies to addressing the most flagrant of these—the institution of slavery and such national undertakings as the Mexican War (in their view, a blatant expression of rapacious, expansionist slave power). Thus, in his examination of the causes and consequences of the Mexican War (1849), the abolitionist William Jay elaborated an alternative notion of "patriotism" while warning
against that admiration of military prowess, which, by degrading in the public estimation the virtues which conduce to the happiness and security of society, and by fostering the arts and passions which minister to human destruction, is corrupting the morals and jeopard[iz]ing the liberties of the Republic.
Writing scornfully of bloody battlefield atrocities that "have been loudly trumpeted as instances of American patriotism and heroism," Jay urged a vision of masculinity and national honor that "entailed a development of that benevolence which springs from moral goodness." He exhorted Americans to turn their "efforts and costly sacrifices of time and money [to] the temporal and spiritual welfare of [their] fellow-countrymen [because] it is chiefly by such patriotism … that our land is clothed with moral verdure and beauty."14 In many ways, then, Jay was urging a return to Revolutionary and pre-Revolutionary mores—that is, a revival of notions of masculinity that prized communal well-being over ruthless individual acquisition.
Withal, the message of these abolitionists was concise. The slave system is no less than an internalized, systematized, and legally perpetuated enactment of conquest and colonization; thus it followed that so long as American culture glorified conquest, America would continue to condone some form of slavery. Moreover (so the argument ran), to the extant that masculinity continued to be defined by conquest, men, as opposed to women, would be especially inclined to perpetuate the slave system. Effective abolition, then, required a redefinition of the roles of men and women and of each member's rights and duties in an honorable Republic.
The most extravagant revisionist sentiments came from a part of the abolitionist movement that was powerfully influenced by evangelical Christianity; in response to unpopular wars and immoral forms of oppression (of women, of native Americans, and of blacks), these activists united in pursuit of a mode of interaction that they termed "fraternal love."
For both moral and practical reasons, William Lloyd Garrison insisted that wide-sweeping reform was to be achieved solely by means of moral suasion and nonviolent resistance. The precept of fraternal love took these anti-aggressive beliefs to an even more extreme level; such men as Henry Ward Beecher, Gerrit Smith, and Samuel J. May (cofounder of the American Antislavery Society and perhaps Garrison's most ardent ally) sought to integrate this more compassionate, less aggressive definition of masculinity into every aspect of their lives.
No ordinary bonds of friendship cemented the Garrisonian antislavery community…. Devotion and intimate social rituals tightly bound the outcast group, providing its members with the strength to withstand withering public scorn and personal violence. Their expressions of love imitated the biblical relationship of Jonathan and David, reflecting the Garrisonian attempt to reenact the social relations of the primitive Christian church….
May's religious beliefs and his social criticism stressed cooperation over competition, love and forgiveness over retribution, and a prudent submission over violent resistance.15
Fraternal love entirely repudiated competition and conquest as the basis for masculine relationships. In their place, it encouraged expressions of lavish affection between (heterosexual) men. Male friends routinely exchanged kisses when greeting one another and passionate letters when separated:
On one occasion, Elizabeth, Theodore [Tilton's] wife, discovered [Henry Ward] Beecher on her husband's lap, both engaged in a discussion of the Sermon on the Mount. When Elizabeth entered the room, Beecher rose and greeted her with a kiss then resumed his seat with Tilton.16
Most important insofar as abolition was concerned, the doctrine of fraternal love elaborated its own deeply venerated "patriotic" virtues. Because the abolitionists had always believed slavery to be an expression of oppressive, hierarchical "patriarchy," this new definition of the masculine mode mandated cooperation and harmonious communal living rather than subjugation and domination, and the attempts to put such a theory into practice could be found in many of the utopian communities that were begun during this period.
The man most "representative" of these radical revisions of the masculine role was Jesus. "Humanity is dual, and yet when perfected it is one"; as that perfect "one" incarnate, Jesus united all virtues, both male and female, in androgynous harmony. Moreover, far from having become weakened or ineffectual through the enactment of his nonviolent beliefs, Jesus became the ultimate (and ultimately effective) revolutionary: "He rejected vengeance but possessed the courage ‘to assail wrong-doing in the highest places.’ His opposition to injustice and doctrine of non-resistance could be employed to challenge the ‘men of property and standing’ who opposed the ‘Christian’ cause of abolitionism."17
Some variant of this image of Jesus—at one and the same time "heroic," "loving," and "manly"—permeated abolitionist thought and propaganda; according to this construction of the "Savior," the fact that he died for our sins was a good deal less significant than the fact that he succeeded in his mission. As the supreme radical, so the argument ran, he put together the most effective political organization in human history, the early Christian Church; and his triumphant tactics set a standard to which these nonviolent social agitators could always appeal. Little wonder, then, that the slaves' sufferings as "portrayed in abolitionist art [are] reminiscent of scenes from sacred history" or that the final masthead of The Liberator (first used on May 31, 1850) had the dominant figure of the risen Christ superimposed upon its images of enslaved and freed blacks.18 Suffering was not naively presumed to be an end in itself; it was thought to be the agonizing precursor of enduring moral and political victory.
The ardent proponents of fraternal love—that is, the absolute purists—were probably not inordinately numerous. However, the general beliefs that they had intensified—a desire to revise America's notions of masculinity, a dismay at America's policy of ruthless expansion, and a commitment to communal and Christ-like values rather than to aggressive and competitive ones—were very widespread indeed. Such beliefs (in part or in whole) touched a responsive chord not merely in abolitionists but also in suffragists, in pious Christians, in proponents of the peace movement, and in many (but not all) who sympathized with transcendentalist sentiments. Hence, to the extent that Harriet Stowe's novel gave compassionate life to these notions, it touched an immense web of loosely intertwined sympathies and appealed to a very large and surprisingly diverse audience.* * *
Of course, such convictions were not unchallenged, even within the abolitionist movement. Although Garrison, May, Beecher, and the other white abolitionists often made a self-conscious attempt to enact this new notion of masculinity in their everyday lives, the most pressing issues of "non-aggression" for these men were generally less personal and private than political and public. Should America as a nation engage in conquest and colonization? Did the Constitution condone slavery, and if it did, should right-thinking men engage in violent means of protest? Ultimately, should the nation engage in a civil war to settle the issue of slavery? To be sure, their renunciation of violence in the service of their political aims often became a source of personal pain. As a noisy fringe group, the abolitionists were generally shunned, often harassed, sometimes subjected to violence, and occasionally assassinated; as political protestors, under all such provocations, they were obliged to respond with only passive resistance—they took blows but never returned them. Nonetheless, as private individuals, they had always been free to choose between a definition of masculinity built upon patterns of domination and one built upon cooperation, love, and forgiveness—they were free to explore the possibilities for fraternal love (and all of its implications) in safety among friends and the members of their families. Even so, there were objections to Garrison's inflexibly nonviolent posture; and if some white abolitionists were uncomfortable with this commitment, the black abolitionists were even more so.
As early as 1829, David Walker's Appeal called for militancy from black Americans, urging them "to prove their manhood, to rise up and take their freedom by force if necessary." Always, the relationship between militancy and "manhood" was deeply vexed for African Americans.19
Unlike white men, the black men of America had never been allowed the option of aggression, conquest, and domination as a mode of asserting or defining their masculinity—in public or in private. Their condition of servitude had withheld all just forms of competition and all honorable forms of authority and compelled them instead into postures of passivity and acquiescence that had been specifically designed to signify humiliation. For many—probably for most—the personal satisfaction of being able to respond with violence to the violence of a white man's tyranny was a deeply cherished hope (after Frederick Douglass's Autobiography was published, some such moment may have been the most "authentic" element in the slave's narrative), and relinquishing even the possibility of asserting aggression as a way of proving manhood was difficult.
As early as 1843, the black abolitionist Henry Highland Garnet began to promote the idea of forming a political party that was defined by its antislavery agenda; in doing so, Garnet "drew upon one of the most powerful justifications for the link between physical prowess and masculinity in American gender ideals—the responsibility of men to protect their families."20
You act as though your daughters were born to pamper the lusts of your masters and overseers…. And worst of all, you timidly submit while your lords tear your wives from your embraces and defile them before your eyes. In the name of God, we ask, are you men? Where is the blood of your fathers?21
Garnet spoke for an increasing number of African Americans. Simple justice and the universal human desire for revenge both cried out for brutal retaliation against abusive slave holders. Nonetheless, prudence dictated caution. However "justifiable" aggressive masculinity seemed, however appealing it was, "most blacks understood the dangers [that] the relatively powerless slaves faced and the probable consequences of slave rebellion"—namely, massive retaliatory slaughtering of blacks by whites.22 Thus, although he argued for militancy, Garnet "did not urge a revolution [because] ‘Your numbers are too small.’"23 He could see all too well the folly of attempting to free blacks through any means that brought about their wholesale slaughter.
What is more, it had always been the case that many black abolitionists supported only nonviolent tactics (and some version of its concomitant definition of "masculinity"). The struggle to reach freedom in the north had sobered many; they had found sanctuary in such inward-looking, generally pacifist utopian communities as the Northampton Association—one of whose prominent members was Sojourner Truth, who had settled there looking for a "quiet place."24 During the late 1840s, when Frederick Douglass began to doubt the efficacy of nonresistance, Sojourner Truth
heard him persuading an audience to believe that slavery could only be destroyed by blood. Disturbed, she waited till he sat down after his speech, and then, when a hush of deep concern had come over the audience, she called out sharply, "Frederick, is God dead?" In a flash, the audience swung to her view.25
Thus, these issues of masculinity and of fraternal love were both complex and deeply troubling—more troubling to African Americans than to whites. The passage of the Fugitive Slave Bill in September 1850 made the question both more urgent and even more problematic than it had ever been previously.26
At this point, the entire spectrum of violent behavior had become a matter of immediate contemplation and concern. Outrage over the Compromise of 1850 was so great that virtually all abolitionists felt that a resort to violence in the protection of fugitive slaves was justifiable; still, none but the most reckless firebrands urged or supported slave rebellions or even violent retaliation on the part of any individual slave. Common sense still understood that the insurgents themselves would be the principal casualties of such actions.27
Consequently, a relatively coherent nonviolent resistance movement began to emerge among blacks as even dignitaries such as Frederick Douglass encountered prejudice in the north. A diversified array of strategies and techniques were developed.
Blacks made antislavery statements by refusing to compromise with racist practices. They personally challenged acts of discrimination, testifying to their courage, conviction, and commitment to equality. Sarah M. Douglass withdrew from a Quaker congregation rather than suffer the indignity of the "negro pew." Robert Purvise refused to pay his property tax when his children were barred from attending the public schools.28
However, confronted with the fact that racial prejudice in the "free" north was fully as intransigent as that in the south—confronted with the nightmare specter of slave catchers patrolling the streets and seizing dark-skinned men and women to be shipped into slavery unless they were able to exhibit proof of their right to freedom (for the burden of proof fell always upon the victim)—blacks began to wonder whether they would ever be able to make an acceptable life for themselves anywhere in America, even if slavery were abolished. Not surprisingly, they began to leave the country in droves; tragically, they had great difficulty finding suitable refuge.29
Once again then, twenty years after the recolonization movement had been angrily rejected because of its thinly disguised racism, the possibility of blacks' emigrating from America was revived. The prominent African-American minister from Rhode Island Alexander Crummell is a good illustration in point. During the early 1840s, he vigorously opposed the efforts of the American Colonization Society on the grounds that they represented nothing more than the vicious efforts of racist whites to rid the country of "inferior" and "troublesome" people. Like most abolitionists of that time, he had been a staunch integrationist. Little by little, however,
he became convinced of the immense potential for black development in a setting controlled by Christian, Westernized blacks…. Liberia, a small nation dominated by former slaves and free blacks from the United States, became the focus of Crummell's vision of the regeneration of the black race…. Given Crummell's strong beliefs as to the worth of "unmixed blacks" and his hostility to the pretensions of mulattoes, his sympathies were drawn to the "pure black" faction [in Liberia politics].30
By the end of the 1840s, many African Americans had turned from integrationism to separatism; separatists—such as Henry Bibb, the powerful editor of Voice of the Fugitive—had begun to look for some "place" where blacks could form an entirely differentiated and independent community, and one of the greatest proselytizers of this movement "was the in- fluential Henry Highland Garnet…. ‘I hesitate not to say that my mind of late has greatly changed in regard to the American Colonization scheme,’ he wrote on January 21, 1848, [even before the Fugitive Slave Act]. ‘I would rather see a man free in Liberia than a slave in the United States.’"31 By the fall of 1851, Henry Bibb, J. T. Fisher, and James Theodore Holly were developing "plans for emigration and continental black unity" in anticipation of the North American Anti-Slavery Convention at Toronto.32 Although many black abolitionists still violently opposed the "colonization" movement and would continue to do so throughout the decade, an incipient enthusiasm for black nationalism was rumbling throughout America.
Even the temperamental Martin Delaney had begun to express "back to Africa" sentiments of a sort that would come to full flower in the late 1850s. During the late 1840s, he expressed a series of confusingly conflicted attitudes toward colonization in general and Africa in particular. Originally committed to a "self-help" philosophy (the hope that America might be an "open" society in which African Americans would achieve the same kind of success as whites), Delaney began to lose faith in this vision.
Between 1849 and 1852 [he decided] that all blacks were, after all, treated as debased pariahs and subject to "a prejudice of caste." Having parted ways with the American Dream, it was almost inevitable that Delaney would wish to cut himself off from America itself. Emigration, then, became an alternative ideology.33
In 1852, he wrote "That there are circumstances under which emigration is absolutely necessary."34 His mood was despondent: "We must have a position, independent of anything pertaining to white men as nations. I weary of our miserable condition, and [am] heartily sick of whimpering, whining and sniveling at the feet of white men, begging for their refuse and offals[,] existing by mere sufferance."35
Thus, as Wilson Jeremiah Moses has observed, "The decade preceding the Civil War was the high-water mark of classical black nationalism, not only in terms of the renewed interest in colonization, but also in terms of the philosophical writing produced."36 This reactivated black nationalism had an interesting consequence. It seemed to offer black men ready access to both of the social definitions of masculinity that had always been freely available to white men in America: perhaps a competitive, aggressive individualistic form of the "male" identity would find its adequate arena in another land where blacks ruled themselves, or perhaps, as nationalists often argued, the black man possessed "innate Christian instincts which would suit him well for the founding of a new civilization that would stand as a shining example to the prodigal [white] Christians of Europe and America."37* * *
One cannot read Uncle Tom's Cabin external to this context. Stowe came from a politically sophisticated family: Henry Ward Beecher (extravagantly committed to the fraternal love movement) was closest to her heart; as late as 1858, two years after Dred, Harriet Stowe herself still clung passionately to the hope that nonviolent tactics might eradicate slavery—and thus avoid the inevitable blood letting of civil war.38 Like many other perceptive Americans, she anticipated that such a war would be costly and that its "solution" would be neither prompt nor enduring. Thus her most famous novel, an eleventh-hour effort to forestall that war, was a supreme example of "moral suasion."
Stowe's strategies took many forms. Sometimes (especially at the beginning of the novel), she catered to her white audiences's prejudiced stereotypes.39 More often, she drew heavily upon her reader's familiarity with (and tolerance of) the conventions of sentimental fiction—exalting the power of women as peace makers and purveyors of moral wisdom. But nowhere was Stowe more cunningly careful than in the construction of her principal male characters (who were the most potentially threatening to an unsympathetic audience); here, she drew self-consciously upon the notions of masculinity that pervaded abolitionist and reformist thinking at mid-century—especially upon those connected to the doctrine of fraternal love—probably because she was deeply sympathetic with them herself.
Recently, Beatrice Anderson (arguing against views of Tom that diminish his achievements because of his allegedly "submissive" behavior) recalls to us the explicit valor of his nature: "He is a strong, vital character whose motivations … are noble and heroic and not solely religious," she writes; moreover, Tom "‘sacrifices’ himself for consistently ethical (as opposed to narrowly religious) motives."
His actions are animated primarily by his anxiety for his family's welfare, by his concern for his fellow slaves both on Shelby's estate and on Legree's plantation, and always by his wise and practical weighing of consequences.40
As part of her argument, Anderson cites the introduction of Tom.
He was a large, broad-chested, powerfully made man, of a full glossy black, and a face whose truly African features were characterized by an expression of grave and steady good sense, united with much kindliness and benevolence. There was something about his whole air self-respecting and dignified, yet united with a confiding and humble simplicity.
Anderson observes that this description "attests to [Tom's] good sense, power, and dignity."41 This much is true; however, Stowe's initial construction of her hero does even more. It paints the portrait of a quintessentially masculine man developed along the idealized lines of fraternal love. Moreover, a correlative expansion of the feminine will accompany this change: the strength of Cassie's character, her ability to work as an equal with Tom in their nightmarish struggle against Legree, indicates the complementary relationship between masculinity and femininity; when the first is reformulated, so (necessarily) is the second—to the ultimate betterment of both.
In her hero, Stowe constructed a man whose emotional and moral life is centered not on domination or competition but on the self-conscious, vigorous exercise of communal love—a man who unites the virtues of "kindliness and benevolence" with dignity and a "broad-chested" and "powerfully made" physique. Consistently, then, Tom's "self-sacrifice" is not a manifestation of weakness but a potent and effective enactment of social responsibility.
Although it sounds paradoxical, Tom complies with a system that he judges unfair and unreasonable out of resilient strength, keen awareness of his alternatives, and intelligence, not out of blind and passive submission…. His actions are animated primarily by his anxiety for his family's welfare, by his concern for his fellow slaves both on Shelby's estate and on Legree's plantation, and always by his wise and practical weighing of consequences.42
His tactics of nonviolent opposition consistently follow the strategies of passive resistance and prudent behavior that had already been well-developed by black abolitionists who encountered racist antagonism in the free north. Moreover, given the African Americans' particular concern that black men should be able to protect their families in the wake of the Fugitive Slave Act, Stowe takes care to make it clear that Tom's strategies are always ultimately effective in saving his loved ones. Thus, her reader is presented with this paradox: nonviolent behavior may be an even more productive means of offering protection than acts of aggression (which always carry the possibility of widespread, random carnage).
Most radical of all, Stowe not only gives vivid life to the arguments of the nonviolent abolitionists who had been inveighing against America's infatuation with bloodshed, she postulates a black man as the exemplary model of this admirable behavior—a black man who is strong hearted enough to save far more people through the heroism of personal sacrifice than might ever have been saved through vicious battle.43 Moreover, Stowe's pointed emphasis on Tom's unadulterated "blackness" and on his explicitly "African" features prevented any of her readers from imputing his commendable behavior to some admixture of white blood (as whites were readily inclined to do). At the very least, then, this portrayal specifically refuted the mid-nineteenth-century racist claim of the African Americans' intrinsic inferiority to whites in emotional and moral matters; at the most, it might be construed as confirming the sentiments that had been expressed by such black abolitionists as Crummell—that is, a belief in the black man's moral and emotional superiority (Dickens believed Stowe to be making precisely this claim).
This careful, political "leverage" in the creation of Tom is not unique. All of the principal males in the novel can be identified almost schematically as illustrations of the moral and emotional success or failure of different constructions of masculinity. Thus if the black man (Tom) is an ideal of fraternal love successfully enacted, the white man (Augustine St. Claire) is a grotesque distortion of that ideal; he is a man who has become feminized in the most ludicrously reductive and ineffectual understanding of the term—a fact that is especially apparent when the introductory description of St. Claire is compared with that of Tom.
[St. Claire] was remarkable for an extreme and marked sensitiveness of character, more akin to the softness of woman than the ordinary hardness of his own sex…. His talents were of the very first order, although his mind showed a preference always for the ideal and the aesthetic, and there was about him that repugnance to the actual business of life which is the common result of this balance of the faculties…. [After an unhappy marriage he was often] found lying on the sofa [pleading a] sudden sick-headache as the cause of his distress.
Tom engages in pragmatic, nonviolent resistance and saves not only his own family but other blacks as well; St. Claire engages in passive, intellectual daydreaming and saves no one, not even himself.
If Tom and St. Claire are equal and opposite embodiments of moral sentiment and non-violence, George and Legree are similarly balanced enactments of masculinity constructed along the lines of conquest and aggressive competition. Typically, George construes his identity not communally but in terms of domination—a category he elaborates by consistently defining himself by comparison with other men.
My master! and who made him my master? … I'm a man as much as he is. I'm a better man than he is. I know more about business than he does; I am a better manager than he is; I can read better than he can; I can write a better hand,—and I've learned it in spite of him; and now what right has he to make a dray-horse of me? to take me from things I can do, and do better than he can?
By contrast, Legree is the crude, violent, phallic cartoon of such masculinity, with
a round bullet-head, large light-gray eyes, with … shaggy, sandy eyebrows and stiff, wiry, sunburned hair; … his large, coarse mouth was distended with tobacco, the juice of which, from time to time, he ejected from him with great decision and explosive force.
Thus is the legitimacy of a "patriarchal" hierarchy dismissed; thus is the authority of mere brute dominance demolished.44 In this fictional world, "Legree" is eponymous with naked power, and he is vile: "I'm your church now!" he tells his slaves.
D'ye see this fist? Heft it! … Well, I tell ye this ye fist has got as hard as iron knocking down niggers. I never see the nigger, yet, I couldn't bring down with one crack…. I don't keep none o' yer cussed overseers; I does my own overseeing; and I tell you things is seen to. You's every one on ye got to toe the mark, I tell ye; quick,—straight,—the moment I speak. That's the way to keep in with me. Ye won't find no soft spot in me, nowhere. So, now, mind yerselves; for I don't show no mercy!
Tom's death, then, is both a tragic loss and the definitive demonstration of social corruption—slavery's unwillingness to tolerate a resolutely good man who is also a black man.
Within the terms of this narrative, far from being a recommendation of supine passivity, Tom's strategic use of nonviolent resistance affirms several forms of "conquest": his triumph over Legree is more than the triumph of a singularly heroic black man over a savage white and more than the triumph of Christianity over sin. It is the conquest of communal, benevolent masculinity over a definition of gender that is built upon subjugation and aggression. "You've always stood it out agin me," Legree rages at Tom; "now, I'll conquer ye or kill ye!" (2:204). When Tom dies, Stowe leaves no doubt that Legree and his vicious mode of conquest have been morally and emotionally supplanted.
"What a thing 't is to be a Christian!" [Tom whispered]…. He began to draw his breath with long, deep inspirations, and his broad chest rose and fell heavily. The expression of his face was that of a conqueror.
(2:212-13, [emphasis added])
Stowe's twentieth-century readers may not sympathize with Tom's joy in Christian love. Nonetheless, all can share Stowe's hope that America would discard its imperialistic veneration of revolution, conquest, and brute force—and that it would embrace new ideals to build a more noble Republic.
In this context, the consignment of George Harris and his family to a "happy ending" in Liberia is not so much problematic as it is enigmatic. His talents combine with his name to remind the reader of America's own founding father. The possibility that he might play precisely that role for his own people seems his own most ardent wish. However, are we compelled to believe that he must leave America to enact such a role? Stowe seems to claim as much.
It is with the oppressed, enslaved African race that I cast in my lot; and, if I wished anything, I would wish myself two shades darker rather than one lighter.
The desire and yearning of my soul is for an African nationality. I want a people that shall have a tangible, separate existence of its own; and where am I to look for it? Not in Haiti….
Where, then, shall I look? On the shores of Africa I see a republic…. There it is my wish to go, and find myself a people.
Black abolitionists were expressing just such expectations as these in antislavery newspapers at the time that Stowe was writing Uncle Tom's Cabin ; their opinions initiated a mid-nineteenth-century "back to Africa" movement that would find fullest expression in Delaney and Campbell's Search for a Place (1860).45 Thus one explanation for Stowe's decision is timely: she is echoing this current pro-African sentiment.
Yet, the puzzling fact remains that in this fictional world, George Harris seems to have no "place"—that he must be dispatched "elsewhere" (much as Dickens's unruly characters often disappeared into that nebulous never-never land, "Australia"). Another answer can be found in the reception that the character of George received after Uncle Tom's Cabin was published. As we have noted, the likeness of an armed black man had become so frightening to a white audience that such images were explicitly omitted from abolitionist propaganda after 1850. The empowerment and arming of such a man—so clearly superior, so clearly deserving of his freedom, and so justifiably enraged—was more threatening to Stowe's audience than most present-day readers can imagine. A brief anecdote will illustrate this fact. When The Literary World critiqued Uncle Tom's Cabin, its reviewer pilloried Stowe for inciting violence; the example he gave was George Harris's "murder" of his pursuers. What actually happened in the hovel was no more than a wounding of the pursuant slave catchers; moreover, the fugitives take precious time to carry the wounded man to safety, where his wounds can be dressed, for, as George asserts, "It would always be a heavy thought to me if I'd caused his death, even in a just cause" (1:265). Thus, the "murder" and Stowe's "incitement to violence" were no more than her reader's own terrifying fantasies. Stowe's narrative implies that honorable masculinity, even constructed along the lines of conflict, will shrink from brutality and murder.
Nonetheless, even in her own day, Stowe's decision to banish George was sometimes criticized and was condemned as a revival of the recolonization movement and an expression of racial prejudice. We cannot parse her conscience; however, given the narrator's explicit denunciation of this movement (see 2:246-48), it is plausible to infer that Stowe objected to the way George enacted masculinity—not that she had any objection to his color. As Gillian Brown has astutely observed, "while the emigration of American blacks might suggest a convenient solution to white fears about the possible retribution of freed blacks, Stowe's imagination of ‘this new enterprise’ articulates less about fears of blacks than about fear of men" who had been trained into aggression by American culture.46 Insofar as she was determined to force a "reevaluation of white, male systems of thought" by exalting "peer relationships" over "hierarchical" ones, all men like George would require either relocation or radical retraining.47
Indeed, Stowe seems to have wanted to present the full gamut of African-American possibilities for masculine fulfillment in America; hence the somewhat awkward inclusion of a list of successful black Cincinnati businessmen just before the novel's end: "B—. Furniture-maker:… worth ten thousand dollars, all his own earnings…. C— … a farmer; owns several farms in Indiana; Presbyterian; probably worth fifteen or twenty thousand dollars, all earned himself, etc., etc." (2:248, ff.). These stand as "proof" that men with George's ability (but perhaps without his measure of phallic rage) could make their way in this country if the nation only allowed them to do so. What is more, a knowledgeable reader in 1851-52 would have recognized this inventory as an explicit reiteration of Delaney's "self-help" theory—a notion that he developed both in his writing and in public addresses throughout the midwest during the late 1840s.48
Because Stowe's intentions were consistently political and her goal revolutionary (a fundamental reorganization of American life), she aimed her work not at black readers, who needed no persuasion concerning the cause of abolition, but at whites. The most telling moment of the novel, then, may be one of its least melodramatic: the brief, all-but-silent colloquy between Senator Bird and his wife—a transaction that might take place between any public man and his spouse. Having confronted her husband with the runaways, Eliza and her child, Mrs. Bird applauds her husband's reluctant decision to aid the fugitives. "Your heart is better than your head in this case, John!" she says; the narrator adds this wry comment:
What a situation, now, for a patriotic Senator, that had been all the week before spurring up the legislature of his native State to pass more stringent resolutions against escaping fugitives, their harborers and abettors! …
Our poor Senator was not stone or steel,—as he was a man, and a downright noble-hearted one, too,—he was, as everybody must see, in a sad case for his patriotism.
(1:113, 115-16 [emphasis added])
Like William Jay, Harriet Beecher Stowe was concerned with civic virtues. She sought a "development of that benevolence which springs from moral good- ness" and a definition of "patriotism" that was the consequence of such "benevolence, when directed to our countrymen at large."49 She believed that this nation's abuse of its African-American population would end only when reforms such as these had taken place. Thus Uncle Tom's Cabin petitioned for a sweeping redefinition of both masculinity and patriotism in the service of that ultimate goal.
1. Richard Wightman Fox, "The Trial of Intimacy: A New Look at the Beecher-Tilton Scandal of 1875" (paper presented at the annual meeting of the Organization of American Historians, Anaheim, Calif., April 1993), 7-9.
2. Harriet Beecher Stowe, Uncle Tom's Cabin and The Key to Uncle Tom's Cabin, in The Writings of Harriet Beecher Stowe, 14 Vols. (Boston, 1896), 2:255-56. All further references to Uncle Tom's Cabin will be cited parenthetically in the text.
3. For a discussion of the "unfortunate alliance between the lords of both loom and lash," see "Boston, Abolition, and the Atlantic World, 1820-1861," in Courage and Conscience: Black & White Abolitionists in Boston, ed. Donald M. Jacobs (Bloomington, Ind., 1993), 101.
4. Myra Jehlen, "The Family Militant: Domesticity Versus Slavery in Uncle Tom's Cabin," Criticism 31 (fall 1989): 383-400, 385; and Joan Hedrick, Harriet Beecher Stowe: A Life (New York, 1994), 210. As a modern commentator has observed, "The book was the greatest piece of abolitionist propaganda ever penned" (William E. Gienapp, "Abolitionism and the Nature of Antebellum Reform," in Courage and Conscience, 39). Canny abolitionists of the time (such as Frederick Douglass) recognized this fact and consistently expressed their admiration for Stowe's work.
5. For example, Charles Dickens reacted negatively to the elevation of the black man's character; he wrote to Stowe that she had gone "too far and seeks to prove too much." Slavery had evils enough without trying to make the African race seem to be great! (See Dickens to Stowe, 17 July 1852, in Laurie L. Harris, Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism [Detroit, 1983], 3:537.)
6. See Ann Douglas, The Feminization of American Culture (New York, 1977), 91, ff.
7. That Stowe saw the active force of motherhood and maternity as a form of heroism is, of course, entirely true; Uncle Tom's Cabin is in many ways a sanctification of these roles. For studies of Stowe and the power of maternity, see Cynthia Griffin Wolff, "Margaret Garner: A Cincinnati Story," in Discovering Difference, ed. Christopher K. Lohmann (Bloomington, Ind., 1993, esp. note 4, in which this issue is discussed at length [I do not see Tom as feminized]).
It is worth citing one essay that has been widely influential: Elizabeth Ammons, "Heroines in Uncle Tom's Cabin," in Critical Essays on Harriet Beecher Stowe (Boston, 1980), 152-63. Here, Ammons claims that Stowe has "feminized" Uncle Tom "not because she is unable to make him assertively masculine, but because she does not wish to do so" (158). My own argument would suggest that one-half of this assertion is entirely correct: Stowe's refusal to create an aggressive hero was a matter of choice. However (I would argue), Stowe herself probably would not have seen such a characterization as "feminizing"; instead, she would have seen it as the depiction of an alternate and preferable form of "masculinity."
Gillian Brown is one critic (I will allude to others later in this essay) who challenges this stereotype of the "feminized ‘Tom.’" She has recently observed that "Stowe's domestic solution to slavery … represents not the strength of sentimental values but a utopian rehabilitation of them, necessitated by their fundamental complicity with the market to which they are ostensibly opposed" (Gillian Brown, Domestic Individualism: Imagining Self in Nineteenth-Century America [Berkeley, 1990], 18). Throughout her brilliant book, Brown assumes that "domestic" (specifically as it refers to a form of economy and a spiritual-emotional configuration) need not necessarily be exclusively "feminine" nor need it be enacted by women. Hence she observes:
Uncle Tom's Cabin revises Beecher's domesticity, disjoining it from patriarchal economic practices and severing it from service to any institution other than itself. Instead of ensuring industrial capitalism and supporting the government that passed the Fugitive Slave Law, the domestic might constitute an alternative system….
In Rachel's kitchen the boys and girls share domestic duties under their mother's guidance while their father engages in "the anti-patriarchal operation of shaving" (1:205)…. In Stowe's model home, domesticity is matriarchal and antinomian, a new form of government as well as a protest against patriarchy and its manifestations in slavery, capitalism, and democracy.
(18-19, emphasis added)
Brown is interested in an individualistic (rather than a communitarian) view of Stowe; however, we agree in understanding Stowe's "domestic, feminine" vision as a radical form of political activism.
Clearly, as in so many times of social upheaval, mid-nineteenth-century America saw many (conflicting) reconfigurations of "masculinity" and "femininity." Twentieth-century critics who disagree may all have some piece of the "truth."
Brown's work amplifies the important work of Nina Baym and Jane Tompkins. See Nina Baym, Woman's Fiction: A Guide to Novels by and about Women in America (Ithaca, N.Y., 1978); and Jane P. Tompkins, Sensational Designs: The Cultural Work of American Fiction (New York, 1987).
8. E. Anthony Rotundo, American Manhood: Transformations in Masculinity from the Revolution to the Modern Era (New York, 1990), 15. See also, J. A. Mangan, Manliness and Morality: Middle-Class Masculinity in Britain and America, 1800-1940 (Manchester, Eng., 1987), 35-52.
9. Rotundo, American Manhood, 16. David Leverenz, Manhood and the American Renaissance (Ithaca, N.Y., 1989), 85, 87.
10. Ibid., 48.
11. Julie Ellison, "The Gender of Transparency: Masculinity and the Conduct of Life," American Literary History 4 (winter 1992): 585. See also, John R. Leo, "‘… in other folks' time’: 19th-Century Constructions of the Masculine: An Introduction," in American Transcendental Quarterly 5 (summer 1991): 141-50.
12. This observation is almost a truism; however, a recent study adds substance to the point. See Louis J. Kern, "Stamping out the ‘Brutality of the He’: Sexual Ideology and the Masculine Ideal in the Literature of Victorian Sex Radicals," American Transcendental Quarterly 5 (summer 1991): 225-39.
13. See Valarie H. Ziegler, The Advocates of Peace in Antebellum America (Bloomington, Ind., 1992).
14. William Jay, A Review of the Causes and Consequences of the Mexican War (New York, 1969), 4, 279, 288-89 (emphasis added). Jay's entire chapter on patriotism is enlightening.
15. Donald Yacovone, Samuel Joseph May and the Dilemmas of the Liberal Persuasion, 1797-1871 (Philadelphia, 1991), 95.
16. Ibid., 100.
17. Ibid., 99, 96.
18. Bernard F. Reilly, Jr., "The Art of the Antislavery Movement," in Courage and Conscience, 62, and illustration, 64. Although all black abolitionists were violently opposed to the tactics of ministers who used the Christian message to manipulate their congregation into submission, the majority of African Americans in mid-nineteenth-century America were genuine in their devotion to Christianity, and they would have been offended by a repudiation of Christianity.
19. James Oliver Horton and Lois E. Horton, "The Affirmation of Manhood: Black Garrisonians in Antebellum Boston," in Courage and Conscience, 146. See this entire essay for a discussion of the issue.
20. Ibid., 144. His militant attitude was similar to that of the earlier African-American activist David Walker.
21. Garnet quoted in Horton and Horton, "Affirmation of Manhood," 144.
22. Ibid., 145.
24. Carleton Mabee, Black Freedom: The Nonviolent Abolitionist from 1830 through the Civil War (New York, 1970), 83.
25. Ibid., 83-84.
26. Mabee, in Black Freedom, observes: "Understandably, black meetings protesting the [Fugitive Slave] law tended to be more violent in tone than white meetings" (293).
27. African Americans appreciated this danger even more keenly than whites; Frederick Douglass held himself delicately aloof from the John Brown rebellion at Harper's Ferry. See William S. McFeeley, Frederick Douglass (New York, 1991), 196.
28. C. Peter Ripley, ed., The Black Abolitionist Papers (Chapel Hill, N.C., 1991), 4:352.
29. Many newspapers in the north report this astonishing exodus. For example:
[To the editor of the London Times] The fugitive [slave] population is now estimated at about 30,000…. Many of these people have, within the past six or eight months, come to this country, seeking employment and that liberty and protection which are denied them in their native land. On reaching England, they find … difficulties in the way of getting employment [similar to that they have encountered in] Canada, and they, therefore, become a burden to the benevolent.
[From Frederick Douglass' Paper] The English are hospitable and generous, and would not see a brotherman want for bread or a night's lodging. But I would say to our fugitive brethren, if you don't want to become beggars, don't come to England. If the climate in Canada is too cold, and you must leave the States, go to the West Indies. But, by all means, don't come to England.
(Both letters were republished in The Liberator, 25 July 1851, emphasis added.)
30. Alfred Moss, "Alexander Crummell," in Black Leaders of the Nineteenth Century, ed. Leon Litwack and August Meier (Urbana, Ill., 1988), 242.
32. Floyd J. Miller, The Search for a Black Nationality (Urbana, Ill., 1975), 125. For additional statements about emigration to Liberia, see Granville B. Blanks, "To the Editor, Syracuse Daily Journal, 12 August 1852," in Black Abolitionist Papers, 131-35.
33. Miller, Search for a Black Nationality, 119, 124.
34. Quarles, Black Abolitionists, 215.
35. Delaney to Douglass, 10 July 1852, in Black Abolitionist Papers, 128. Delaney's initial choice was "CENTRAL AMERICA" (see Delaney's The Political Destiny of the Colored Race, in Sterling Stuckey, The Ideological Origins of Black Nationalism [Boston, 1972], 195-237). Later, he fixed his hopes and dreams upon Liberia. See M. R. Delaney and Robert Campbell, Search for a Place (Ann Arbor, Mich., 1969).
37. Ibid., esp. 27, ff.
38. Her remarks about a contemporary case are revealing. John J. Fee had been operating such superb grade schools for black children in Kentucky that white parents sent their children to them—and effectively created integrated education. This was done entirely without violence or aggression of any sort.
The American Missionary Association decided in 1858 that Fee and his associates, working in a slave state as they were, provided a model that should be followed in every slave state. Harriet Beecher Stowe, writing in the Independent [in November, 1848] … pointed to the grandeur of Fee's achievement. Suppose, she wrote, the missionaries of the regular mission societies had gone into the slave states as Fee went into Kentucky, "founding churches on principles of strict antislavery communion. They would have been driven out, say you? How do we know? Fee is not driven out of Kentucky." Fee is fighting the battle in Kentucky which we should fight everywhere in slave territory. "He is fighting it successfully—necessities, afflictions, distress, only make him stronger. Antislavery churches are rising around him, feeble indeed, in their beginning, but mighty in moral force; and every inch which Christianity seems to gain under such auspices, she really does gain."
(Mabee, Black Freedom, 238)
What Stowe feared was exactly what happened after the Emancipation Proclamation, the Civil War, and Reconstruction—namely, that "free" blacks (in the South and in America as a whole) would not be much "freer" than African Americans had been while enslaved.
39. See Richard Yarborough, "Strategies of Black Characterization in Uncle Tom's Cabin and the Early Afro-American Novel," in Eric J. Sundquist, New Essays on Uncle Tom's Cabin (New York, 1986).
40. Beatrice Anderson, "Uncle Tom: A Hero at Last," American Transcendental Quarterly 5 (June 1991): 95-108, 96, 99. Anderson also observes that many of our negative stereotypes of "Uncle Tom" (and of all of Stowe's characters) come not from the novel itself but from the countless stage "representations" of it.
41. Ibid., 96.
42. Ibid., 96-99.
43. The portrait of Tom is a specific reinforcement of the argument against the false "heroism" and "glory" that traditional masculine ideals of conquest invent and sustain. For pungent examples, see Jay, Causes and Consequences, chaps. 31 and 34.
44. Brown astutely observes that "slave-masters like Simon Legree exemplified the extremes of capitalistic masculine self-advancement when not domesticated and regulated in a wage-labor system" (Domestic Individualism, 23).
45. See, for example, Granville B. Blanks to Editor, Syracuse Daily Journal, 12 August 1852, in Black Abolitionist Papers, 131-36. "And in passing, allow me to state that after long consideration I have adopted the opinion that the western coast of Africa, and especially the Republic of Liberia, offers the most controlling inducements to our emigration" (132). See also Quarles, Black Abolitionists; Miller, Search for a Black Nationality; and Moses, Golden Age for many examples.
46. Brown, Domestic Individualism, 31. She is quoting Uncle Tom's Cabin (2:309).
47. Joan Hedrick, "‘Peaceable Fruits’: The Ministry of Harriet Beecher Stowe," American Quarterly 40 (Sept. 1988): 307-32; 319, 308.
48. "In Cincinnati, for example, [Delaney] commended the many blacks working as tradesmen and thus ‘amply demonstrating our capacity to take care of ourselves.’ He followed this with a similar list of blacks running their own small businesses. ‘This is what I desire to see,’ he exalted, ‘—our people coming out of old employments of domestic servitude and menial occupations. This must be done if we expect ever to be elevated to an equality with the dominant class’" (Miller, Search for a Black Nationality, 121).
Given the precision with which Stowe follows Delaney's lead in developing this idea (he elaborated the notion in letters to The North Star from various Ohio cities he was visiting, and Stowe makes her list from exactly the same region), she may well have been puzzled by his angry reaction to her novel. Or perhaps she was not, for the leadership of the abolitionist movement was involved in deep dissention by 1853-54.
Delaney was not pleased with Uncle Tom's Cabin. For one thing, he resented this white woman's having "taken over" the intrinsically black topic of slavery and a description of the domestic relationships of African Americans. His own novel was a response to Stowe's. See Martin Delaney, Blake, ed. Floyd R. Miller (Boston, 1970).
49. Jay, Causes and Consequences, 279.
Anthony E. Szczesiul (essay date March 1996)
SOURCE: Szczesiul, Anthony E. "The Canonization of Tom and Eva: Catholic Hagiography and Uncle Tom's Cabin." ATQ 10, no. 1 (March 1996): 59-72.
[In the following essay, Szczesiul contends that Stowe's use of Catholic hagiography, or saints' lives, in Uncle Tom's Cabin supports both the author's personal convictions and the cultural value of her work.]
The Catholic Church was on the defensive in Italy in 1852. The religious tolerance that came with the constitutional regimes during and following the Revolutionary War of 1848-49 had placed the Church in a vulnerable position. In the more tolerant post-war atmosphere, the Church in Italy consistently found itself under attack by a wave of Protestant propaganda which exploited both the "anti-clerical bias" of Italian liberals and internal divisions within the Church itself (Rossi 417).
A translation of Uncle Tom's Cabin made its appearance in this confrontational setting in the fall of 1852, receiving laudatory reviews from the non-clerical press and quickly becoming popular among the Italian readership. But the Catholic press reacted differently, vehemently attacking the novel on religious grounds.1 Perhaps feeling uneasy over the popular success of a Protestant author, the Catholic press in Italy expressed concern and distrust over what it saw in the novel as an attempt to reconcile contemporary Protestantism with elements of the Catholic tradition. Various clerical papers took the opportunity to denigrate Protestantism and emphasize the differences between it and the "true," ancestral, Catholic faith. The following quotation from La Civiltà Cattolica is typical of these attacks, but it also raises a puzzling charge against the novel:
As long as the immense treasures of Catholic hagiography find no other correlation than the virtues imagined by a fervid imagination, and related in a sentimental novel by a pius (sic) heterodox, the comparison between Protestantism and our Church not only cannot be insulting for the Church, but it is not even possible, … [for] you cannot equate the actual verity of facts with the passionate fiction of a fantastic story.
(qtd. in Rossi 423)
La Civiltà Cattolica was responding to what it viewed as a fictional bastardization of the Catholic hagiographic—or saints' lives—tradition, a tradition revered within the Church as both sacred and factual. At first glance, this statement seems to be simply a semi-paranoid response built upon centuries of enmity between the two faiths. Since the time of Luther, Protestants had attacked the Catholic belief in the intercessory community of saints and the hagiographic tradition which this doctrine generated. The rational, word-oriented Protestant had no use for the "imagistic" tradition of the Catholic saints' lives, with its at- titude of veneration and its fantastic—even supernatural—emphasis on miracles, relics, intense bodily suffering, and saving mystical visions.2 But in Uncle Tom's Cabin, Stowe's portrayals of Tom and Eva emphasize these very characteristics of Catholic hagiography, characteristics which Protestantism traditionally had defined itself against. Upon considering both the cultural reality in which Stowe was writing and Stowe's own attitudes toward Catholicism, it becomes apparent that La Civiltà Cattolica's charges against the novel may have some truth to them. Certain elements in Stowe's representation of Tom and Eva seem drawn specifically from the Catholic saints' lives tradition, an extremely structured—even formulaic—genre. Stowe appropriates these features from Catholic hagiography in order to supplement her own personal beliefs and to promote the "cultural work" of her fiction.
In using the term "cultural work," I am alluding to Jane Tompkins' Sensational Designs: The Cultural Work of American Fiction 1790-1860. Tompkins demonstrates that many popular writers of the nineteenth century were essentially propagandists attempting to effect a new, moral world order. Nowhere is this more apparent than in her discussion of Uncle Tom's Cabin. She claims that the novel was part of a "monumental effort to reorganize culture from a woman's point of view … [and] that this body of work is remarkable for its intellectual complexity, ambition, and resourcefulness" (124). I would like to show in this essay that Stowe's "resourcefulness" extended beyond the Protestant tradition of "typological narrative" invoked by Tompkins (134). Many scenes in the novel, which I discuss below, are antithetical to the Protestant tradition.
In Roads to Rome: The Antebellum Protestant Encounter with Catholicism, Jenny Franchot shows that antebellum Protestant America was virtually obsessed with the otherness represented by Roman Catholicism. Between 1830 and 1860, a variety of historical and cultural events moved Roman Catholicism from the periphery to the center of Protestant America's gaze. These events included massive Irish immigration (resulting in xenophobia and labor unrest along class and religious lines), the Mexican-American War of 1846, the emergence of the nativist movement and Know-Nothing Party, and the rise of steamship travel and tourism to Catholic Europe, especially Italy. These events produced a coherent body of discourse (both pro- and anti-Catholic) through which antebellum writers expressed (both obliquely and explicitly) the "tensions and limitations of mainstream Protestant culture" (Franchot xvii). According to Franchot, Protestant literature of this period contains an "intricately metaphorized Catholicism" which operates "as a strategically confused language of spiritual desire and ethnic repudiation for middle-class Anglo-Americans" (xxii).
Harriet Beecher Stowe's own attitudes toward Roman Catholicism were decidedly ambivalent. Although Stowe was indelibly Protestant in her practicing beliefs, certain features of the Catholic faith obviously appealed to her, particularly as alternatives to the Calvinism upon which she was raised. In Chariot of Fire: Religion and the Beecher Family, Marie Caskey chronicles Stowe's growing dissatisfaction with and eventual movement away from her father's Calvinism, claiming that Harriet saw the cold, analytical Calvinism of her day "as standing souls alone, stripping them of every prop or support, and thus abandoning them to a lonely battle against overwhelming forces" (186). For Stowe, as for many other Protestants of her time, the communal, ritualistic emphasis of the Roman Catholic Church offered an intriguing alternative for the imagination.3
Caskey states that "Harriet did, in fact, feel yearnings toward Catholicism, but not the Catholicism of contemporary Rome. She dreamed of a half-historical, half-legendary epoch before primitive Christianity had become altogether imperial and papistical" (201). For instance, in a letter of 1874 to her husband in Rome, Stowe recalls the attraction she felt to the Church during her first trip to Italy in 1853:
I know all your feelings and have felt them all—I have that half to my mind which exquisitely feels all the devout attraction of the Romish Church—but have as you have the half also that sees the impossibility of the hierarchy representing either in spirit or in results on society what Christ is—or wills us to be.
(qtd. in Caskey 201)
Stowe considered Catholicism's emphasis on community, ritual, mystery, and veneration to be of worth, but the modern-day hierarchy made belief in Catholicism inconceivable for her. In short, Stowe had an undying Protestant bias toward the Church which made it impossible for her to reconcile her own personal beliefs with the Church's governmental practices.
Nonetheless, Stowe was more than willing to explore in her writings the ideological borderlines between Protestantism and Catholicism, particularly by mak- ing brief literary excursions into the very center of the Catholic world—Papal Rome. In these texts, Stowe often expresses admiration for certain aspects of Catholicism as she alternately appropriates and repudiates the Catholic tradition to suit her needs.
Stowe's ambivalent feelings toward the Catholic tradition are seen in her cluster of poems titled "Pressed Flowers from Italy," published in her 1867 collection Religious Poems. The cluster consists of four poems ("A Day in the Pamfili Doria," "The Gardens of the Vatican," "St. Peter's Church," and "The Miserere" ), and taken together these poems illustrate Stowe's desire to reclaim the ancestral Christian past represented by the images and rituals of Catholic Rome. In "A Day in the Pamfili Doria," for example, the sound of the "Ave Maria bell," the smell of the "evening incense," and the sight of the dome of St. Peter's virtually place the narrator in a spiritual trance; she longs for participation in this tradition:
And the dome of St. Peter's
With a strange translucence glows,
Like a mighty bubble of amethyst
Floating in waves of rose.
In a trance of dreamy vagueness
We, gazing and yearning, behold
That city beheld by the prophet,
Whose walls were transparent gold.
(Religious Poems 98-99)
Here Stowe openly expresses a desire for the "imagistic" tradition of Catholicism—the sights, smells, and sounds of Catholic ritual, but she ultimately maintains an appropriate, Protestant sense of distance by portraying these images as hollow illusions. At the poem's conclusion, she asks that Jesus, "meek and lowly," return and restore "meaning" to these "noble churches" and their rituals and images:
O, then to those noble churches,
To picture and statue and gem,
To the pageant of solemn worship,
Shall the meaning come back again.
And this strange and ancient city,
In that reign of His truth and love;
Shall be what it seems in the twilight,
The type of that City above. (Stowe's emphasis)
(Religious Poems 100-101)
Stowe's strategy in this poem allows her to express her admiration and longing for Catholic ritual while at the same time maintaining a Protestant sense of both propriety and superiority. Interestingly, and perhaps ironically, Stowe has restored a sense of "meaning" to these images by writing the poem; the beautiful, hypnotic (and empty) images of the Holy City are transformed by Stowe's Protestant imagination into meaningful poetic images which represent the glory of the Christian kingdom in potentia.
Stowe uses a similar strategy in the poem "The Gardens of the Vatican." The narrator again expresses her longing to reclaim the ancestral grounds of Christianity, stating, "Here is my home, my Lord, thy home and mine." But as before, she acknowledges—in appropriate Protestant fashion—that in order for this to happen, Jesus must first return and "Drive forth the money-changers." Only then can Rome be "A house of prayer for nations" (Religious Poems 103).
Stowe's appropriation of things Catholic was not limited to images for her poetry; she also made forays into regions of doctrine as well. In particular, Stowe seems to have been interested in the Catholic doctrine of the intercessory community of saints and the hagiographic tradition it produced. Stowe admired the Catholic tradition of venerating the saints—a tradition viewed as spurious by most Protestants, and her attraction to such veneration manifests itself in her poem of 1867, "St. Catherine Borne by the Angels." The poem is complete in its relating of the legend of St. Catherine's martyrdom and ascension into heaven, having been published with a note describing the main events of the Saint's life. As St. Catherine is being carried away to heaven by the angels, Stowe reflects on the legend's uplifting character and emphasizes the contemporary relevance of hagiography and veneration:
So o'er our heads sometimes the sweet, sad story
Of suffering saints, borne homeward crowned and
Shines down in stillness with a tender glory,
And makes a mirror there of breathless rest.
For not alone in those old Eastern regions
Are Christ's beloved ones tried by cross and chain;
In many a house are his elect ones hidden,
His martyrs suffering in their patient pain.
(Collected Poems 24)
Stowe's interest in the Catholic doctrine of intercession was possibly motivated by what she saw as deficiencies in her own Calvinist past. As Joan D. Hedrick points out, the Calvinist theology upon which Stowe was raised was particularly demanding when an individual had to face the death of a loved one, and Stowe experienced such personal tragedy with the suicide of her brother in 1842 and the death of her infant son in a cholera epidemic in 1849 (152-154). Calvinist doctrine left mourners feeling totally helpless; it suggested that they should submit without question to the will of an arbitrary, capricious God. In contrast, the Catholic doctrine of intercession provided solace, promising that the communal bonds of Christian fellowship are never really broken; the spirits of the departed still could act on our behalf, aiding us in times of need.
Stowe's fascination with the possible co-mingling between the living and the dead is evident in a number of texts. In her undated pamphlet entitled "The Ministration of Departed Spirits," for instance, Stowe asserts that many of the dead have been taken from us by God so that their "ministry can act upon us more powerfully from the unseen world." Jane Tompkins states that this belief is "a major theme of nineteenth-century popular fiction and religious literature" (128). But Jenny Franchot traces the origins of this belief to the Catholic doctrine of intercession (250). Stowe's poem "The Other World" also seems modelled on this Catholic doctrine as it emphasizes the active, "helping" nature of the sainted dead as they watch over us from heaven, interceding on behalf of our prayers:
Its gentle breezes fan our cheek;
Amid our worldly cares,
Its gentle voices whisper love,
And mingle with our prayers.
Sweet hearts around us throb and beat,
Sweet helping hands are stirred,
And palpitates the veil between
With breathings almost heard
(Religious Poems 19)
In all of the above examples, Stowe demonstrates a general willingness to appropriate Catholic traditions in order to supplement her own beliefs and serve her literary needs. Similarly, a close examination of key passages in Uncle Tom's Cabin shows that Stowe incorporates elements of Catholic hagiography in her representations of Tom and Eva. Jane Tompkins has called Uncle Tom's Cabin a "typological narrative" which "rewrites the Bible as the story of a Negro slave" (134). But Stowe goes beyond the Puritan tradition of typology in framing her narrative; her portrayals of Tom and Eva contain even more striking correspondences with the extremely structured genre of Catholic hagiography.
In The Puritan Origins of the American Self, Sacvan Bercovitch outlines the primary differences between the Protestant and Catholic forms of hagiography, explaining that while Protestant hagiographies present saints as "models for emulation," Catholic hagiographies portray them as "objects of veneration" (8). The Catholic tradition of "imitatio Christi" emphasizes the saints' virtues and physical martyrdoms, but "above all it stresses the supernatural feats they perform: the miracles which demonstrate their sainthood, and which expressly recreate the biblical pattern" (Bercovitch 8). Protestant reformers objected strongly both to the attitude of veneration and to the emphasis on miracles and the supernatural.4 But in Uncle Tom's Cabin, Tom and Eva are indeed to be venerated—the reader is in awe of their extreme purity and piety. One manner in which Stowe accomplishes this is by emphasizing the supernatural powers of God acting on behalf of and through Tom and Eva. In doing so, Stowe makes a sharp departure from traditional Protestantism.
Eva and Tom are set apart from all the other characters in Uncle Tom's Cabin ; they always act in accordance with the "Sympathies of Christ" (Smylie 69). This makes them one-dimensional and unrealistic as their piety and patience are astounding and unbelievable to the modern reader. But Régis Boyer points out that in Catholic hagiography "the saint has to be idealized…. What we have to deal with is types, not individual or individualized personalities" (31). For the greater edification of the reader, a saint must possess Christian virtues in their highest forms, and Tom and Eva possess such levels of virtue.
Tom and Eva are united with each other and set apart from the other characters when Tom saves Eva after she falls from the steamboat into the river. The scene, though short, serves as a symbolic baptism; the two of them are cleansed and can now go on to fulfill their inevitable and holy destinies. But from the perfect nature of their characters, the reader is able to foresee that Eva and Tom both must die for they are too pure for this world.
Serving as Christ's representatives in the novel, Eva and Tom strive for unification with their Lord, but they achieve their victories by different means. Interestingly, this difference mirrors the two different strains of Catholic hagiography: the martyr saints and the confessor saints. Whereas the martyrs bore witness to their faith through their deaths, confessors bore witness by their lives. Confessors also may be called "spiritual martyrs"; Alison Goddard Elliot explains this distinction between physical and spiritual martyrdom:
Physical martyrdom … had been possible for only a comparatively few Christians; the impor- tance of the spiritual martyrdom of askesis was that it represented a form of imitatio Christi open to all. The requirements for spiritual martyrdom remained constant…. There must be the express desire of martyrdom and to this desire must be joined some sort of suffering patiently borne for the love of God and imitation of Christ and the martyrs. In particular, the preservation of virginity was seen as the equivalent of martyrdom.
Tom is, undoubtedly, the ultimate Christian martyr in Uncle Tom's Cabin. His patience and piety are exemplary, and his death is to be celebrated as a victory. But Eva is a martyr as well—a spiritual martyr in the tradition of the confessor saints. Eva does, in fact, express a desire to die for Christ, and she does preserve her virginity, dying as a young girl without the stain of sin. After Eva's death, Stowe exclaims, "Thine is the victory without the battle,—the crown without the conflict" (Uncle Tom's Cabin 298). Eva's life and death provide inspiration for the reader as well as for many of the characters in the book who venerate Eva and are moved by her example toward a resurgence or conversion in faith.
Eva's extreme purity and innocence make her a reincarnation of Eve before the Fall—which aligns her also with the Virgin Mary, who is considered the second Eve. While the name Eva obviously alludes to Eve, it also suggests "Ave"—as in "Ave Maria gratia plena" (Hail Mary, full of grace). When Eva first appears, she is described as though she were already an angel. She is "the perfection of childish beauty," and she moves with the "aerial grace" of "some mythic or allegorical being." Both "the dullest and the most literal" are likewise affected by her gaze "without exactly knowing why." We are told that her physical qualities "marked her out from other children" (Uncle Tom's Cabin 147). She seems to be of another world, and no one can quite comprehend the spiritual quality she possesses. Stowe goes on in her description of Eva: "Always dressed in white, she seemed to move like a shadow through all sorts of places, without contracting spot or stain" (Uncle Tom's Cabin 147). In other words, Eva is without sin.
Eva's physical perfection symbolizes her spiritual perfection. As earlier stated, she lives her life according to the "Sympathies of Christ," bearing witness to her faith by her actions. Her simple and unconditional love for all people, be it Prue, Dodo, or Topsy, is the epitome of New Testament Christianity. She is Christian love personified, embracing the lowest members of humanity. For instance, Eva alone is able to accept Topsy and profess her love for her: "I love you because you haven't had any father, or mother, or friends;—because you've been a poor, abused child!" (Uncle Tom's Cabin 283). The reasons Eva loves Topsy are the same reasons for which Ophelia abhors her. But Ophelia's eyes are opened to her own shortcomings by the example Eva sets.
Eva's actions lead her to a true understanding of Christ and the nature of His sacrifice. She tells Tom that she understands why Jesus "wanted to die for us," and she goes on, in the tradition of the confessor saint, to express her own desire to imitate the sacrificial death of Jesus: "I've felt that I would be glad to die, if my dying could stop all this misery. I would die for them, Tom, if I could" (Uncle Tom's Cabin 277). Eva has been following the path of Christ in her life, but she is not satisfied. She wants to emulate him in her death as well. In the end, Eva does die for them, and her death brings about a renewed faith both among the slaves and in her family.
For Eva, the opportunity for spiritual martyrdom is symbolically acted out in the preservation of her virginity, and the subject of Eva's virginity has been the focus of a variety of critical discussion. Leslie Fiedler argues for the inevitability of Eva's death by pointing out the restrictions placed on her by American culture. He labels Eva a "Good Good Girl" and claims that "she is forbidden the nunnery by the Protestant ethos and the role of the old maid is in our culture hopelessly comic" (269). Should she live to puberty, she would be running the risk of being "tinged no matter how slightly with the stain of sexuality, suffered perhaps rather than sought, but, in any case there!" (269). Although the preservation of her virginity is an important symbolic aspect of her imitatio Christi, it is altogether limiting to say that this is the sole reason for her death. For as Jane Tompkins argues, "death is the equivalent not of defeat but of victory; it brings an access of power, not a loss of it" (127). Eva seems to realize this, and it is after her death that she becomes a truly moving force among the other characters in the book. But Eva does not simply become powerful as Protestant exemplum; rather, in the tradition of Catholic hagiography, her spirit is an active, supernatural, and miraculous force in the novel.
Parallel to the saints' lives, Eva's death scene takes on legendary significance. As all the slaves are ushered into her room to bid farewell, Eva begins to cut off locks of her hair for them to keep in remembrance of her. As always, Eva's concern is for the well-being of others. She preaches to them to be careful of their souls, and, as she presents them with her locks of hair, she says, "When you look at it think that I am gone to heaven, and that I want to see you all there" (Uncle Tom's Cabin 290). Eva is the example of Christian love which they are to follow, and the locks of hair take on the significance of religious relics of a departed saint. Topsy carries her relic with a book of Bible verses which Eva had given to her. The "little book had been rolled up in a long strip of black crape, torn from the funeral weeds" (Uncle Tom's Cabin 309). Eva is already being venerated.
Lawrence S. Cunningham, in his discussion of the importance of relics to the hagiographic tradition, states that "the power [of a saint] was exercised mainly after death and through their relics" (20). Eva's hair exhibits supernatural power later on in the novel. After giving Tom a severe beating, Sambo presents Legree with a piece of paper Tom had been wearing on a string around his neck. Being superstitious, Legree opens the packet nervously:
There dropped out of it a silver dollar, and a long, shining curl of fair hair,—hair which, like a living thing, twined itself round Legree's fingers.
"Damnation!" he screamed, in sudden passion, stamping on the floor, and pulling furiously at the hair, as if it burned him. "Where did this come from? Take it off!—burn it up!—burn it up!" he screamed, tearing it off, and throwing it into the charcoal.
(Uncle Tom's Cabin 372)
Stowe goes on to give a long, logical explanation for Legree's reaction, telling how he had mistreated his mother and how, on her deathbed, she had sent him her forgiveness with a lock of her hair. A recollection of this incident apparently is responsible for Legree's violent reaction. But Stowe does not leave it at that. She undermines this explanation by suggesting that the lock of Eva's hair does, in fact, possess a mysterious, magical power as it actively twines itself around Legree's fingers: "Ah, Legree! that golden tress was charmed; each hair had in it a spell of terror and remorse for thee, and was used by a mightier power to bind thy cruel hands from inflicting uttermost evil on the helpless!" (Uncle Tom's Cabin 375). Stowe delves into the realm of supernatural miracles, and by consciously setting up and then knocking down a logical cause, she invites and urges the reader to believe with her.
Stowe also uses this technique of inviting the reader to choose the supernatural over the rational in both of Tom's visionary experiences. In incorporating mystical visions in her representation of Tom, Stowe is making a sharp deviation from the Protestant tradition. The ecstatic visions described in Catholic hagiography were often the focus of severe attacks by Protestants. Jenny Franchot points out that the "ideal" Protestant martyr "was to maintain his independence of the physical, as manifested in visions and heavenly visitors" (76). Protestant martyrs had to rely on faith alone without the physical manifestations of God's presence. Catholic saints, on the other hand, are afforded some comfort; Richard Kieckhefer explains the significance of the mystical experiences in the lives of these saints:
The mystical experiences of the saints, their ecstasies and visions, were the most extraordinary and inaccessible manifestations of … spirituality.
One might suppose that these experiences stood as a counterbalance to the darker and more obviously disquieting elements in the saints' lives, and in some ways they did: visions often served as God's means for comforting his saints when the tribulations of life would otherwise have grown too severe.
Tom experiences his visions at just the moment when he is about to give up hope, and these scenes seem to be right out of Catholic hagiography. Tom's first mystical experience occurs shortly after his arrival on Legree's plantation. He is disheartened by what he finds, and he is aware of the dehumanizing effect Legree's methods have on his fellow slaves. When Tom tries to tell them about Jesus and the Bible, they refuse to believe him. They tell Tom that such a benevolent God could not exist on Legree's plantation. As Tom prepares himself for bed, a "fierce conflict" wages in his heart. He experiences his first sense of doubt as he asks himself, "Is God HERE?" (Uncle Tom's Cabin 350). That night, almost as an answer to his doubt, Tom is visited in his dreams by Eva, who comforts him with scripture. The chapter ends as Tom awakens, and, once again, Stowe leaves the incident open for interpretation as a supernatural experience:
Tom woke. Was it a dream? Let it pass for one. But who shall say that that sweet young spirit, which in life so yearned to comfort and console the distressed, was forbidden of God to assume this ministry after death?
(Uncle Tom's Cabin 351)
Stowe again urges the reader toward an acceptance of the possibility of the supernatural and miraculous. In doing so, she also stresses that God actively offers comfort to the afflicted, and this is echoed in Tom's second mystical experience.
This second experience is the climax of the novel in terms of its hagiographic elements, and it forms the final and highest step in Tom's spiritual growth. This second vision fulfills another aspect of Catholic hagiography. Richard Kieckhefer explains that the major themes in hagiographic literature "are compassionate beholding of Christ's agony and such total identification with Christ that the saint not only imitates him but becomes assimilated to him—not only becomes like Christ but becomes an embodiment of Christ himself" (91). Tom achieves this desired assimilation through the second vision. Having been subjected to the abuses of Legree for some time now, Tom is again on the verge of giving up all hope. He still holds on to the "eternal rock" of faith, but "it was with a numb, despairing grasp" (Uncle Tom's Cabin 393). Tom is dazed and close to giving in to his despair, but his visionary experience provides strength to endure:
Suddenly everything around him seemed to fade, and a vision rose before him of one crowned with thorns, buffeted and bleeding. Tom gazed, in awe and wonder, at the majestic patience of the face; the deep, pathetic eyes thrilled him to his inmost heart; his soul woke, as, with floods of emotion, he stretched out his hands and fell upon his knees,—when, gradually, the vision changed: the sharp thorns became rays of glory; and, in splendor inconceivable, he saw that same face bending compassionately towards him, and a voice said, "He that overcometh shall sit down with me on my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father on his throne."
(Uncle Tom's Cabin 393)
In this vision, Tom watches as the crown of Jesus's conflict and suffering is transformed into His crown of glory. Unlike Eva, who gains the "crown without the conflict," Tom knows that he must suffer to gain his victory, yet he is willing to accept gladly his suffering after this vision. Christ essentially invites Tom to a special communion with God. In accepting the pain of his martyrdom, Tom will be taken into the same relationship to Jesus Christ as Christ has to the Father. Again, Stowe enters the narrative to challenge the reader to accept the verity of the vision. She first offers the explanation of a "psychologist," and then goes on to ask, "Who shall measure what an all-pervading Spirit may do with these capabilities of our mortality, or the ways in which He may encourage the desponding souls of the desolate?" (Uncle Tom's Cabin 394). This second visionary experience gives Tom the strength and conviction to pursue his martyrdom in the unholy and depressing surroundings of Legree's plantation. Like Eva, Tom achieves the final victory through death, and also like Eva, Tom's death brings an access to power.
In Chapter 40, entitled "The Martyr," Stowe details Legree's violent beating of Tom which leads to Tom's death. But more importantly, Stowe stresses the uplifting qualities of Tom's suffering. She points out that God's love has "changed an instrument of torture, degradation and shame, into a symbol of glory, honor, and immortal life; and, where His spirit is, neither degrading stripes, nor blood, nor insults, can make the Christian's last struggle less than glorious" (Uncle Tom's Cabin 416). Stowe again demands that the reader accept that God is present and actively offering comfort during Tom's struggle:
Was he alone, that long night, whose brave, loving spirit was bearing up, in that old shed, against suffering and brutal stripes?
Nay! There stood by him One,—seen by him alone,—"like unto the Son of God."
(Uncle Tom's Cabin 416)
Through the comforting presence of his vision of Jesus, Tom is able to endure the violent and humiliating abuses of Legree. The edifying qualities of his struggle are immediately apparent, for we are informed that during the final conflict, his "wondrous words and pious prayers had struck upon the hearts of the imbruted blacks," Sambo and Quimbo (Uncle Tom's Cabin 416). The two slaves, formerly Legree's henchmen, now see their earlier errors and beg Tom for forgiveness. Tom, acting out the essence of the Christian ethos, forgives his former tormentors and prays for the salvation of their souls.
In appropriating characteristics of Catholic hagiography in her fiction, Stowe fortifies her own personal beliefs while at the same time supporting the cultural work of her fiction. Catholic hagiography's emphases on the supernatural and on the community of saints obviously appealed to Stowe's own personal beliefs; the Catholic community of saints—interceding on our behalf—provided a comforting alternative to the individualistic tradition of Calvinism. But in urging her reader to accept the miraculous and supernatural powers of God, Stowe is also promoting the cultural work of her fiction. By incorporating elements of Catholic hagiography, Stowe portrays the image of an active, caring, nurturing God who aids and abets Christians on earth as they mobilize to achieve a new moral order.
1. It should be noted that in Italy, the social aim of the novel and the issue of slavery took a back seat to religious and moral interpretations and questions of artistic merit. As Joseph Rossi stresses in "Uncle Tom's Cabin and Protestantism in Italy," "the slavery question had only an academic interest for the Italian readers" (419).
2. Jenny Franchot discusses the distinction between the Protestant emphasis on "Word" and the Catholic emphasis on "Image" in Roads to Rome: The Antebellum Protestant Encounter with Catholicism, 6-11. Franchot explains, "Against this ideological construction of an imagistic, ‘idolatrous,’ and politically regressive Catholic past…, Old and New World Protestant "history" upheld the power of the "Word" against that of the "Image" and, by extension, the power of biblically allusive historical and fictional narratives against the suspiciously flesh-bound powers of Rome" (6-7). For a discussion on the differences between the Protestant and Catholic forms of hagiography, see Sacvan Bercovitch, The Puritan Origins of the American Self, 1-11.
3. The Catholic Church in America represented a unified whole in contrast to the Protestant sense of separateness and division which resulted from the sectarian conflicts between the various Protestant churches in America. As Franchot explains, "In contrast to an increasingly sectarian ‘invisible’ Protestantism, the ‘visible’ and unified spirituality of Roman Catholicism was, both for converts and for sympathetic Protestant literary artists, concretely available for personal and aesthetic inquiry" (198).
4. Bercovitch explains that Protestant Reformers felt that to venerate the saints was to "offer them as the substance of belief" and this reduces the "Christ-event" to "secular history" (9). The supernatural elements of Catholic saints' lives were considered by Protestants to be equally dubious, for miracles violate God's own laws. Also, to emphasize the performance of miracles suggests that salvation could be achieved through works rather than through faith alone. In contrast to the "imitatio Christi" of Catholic hagiography, Protestants formulated the more didactic—and rational—form of the "exemplum fidei." See Bercovitch, 8-15.
Bercovitch, Sacvan. The Puritan Origins of the American Self. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1975.
Boyer, Régis. "An Attempt to Define the Typology of Medieval Hagiography." Hagiography and Medieval Literature: A Symposium. Hans Bekker-Nielsen et al. Odense: Odense University Press, 1981. 27-36.
Caskey, Marie. Chariot of Fire: Religion and the Beecher Family. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1978.
Cunningham, Lawrence S. The Meaning of Saints. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1980.
Elliot, Alison Goddard. Roads to Paradise: Reading the Lives of the Early Saints. Hanover: Brown University Press, 1987.
Fiedler, Leslie A. Love and Death in the American Novel. New York: Stein and Day, 1966.
Franchot, Jenny. Roads to Rome: The Antebellum Protestant Encounter with Catholicism. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994.
Hedrick, Joan D. Harriet Beecher Stowe: A Life. New York: Oxford University Press, 1994.
Kieckhefer, Richard. Unquiet Souls: Fourteenth-Century Saints and Their Religious Milieu. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984.
Rossi, Joseph. "Uncle Tom's Cabin and Protestantism in Italy." American Quarterly XI (1959), 416-424.
Smylie, James H. "Uncle Tom's Cabin Revisited: The Bible, the Romantic Imagination, and the Sympathies of Christ." Interpretation XXVII (1973), 67-85.
Stowe, Harriet Beecher. Uncle Tom's Cabin; or, Life among the Lowly. 1852. New York: Harper, 1965.
———. Religious Poems. Boston: Ticknor and Fields, 1867.
Tompkins, Jane. Sensational Designs: The Cultural Work of American Fiction 1790-1860. New York: Oxford University Press, 1985.
Marianne Noble (essay date fall 1997)
SOURCE: Noble, Marianne. "The Ecstasies of Sentimental Wounding in Uncle Tom's Cabin." Yale Journal of Criticism 10, no. 2 (fall 1997): 295-320.
[In the following essay, Noble analyzes motifs of erotic longing, bodily punishment, and spiritual ecstasy in Uncle Tom's Cabin.]
O Heaven! How patient are God and nature with human diabolism! It seems to me that I have never begun to do anything for antislavery yet. And now, with one's whole heart bleeding, what can we do? … How this book must cut a true-hearted Southerner to the quick!—cut us all, for we verily are all guilty together.1
William Henry Channing
William Henry Channing's response to Uncle Tom's Cabin spotlights a rhetorical effect that I call "the sentimental wound," a bodily experience of anguish caused by identification with the pain of another. With his "whole heart bleeding," Channing seems to feel the pain slaves feel, an experience that causes him to recognize intuitively the urgency of the antislavery cause and to redouble his commitment to it. This political transformation through feelings was precisely the reaction that sentimental abolitionist authors sought to provoke. Convinced that Americans had become deadened to the pain suffered by victims of heartless public policies because they thought in impersonal abstractions, authors like Stowe sought to restore feeling to dominant modes of cognition. They "cut … to the quick" in an effort to pierce through anaesthetizing abstractions and make readers think through the subjective responses of intuition, imagination, and sympathetic extensions to others. In so doing, I want to suggest, they promoted an epistemology that was not only anti-slavery, but also anti-individualistic and anti-patriarchal.
Sentimental authors like Stowe tend to see the emotional self as an embodied self, and their use of the sentimental wound derives from their daunting and laudable struggle to appeal to a decentered but embodied notion of personhood within the constraints of a culture influenced by Cartesian dualism. A wound is a site where emotions and senses intersect in pure feeling, and in attempting to produce affect in their readers, sentimental authors attempt to communicate through the presence of physical and emotional feelings, rather than through abstract detachment from the body. Stowe idealizes bodily activities—feeding, sitting on laps and touching faces, dancing and rolling on the floor together, tickling one another or pulling one another's toes—as physical means by which individuals construct intersubjective, non-individuated identities. When, in the opening of the novel, Chloe alternately feeds her baby and herself, and when the baby subsequently buries her fat hands in Tom's hair, Stowe offers visual images of the way bodies serve as a means not of separating the "me" from the "not-me," but of extending the "me" to the "not-me."
The embodied, relational self in sentimentality has what Stowe calls "real presence"; by this she means neither a disembodied soul nor simply bodily presence.2 Rather, she means the self defined by its cathexes and embodied feelings. In failing to appreciate the sentimental effort to articulate an embodied intersubjective "real presence," recent criticism has obscured an important feminist dimension of this genre. As I show in Part I, the sentimental wound represents a critique of abstract, disembodied notions of personhood, associating them with a masculine, symbolic epistemology that legitimizes slavery and other dehumanizing policies. In attempting to provoke knowledge through the body, rather than apart from the body or defined by the body, the sentimental wound strives to make possible a transcendence not of the body, but of a unitary subjectivity defined by the body. The sentimental voice of intersubjective transcendence challenges, though it does not silence, the voice of humanist transcendence that many critics have identified in Uncle Tom's Cabin. 3
But though it does not fall into the trap of liberal humanism, the sentimental wound falls into another trap, with equally profound implications for its feminism and its abolitionism. The effort to provoke in readers an experience of intersubjective connectedness at the level of the body had the unanticipated effect of eroticizing the reading experience, and in so doing, it undermined its own effort to humanize the slaves, who were positioned as erotic objects of sympathy rather than subjects in their own right. Many readers have explicitly described an erotic response to Uncle Tom's Cabin. In "A Child is Being Beaten," Sigmund Freud claims that many patients used Uncle Tom's Cabin for "onanistic gratification":
In my patients' milieu it was almost always the same books whose contents gave a new stimulus to the beating-phantasies: those accessible to young people, such as the so-called "Bibliotheque rose," Uncle Tom's Cabin, etc.4
In her study of masochistic desire, Marcia Marcus lists the childhood books that provided materials for her own adolescent masochistic fantasies:
There were the books about boarding school, in which small boys slaved for the bigger boys…. There were books about the initiation rites of exotic people. There was Uncle Tom's Cabin, and other books about black slaves in America. There were books about armies with iron discipline and military justice and punitive expeditions.5
Likewise, Richard Krafft-Ebing, the sex researcher who coined the term "masochism," includes in his compendium on sexual pathology the following letter from a self-diagnosed masochist (Case #57):
Even in my early childhood I loved to revel in ideas about the absolute mastery of one man over others. The thought of slavery had something exciting in it for me, alike whether from the standpoint of master or servant. That one man could possess, sell or whip another, caused me intense excitement; and in reading Uncle Tom's Cabin (which I read at about the beginning of puberty) I had erections.6
Case #57 adds that "the aim and end of all masochistic ideas is the unlimited power of life and death, as exercised over slaves and domestic animals." Uncle Tom's Cabin was ideal for his purposes because, as I show in Part Two, its principle rhetorical strategy of sentimental wounding makes it possible for readers to experience the ecstatic effects associated with subjection to "the power of life and death." Simultaneous appeals to the body and to a mystical merging with God enable the sentimental wound to function as a mechanism for transforming raw violence into ecstatic stimulation.
However, not all martyrdom in Uncle Tom's Cabin is erotic; Stowe reserves her discourses of the ecstasies of violent martyrdom for the torture of a black man, and the cliché of the supersexual black man transforms the religious ecstasy associated with Tom's brutalized body into a more carnal fantasy of erotic desire. These sadomasochistic pleasures of sentimentality clearly call into question the appropriateness of sympathy as a feminist political discourse, but the political implications of sentimental masochism are not simple, for it played a key role in the popularity of the book that President Lincoln believed started the Civil War, which resulted in emancipation of the slaves.7 The masochistic eroticism of sentimental wounding is, then, a double-edged sword of both liberation and repression.
I. The Epistemology of Wounds
Stowe had contempt for dishonest forms of sentimentality, claiming that their authors "talk what they cannot have felt."8 She also recognized, however, that the epithet "sentimental" was all too frequently slapped dismissively onto any discourse that valued feelings. In Uncle Tom's Cabin, for example, Senator Bird ridicules "all sentimental weakness of those who would put the welfare of a few miserable fugitives before great state interests" (155). Likewise, St. Clare recalls that his brother had accused him of "a womanish sentimentalism" for sympathizing with slaves (342). Evidently, Stowe distinguishes between two kinds of sentimentality, and the values what Paula Bennett calls "high sentimentality," "an epistemologically based discourse" that bases judgments of character and ethics on feelings, intuition and spirituality rather than on abstract logic.9 High sentimentality, which was grounded in the European sentimental tradition and flourished in America before the Civil War, strove to redress the cognitive failures of abstract analysis that women like Stowe believed had led the nation into its great moral crisis. Detached abstraction served as the basis of the corrupt legal system. As Mrs. Bird puts it, "I hate reasoning … on such subjects. There's a way you political folks have of coming round and round a plain right thing; and you don't believe in it yourselves when it comes to practice" (145). She advocates a sentimental alternative: "Your heart is better than your head, in this case" (153).10
In pursuing her sentimental epistemology, Stowe relied upon a conviction that non-slaves could know what the pain of slavery felt like. When her son Charley died, she identified her emotional anguish with that felt by slave parents whose children were sold into slavery. "It was at his dying bed and at his grave that I learned what a poor slave mother may feel when her child is torn away from her," she wrote.11 Like many sentimental authors, Stowe saw the anguish of bereavement as a universal emotion that cut through cultural difference, enabling one person to understand perfectly what another person was feeling. In Uncle Tom's Cabin, when Tom is torn from his wife and children, for instance, Stowe emphasizes the universality of his grief:
Sobs, heavy, hoarse, and loud, shook the chair, and great tears fell through his fingers on the floor; just such tears, sir, as you dropped into the coffin where lay your first born son; such tears, woman, as you shed when you heard the cries of your dying babe. For, sir, he was a man,—and you are but another man. And, woman, though dressed in silk and jewels, you are but a woman, and, in life's great straits and mighty grief, ye feel but one sorrow!
The anguish of separation is a unifying force, for all races, classes and genders experience bereavement as "one sorrow." Paradoxically, separation fosters a unity of feeling among sufferers. The phrase "her child is torn away" indicates this paradox: it compares a parting among people to the rending of a body, and the universality of that emotional anguish unites those who are torn asunder in a perfect form of communication.
In Uncle Tom's Cabin, Stowe capitalizes upon the political potential of this paradox of sentimental separation. In order to forge between readers and slaves a union based upon shared feelings, she reinvigorates readers' personal anguished memories of bereavement and separation, suggesting that those experiences are the same as the pain of slavery.12 As Catharine O'Connell has shown, the Senator Bird chapters provide a mise-en-scène illustrating Stowe's own authorial strategy of inducing witnesses to relive old wounds. The Senator's approach is the epitome of prevailing epistemologies; he supports the Fugitive Slave Law because he thinks in dehumanizing abstractions that enable him to think of "fugitives" without ever considering the emotions of the human beings involved in the discussion:
his idea of a fugitive was only an idea of the letters that spell the word,—or at the most, the image of a little newspaper picture of a man with a stick and bundle with "Ran away from the subscriber" under it. The magic of the real presence of distress,—the imploring human eye, the frail, trembling human hand, the despairing appeal of helpless agony,—these he had never tried.
He is reformed by a sentimental wound. When Eliza Harris attempts to explain why she ran away from the Shelbys, she interrupts the Senator's series of logical questions with a question of her own that shifts the epistemological basis of the discussion. She asks if the Birds have ever lost a child, a question that was "thrust on a new wound." When the Birds answer yes, Eliza explains, "Then you will feel for me. I have lost two" (148). This fictional example illustrates Stowe's own literary method: she thrusts into readers' pre-existing wounds, forcing them to "feel for" slaves by re-experiencing their own painful separations and other forms of suffering. The wounding forces a new mode of cognition upon readers, who are to understand slavery through their memories of sorrow rather than their sense of reason, and thereby apprehend the "plain right thing" that logic conceals.
Unlike authors of what Thomas Laqueur calls "humanitarian sensationalism," Stowe attempts to achieve "the real presence of distress" less by displaying literally wounded victims than by wounding observers.13 Even though Stowe suggests that "the imploring eye, the frail trembling hand" might reform the Senator, these bodily signs are not necessarily sufficient to transfer meaning from sufferer to observer. After all, when Eliza appears in his kitchen, "with garments torn and frozen, with one shoe gone, and the stocking torn away from the cut and bleeding foot," the Senator remains conspicuously detached from her, "tak[ing] up the interrogatory" (148). The physical presence of a real fugitive slave in evident distress does not restore him to his conscience, because physical presence is not "real presence." It is not until Eliza wounds the Senator himself by appealing to the universal anguish of separation that his political transformation occurs. Even if a witness is physically present with a victim, if he or she is emotionally disengaged, then he or she is not "truly" present, as Stowe indicates when she chastises her reader: "everything your money can buy, given with a cold, averted face, is not worth one honest tear shed in real sympathy" (167).
The body can never equal "real presence" for Stowe because she conceives of human identity in terms that resemble what Jessica Benjamin calls "intersubjectivity," an unstable self centered in but extending beyond the boundaries of the body.14 In Uncle Tom's Cabin, people are defined by "electric streams" uniting them to others (106). When Eliza loses her first two children, to whom she is "passionately attached," her identity is incomplete. "After the birth of little Harry, however … every bleeding tie and throbbing nerve, once more intertwined with that little life, seemed to become sound and healthful" (57). Because Eliza's identity is interfused with that of her children, her bodily presence cannot in and of itself constitute real presence. Her body does provide a metonym for her real presence, though, and wounding ("bleeding ties") a powerful image of the dissolution of their bonds of identity. Likewise, Chloe sees identity as being defined by cathexes. When wife and husband are torn apart, she claims, they effectively die: "it's jest takin' the very life on 'em" (111). Depriving husband and wife of each other's physical company kills them because it prevents their emotional connection to each other. Tellingly, the only time Tom comes close to submitting to Legree's efforts to break his spirit is when he is deprived of communion with his fellow slaves, isolated from the human interaction that is essential for true human life, reduced to a merely physical existence.
Still, bodily presence is easily confused with "real presence" because it is intimately associated with emotional presence. When Haley carries Tom off, Stowe berates Mr. Shelby for his physical absence because a face-to-face encounter could have shattered his emotional detachment. In order to provoke emotional connection, sentimental authors emphasize the importance of bodily presence and the bodily signs of emotional presence. They do so with such consistency, in fact, that critics have assumed they equate the two. According to Karen Sanchez-Eppler, in sentimentality, one "reads internal characteristics from the external signs offered by the body."15 As a paradigmatic example, Sanchez-Eppler observes that the heroine of Stowe's Dred, Nina Gordon, enjoys a capacity for "unproblematic discrimination of good from evil," so that after seeing Mr. Jekyl, she insists "I hate that man! … I never saw him before. But I hate him! He is a bad man." When her lover, Clayton, asks with logical detachment, "How can you be so positive about a person you've only seen once," Nina jokes, "don't you know that girls and dogs, and other inferior creatures, have the gift of seeing what's in people? It doesn't belong to highly cultivated folks like you, but to us poor creatures, who have to trust to our instincts." According to Sanchez-Eppler, this scene illustrates Nina's dubious "[s]kill in reading the body of the stranger," judging books by their covers (36).
But Sanchez-Eppler conflates two separate operations: trust in the advice given by one's own body and trust in the signs provided by the other's body. Nina is describing a gut feeling; however, such a response does not place implicit trust in the other's gut, but in one's own gut. Sanchez-Eppler describes a hermeneutic activity, a physiognomy of culturally-determined—racially and sexually encoded—bodily meanings. But surely the reference to dogs precludes any hermeneutics; dogs do not "read" symbolic codes; they respond to smell, tone of voice, mannerisms, and other presymbolic modes of communication associated with bodies. Underneath the obsequious self-deprecation that shields Clayton from the full brunt of her criticism of his abstraction, Nina is trying to make a point about different—female—ways of knowing that are superior to abstract thinking. The confusion arises from an absence of a language in Western culture to represent non-abstract, pre-verbal modes of communication. Stowe's struggle to represent a mode of cognition relying upon one's own body as an instrument for interpreting data resembles the struggle Jane Gallop describes in Thinking through the Body.16 For Stowe, thinking through the body is a bodily response to another person's "real presence," not his or her body only—though "real presence" is housed in the body, grounded in the body, and metonymically represented by the body. Proximity to another person's body enables an interpreter to evaluate that person holistically, as a complex nexus of physically grounded cognitive processes and emotional attachments. Intuitive thought is not the same thing as an epistemology presuming "a stable matrix of bodily signs."17
Recognizing the centrality of bodily cognition in sentimentality encourages us to reinterpret some of the most frequently discussed scenes in the novel. For instance, Sanchez-Eppler reads the following scene as a prime example of how sentimentality can only envisage freedom from racial and sexual oppression in fantasies of transcendence that separate essence from body, thereby unwittingly reinforcing the very oppression they seek to challenge:
"An't yer mine, now, body and soul?" [Legree] said, giving Tom a violent kick with his heavy boot; "tell me!"
In the very depth of physical suffering, bowed by brutal oppression, this question shot a gleam of joy and triumph though Tom's soul. He suddenly stretched himself up, and looking earnestly to heaven, while the tears and blood that flowed down his face mingled, he exclaimed,
"No! no! no! my soul an't your, Mas'r! You haven't bought it,—ye can't buy it! … you can't harm me!"
According to Sanchez-Eppler, Tom's freedom in this passage ("you can't harm me") is achieved through repudiation of the body: "Tom insists on the irrelevance of his body in identifying himself as a man" (113). However, while it is true that Tom separates himself from the "slave body" that white men have defined as "purchaseable," it is equally true that it is the experience of his body that makes Tom conscious of a self not for sale, a self that is literally and physically within his body. The body is precisely not irrelevant to Tom's sense of his manhood in this scene. Rather, physical pain draws attention to a zone within which Tom's "real presence" is located. When the pain of Legree's violent kick shoots through Tom's body, that sensation of physical penetration metonymically reveals to Tom the existence of an interior self ("soul") distinct from the outer self (body) that Legree both owns and kicks. Thus, the kick "[shoots] a gleam of joy and triumph through Tom's soul." This passage illustrates how wounding can awaken an empowering self-consciousness that is neither independent of the body nor equal to it. And the significance of this self-consciousness is not deferred to the afterlife but rather affords a psychic and spiritual transcendence in the here and now. It enables Tom to draw strength from his communal, af- fectional bonds and resist Legree's commands that he whip fellow slaves, betray Cassie, and renounce his religious convictions. His freedom derives from a transcendence not of his body, but of the legal fiction that exploits his body to define him as property.
Sanchez-Eppler is not wrong in her indication that appeals to spiritual freedom such as this one facilitate material exploitation of slaves, women and other subject groups. Another passage makes the repressive implications of idealizing "inner" freedom even more vivid: "the blows fell now only on the outer man, and not, as before, on the heart. Tom stood perfectly submissive; and yet Legree could not hide from himself that his power over his bond thrall was somehow gone" (558). Stowe's advocacy of the paradoxical freedom in perfect submission, a recognizable descendent of Calvin's "Paradox of Christian Liberty," exemplifies the repressive effects of universal humanism. But I want to suggest that there are two voices speaking simultaneously in these passages: the abstract and the presymbolic. I want to listen to that presymbolic voice. Stowe is, I think, trying to do something different from merely deferring freedom to a heaven where all souls are equal. The less familiar voice affirms an embodied, affective personhood empowered to resist repressive legal definitions of personhood and to affirm one's own self-definition of a personhood grounded in integrity and personal convictions. It should not surprise us that we need to excavate this voice from beneath a counter-discourse of disembodied transcendence. Literary practice is a symbolic activity, lacking a presymbolic vocabulary. As Stowe struggled to incorporate her female vision of the world and its potential for political transformation into her literary production, she found readily at hand a rich religious tradition describing universal equality in non-empirical terms. If it did not express the emotive ways of knowing grounded in cathexes and bodily experiences that she addressed elsewhere, it did enable her to bring a notion of an interiority different from the enslaved body into her work—with the deeply problematic ramifications that critics have appropriately noted.
We can recognize the voice of embodied, affective personhood most clearly in the sentimental effort to produce in the reader's body a gut feeling of pain as a grounding for an intuitive understanding of the slave's "real presence" as a living, breathing, feeling human being. Awakening a visceral consciousness, sentimental authors believe, is more likely to provoke action than dispassionate analysis, for it prevents the detachment that the mediation of symbols facilitates. To produce a gut feeling, Stowe draws upon readers' own memories of pain, creating blueprints guiding readers to relive their own experiences of suffering and to associate them with slaves. One of Tom's whippings, for instance, is introduced by images designed to stimulate readers' expansive imaginations:
The two gigantic negroes that now laid hold of Tom, with fiendish exultation in their faces, might have formed no unapt personification of the power of darkness. The poor woman screamed with apprehension, and all rose, as by a general impulse, while they dragged him unresisting from the place.
However, Stowe leaves the central scene unwritten, for the next chapter opens with a description of the aftermath: "… the thick air swarmed with myriads of mosquitos, which increased the restless torture of his wounds; whilst a burning thirst—a torture beyond all others—filled up the uttermost measure of physical anguish" (510). Most readers are intimately familiar with mosquitos and thirst, and Stowe's allusion to these as the incidental details compounding an unspoken central horror grounds their imaginative projections of the scene of horror within their own physical experiences. Here, metonymy provokes the "presence" of the reader's own remembered pain, so that the reader experiences a small taste of "real" physical torture and associates it with slaves' anguish. The chain of metonymic associations renders sentimental wounding an effective trope enabling readers to understand a slave's physical anguish intuitively rather than abstractly.
The device of alluding to the incidental physical details of a vaster horror provides a palpable grounding for Stowe's effort to convey slaves' limitless suffering. A scene in which Cassy attempts to dissuade Emmeline from fleeing by impressing upon her the tortures to which she would be subject were she captured offers a fictional example of this authorial strategy:
"You'd be tracked by the dogs, and brought back, and then—then—"
"What would he do?" said the girl, looking, with breathless interest, into her face.
"What wouldn't he do, you'd better ask," said Cassy…. "You wouldn't sleep much, if I should tell you the things I've seen … There's a place way out down by the grounds, where you can see a black, blasted tree, and the ground all covered with black ashes. Ask anyone what was done there, and see if they will dare to tell you."
"O! what do you mean?"
"I won't tell you. I hate to think of it. And I tell you, the Lord only knows what we may see tomorrow…."
Cassy's indication that Legree burns slaves alive grounds Emmeline's comprehension within her body, a grounding that is metonymically reinforced by her repetition of the word "black." But deferring articulation of that torture enables Cassy to invoke an even more powerful sense of all kinds of interior anguish, centering within the victim's body but extending beyond its boundaries. Refusing exact details is not only a gesture towards delicacy, as Karen Halttunen argues, though it is undoubtedly that. It also enables physical torture to function as a trope for Legree's limitless depravity. We might compare Cassy's speech with that used by Toni Morrison in Beloved. As Caroline Rody shows, Morrison also relies upon deferral of articulation in an effort to prevent the containment and over-simplification of the supremely horrifying nature of slavery. The metonymic title of the novel, an adjective without a subject, exemplifies the inarticulability of the composite horrors of slavery. The ghost in Beloved, Rody argues, represents an embodiment of slave pain, a wish-fulfillment whose gratification is impossible in language. Like Stowe, Morrison focuses upon embodiment not as a representation of presence, but as a trope for "real presence."18
The most famous scene of the novel conforms to this pattern of metonymy and deferral. Even though it was supposedly a vision of Tom being whipped to death that inspired Stowe to write the novel, the scene is largely unwritten.19 Rather, the climax alludes to incidental features associated with it:
the tick of the old clock could be heard, measuring with silent touch, the last minutes of mercy and probation…. Then, Legree, foaming with rage, smote his victim to the ground.
Scenes of blood and cruelty are shocking to our ear and heart. What man has nerve to do, man has not nerve to hear. What brother-man and brother-Christian must suffer, cannot be told us, even in our secret chamber, it so harrows the soul!
Readers construct the images of torture within their minds, drawing upon the incidental details of "blood," "nerve," "foaming" and "shocking." Doing so imparts the qualities of horror that they know accrue to physical distress, without containing the horror within language. These metonyms for torture stimulate a sensation of pain that feels so real that Stowe's son and biographer claimed that "Uncle Tom's Cabin made the crack of the slavedriver's whip, and the cries of the tortured black ring in every household in the land …" (CES [Life of Harriet Beecher Stowe Compiled from Her Letters and Journals] 155).
II. A Raging, Burning Storm of Feeling
Of course, it didn't. It is fundamentally impossible to bridge the gap separating one person's experience from another's. Metonymy is not equivalence. And so, while sentimental authors idealized in wounding an epistemological ideal of perfect comprehension in "one sorrow," intuitive knowing could never guarantee that readers would feel exactly what slaves feel.20 However, that epistemological failure produces an unanticipated result: representations of physical and emotional wounding constitute powerful tropes for the desire to achieve a perfect form of knowing, even if they cannot effect it. Physical wounds tantalize a viewer by seeming to make the inner self accessible to scrutiny, while emotional wounds underlie fantasies of emotional equivalence ("I know exactly what you're going through"). Stowe's discourse of wounding so powerfully evokes the fantasy of perfect access to the other's "real presence" that its failure to achieve that presence is partially compensated by its ability to make that desire itself present to a reader. A wound is a gap, a metaphor for the absence of the other. While the sentimental wound cannot heal that gap, its representation of the desire for "real presence" partially compensates for the inevitable deferral of "real presence."
In the climax of Uncle Tom's Cabin, Stowe repeatedly exploits the rhetorical power of wounding to represent the desire for "real presence." For instance, after Tom is beaten "to the uttermost of physical anguish," Stowe writes: "He did not know but that the day of his death was dawning in the sky; and his heart throbbed solemn throes of joy and desire as he thought that the wondrous all might all break upon his vision before that sun should set again" (538). As Tom's wounds throb with pain, his heart throbs with joy and desire; as his skin is broken by the whip, he imagines that "the all might all break upon his vision." "The all" is a loose reference to something like "God's presence," and wounding makes available to Tom an image of fusion with God, a merge that is suggested to him by the rupture of his skin, which allows for an ecstatic penetration of his body by alterity. This kind of merge is infinitely desirable for Stowe, who laments the way individuality imposes a lonely separation from God's loving plenitude, as Tom's dying words emphasize: "Who,—who,—who shall separate us from the love of Christ?" (591) Separation from God and other people is inimical to the deepest forms of human fulfillment, as Stowe indicates when isolation leads Tom to the brink of atheism. When human life imposes barriers, that life is a form of death, while death paradoxically offers "life," a state of "continuity" with God, as Bataille puts it. Thus, when little Eva dies, Stowe writes that she "gave one sigh and passed from death unto life!" (428) Eradicating separation from God and from "the all" is such an enticing prospect that Tom effuses, "[Legree] an't done me no real harm,—only opened the gate of the kingdom for me; that's all! (591). Within the Calvinist discourse that governs Stowe's expression, the wounds that a whipping opens in the skin can be zones of "joy and desire" because they are gates between a person's isolated individuality and God's kingdom; as gates, wounds are metonyms for God's full presence.
In the climactic whipping scene in Uncle Tom's Cabin, wounding is so intimately linked with desire that torture seems to express longing and intensity of imagined pleasure more than it does literal physical agony. When a fellow slave taunts Tom that he is about to be whipped to death, Stowe writes,
the savage words none of them reached that ear!—a higher voice there was saying, "Fear not them that kill the body, and, after that, have no more that they can do." Nerve and bone of that poor man's body vibrated to those words, as if touched by the finger of God; and he felt the strength of a thousand souls in one…. His soul throbbed,—his home was in sight,—and the hour of release seemed at hand."
In this scene, violence functions as a trope for an ecstatic jouissance associated with the loss of isolated individuality. Stowe's celebration of martyrdom transforms suffering into an ecstasy of pain; Legree's whip resembles being "touched by the finger of God" because the openings in Tom's skin will operate like "the gate to the kingdom," and so represent the fulfillment of reunion with God. The Evangelical context for this passage enables Stowe to imagine torture as an ecstatic encounter characterized by physical pleasure, liminality, loss of self, intimacy, and the desire for fusion.
Throughout the novel, Stowe compares this ecstasy of fusion with God to the reunion of a child with its mother. In a chapter entitled "Reunion," for example, St. Clare's dying word, reporting on what he glimpses in the next world, is "Mother!" (456) The novel consistently suggests that God is best understood in comparison to a mother. As Jane Tompkins puts it, the idealized mother Rachel Halliday is "God in human form" (142).21 Stowe's uses of maternal images to express religious desires reflects a larger cultural pattern of the era, according to which human experiences were becoming increasingly understood in private and personal terms. Mothers had not always been understood in the idealized terms that we see in Uncle Tom's Cabin ; rather, as Ruth Bloch writes, the rise of "the moral mother" is attributable to changes in family organization that swept across the nation between 1785 and 1815, transforming the home from an intermingled public and private space to the site of a nuclear family governed by a professional nurturer—a sanctified mother.22 And, as Joel Pfister has demonstrated, these same social transformations gave rise to discourses defining human identity in terms of the relationships and intense feelings within that private family unit. Psychoanalysis is such a discourse, defining the self in terms of separation from a mother idealized as the embodiment of presence, benevolence, and nurture and sexual desire as a longing for reunion with that blissful maternal presence.23
Given that psychological notions of selfhood were emerging during the historical moment that produced Uncle Tom's Cabin, it is not coincidental that the psychoanalytic tradition growing out of those notions features a similar understanding of desire. That tradition has frequently universalized an ontology that, with hindsight, we can see was actually an emerging construct in the antebellum era. In their efforts to understand the linkage between pleasure and pain, therefore, many psychoanalytic theorists have turned to that ontology, proposing that if the self is constructed through an unhappy separation from the totality of existence, then wounding might reasonably express reintegration with that totality. Jacques Lacan, for example, observing that wounds, like orifices, are ruptures in the skin through which objects of desire might be incorporated, suggests that they can function as metonyms for the fulfillment of desire. And Julia Kristeva includes wounds in her catalogue of abjected entities, sites of an original identification that a developing infant represses in the process of separating the self from the not-self. Abjected entities—such as wounds, pus, feces, corpses and the mother's body—she proposes, represent the ecstatic promise of a recaptured sensation of a lost sense of continuity with one's mother and "the all" that she represents. Like Stowe, these psychoanalytic theo- rists not only idealize the notion of an original state of union with a mother who represents pure plenitude, but they recognize that reunion with her necessarily entails the destruction of individual life, since it eradicates the boundaries of individuality. Both psychoanalytic and Evangelical Calvinist discourses, therefore, posit a link between death and desire.24
Psychoanalytic discourses of desire might well play a role in the process by which Stowe's representations of what Case #57 called "the unlimited power over life and death" were eroticized for people whose conceptions of sexuality were influenced by that discourse—such as Case #57, who corresponded with Krafft-Ebing, a Professor of Psychiatry; Freud's patients; and Marcia Marcus, who consulted most of the major psychoanalytic theories of masochism in her search for self-knowledge. Moreover, since the rise of psychoanalytic discourses of erotic desire is concurrent with the rise of sanctified motherhood, it is possible that antebellum readers might also have found something erotic in Stowe's association of wounding with the ecstasies of reunion with a God-like mother. Her usage of words recognized as euphemisms for sex within her culture—"throbbed,"25 "vibrated," "release"—in connection with Tom's martyrdom points to an underlying cultural link between the ecstasies of sex and the ecstasies of religious transcendence in her own era.
But another, more immediate discourse of the era participates even more directly in the eroticization of wounding in Uncle Tom's Cabin. In the novel, fantasies of wounding appear to be most fully eroticized when projected onto suffering black bodies, such as those of Tom and Dodo, a beautiful young slave found in Chapter 28, "Henrique." Stowe embeds her portrait of Dodo within a clearly sexualized discourse by limning a romantic rivalry between him and Eva's cousin, Henrique. Henrique's relationship with his "fair cousin" is characterized in romantic cliches: "I could love anything for your sake, dear Cousin; for I really think you are the loveliest creature that I ever saw" (396). But after he "struck [Dodo] across the face with his riding-whip, and, seizing one of his arms, forced him on to his knees, and beat him till he was out of breath" (388), Eva pointedly ignores his gestures of "gallantry" towards herself, favoring instead his weeping slave: "But Eva bent to the other side of the horse, where Dodo was standing" (389). When Henrique protests, "Why, Eva, you've really taken such a fancy to Dodo, that I shall be jealous," she does not dispute that she has favored his rival, simply responding, "But you beat him," as though there were a causal link between his suffering and her love. "[Y]ou don't love your servants," he insists, to which she replies, "I do, indeed." (237).
As Hortense Spillers argues, a covert discourse of sexual desire for black men pulses throughout the book, erupting most blatantly when Eva urges her father to buy Tom because, as she puts it, "I want him" (130). The desire of the white woman for the black man is a cliché in America; barred by race from bourgeois respectability, African Americans have traditionally been mythologized as supersexual beings associated with tropical heat, fire, blood and strength.26 If eroticism is a desire for the "other," a longing to heal the wounds of an internalized otherness that situates separation from "the all" at the core of identity, then in America in the nineteenth century, a black man represents the perfect figure of desire for the white woman. Stowe may well express this kind of culturally-overdetermined desire for the black man's supermasculinity through explicit expressions of desire, as Spillers suggests, but she also does so by fetishizing the wounds of black men. Feminizing and emasculating these men frees her to desire them, for as tortured objects of pity, they invite the full force of love, tenderness and longing for intimacy that Stowe could never bestow upon a black man represented as subject.27 And projecting masochistic desires onto these (sentimentalized) powerfully sensual figures eroticizes the identification that unites two people in the bonds of one sorrow.
The erotic effect of these descriptions of wounded black slaves is intensified because of the rhetorical strategy of sentimental wounding. Prompted to experience "the real presence of distress," the reader can feel the pain of the wounded slave, and through a mechanism that Jean Laplanche calls "propping," that undefined sensation of affect can be experienced as religious or sexual desire. In a reconsideration of Freud's concept "anaclisis," Laplanche proposes that sexual ideas "lean" on instinctual biological processes at key moments of psychic development, so that nonsexual physical experiences such as sucking can be experienced as sexual through association.28 I want to suggest that sentimental wounding makes it possible for readers to experience this sexualization of a nonsexual feeling: the opening of old emotional wounds produces affect somewhere within the body, that unidentifiable site of an elusive "real presence," and religious or erotic desire "props" itself on that internal laceration because predominant discourses of the era associate affliction with romantic and religious love. The process by which the sentimental wound is ex- perienced as ecstatic or erotic is metonymic and discursive, culturally specific rather than universal.
The word jouissance, associated with but not identical to sexuality, captures the responses of many of Stowe's contemporary readers, who found that images of wounding, expressed within racial and religious terms and "propped" on the "real presence" of emotional and physical wounds, created a physical experience of desire. Consider, for example, the response to sentimental wounding described in a letter written by Stowe's lifelong friend Georgiana May, which Stowe printed in an 1870's edition of Uncle Tom's Cabin :
I sat up last night long after one o'clock, reading and finishing Uncle Tom's Cabin. I could not leave it any more than I could have left a dying child; nor could I restrain an almost hysterical sobbing for an hour after I laid my head upon my pillow. I thought I was a thorough-going abolitionist before, but your book has awakened so strong a feeling of indignation and compassion, that I seem never to have had any feeling on this subject till now. But what can we do? Alas! alas! What can we do? This storm of feeling has been raging, burning like a very fire in my bones, all the livelong night, and all through my duties this morning it haunts me,—I cannot do away with it. Gladly would I have gone out in the midnight storm last night, and, like the martyr of old, have been stoned to death, if that could have rescued these oppressed and afflicted ones.29
May's letter encapsulates many of the ways that wounding functions as a trope for desire in sentimentality. The letter opens with a melodramatic identification with heroic motherhood (she "could not leave" a dying child).30 In imagining being unwillingly wrenched from a dying child, she inflicts upon herself precisely the sentimental wound of the separation of mother and child that Stowe so frequently depicts, invigorating within herself an aching desire for intimate union. May follows this indication of a painful sense of absence in herself (implied in the powerless cry "Alas! alas! What can we do?") with a second image of literal wounding as a trope expressing her desire to fill that gap: "Gladly would I have gone out in the midnight storm last night, and, like the martyr of old, have been stoned to death." The fantasy of palpable pain counteracts the absence inside the self, and the coherent image of braving a lethal storm gratifies May with a visualizable form of agency that answers her frustrated inarticulateness. It also rewards her with an ecstatic sense of transcendent martyrdom that resembles the martyrdom of Tom. Indeed, her use of heightened language ("like the martyr of old") suggests that Stowe's own heightened discourse has provided the terms in which May understands her own experience of inner anguish and her conception of an effective response.
Sentimental wounding also produces a form of jouissance for May. Her use of the image of a storm twice ("storm of feeling," "midnight storm") links her pain to her desire; they seem to be manifestations of each other. The metonymic link of the word "storm" suggests that the idea of religious transcendence "props" itself on the raw feeling of physical affect raging and burning within, so that the burning sensation is associated with the ecstasies that presumably accompany martyrdom. In other words, metonymic exchanges between literal storms and storms of feeling enable May to experience some version of the ecstatic jouissance Stowe associates with Tom's literal wounds. The phrase "these oppressed and afflicted ones" gestures towards solidarity with slaves, but its detached, clichéd character suggests that they serve more as objects facilitating her turn inward than as actual subjects leading her outwards into public action.
Presumably, Stowe would not object to her friend's experience of elation upon contemplating the spectacle of martyrdom. Indeed, May's response mirrors the response idealized in the Atonement: a deep recognition of Jesus' martyrdom fills the Christian with a blissful recognition of God's love for humanity.31 Stowe describes this process in the novel when, on the brink of atheism, Tom receives a vision of Christ "crowned with thorns, buffeted and bleeding. Tom gazed, in awe and wonder, at the majestic patience of the face; the deep pathetic eyes thrilled him to his inmost heart; his soul woke, as, with floods of emotion, he stretched out his hands … he saw that same face bending compassionately towards him" (554). Like the reader of Uncle Tom's Cabin, Tom feels distress by identifying with the pain of another sufferer, and that feeling provokes a "flood[ing]" sense of loving intimacy, a bonding with the other that expands the self. My point is not necessarily that May's experience is objectionable but rather that it a physically grounded experience of ecstatic expansion associated with ideals of interracial bonding. And as such, it has a transgressive, erotic character.
The ecstasy of sentimental wounding is particularly made available to May because of the involuntary nature of her physical response. The division between two selves—a will that seeks self-control and a body wracked by convulsions and hysterical sobbing she "cannot do away with"—enables May to experience her jouissance without having to take responsibility for it. Being forced to feel passion might well have been enticing for women in May's social position. William Acton notoriously observed in 1857 that "the majority of women (happily for society) are not very much troubled with sexual feeling of any kind"—particularly "the best mothers, wives, and managers of households."32 As Nancy Cott points out, many women endorsed this dominant narrative of female passionlessness because they derived from it the privileges their culture accorded its "best" women.33 Stowe herself had disavowed any passion: "tho I did love you with an almost insane love before I married you," she wrote to her husband, "I never knew yet or felt the pulsation which showed me that I could be tempted in that way—there never was a moment when I felt anything by which you could have drawn me astray—for I loved you as I now love God—and I can conceive of no higher love— … I have no passion."34 But racialized masochistic fantasies in Uncle Tom's Cabin served as a mechanism enabling her and her female readers to experience such "pulsations" while retaining their self-conceptions as "true women." Elaine Scarry describes the capacity of pain to "unmake" the constructed world into which people extend themselves, confining them to the tiny space of their own anguished bodies.35 She focuses upon the agonizing nature of this experience in reality, but a reader's imagined experience of torture is obviously different from actual physical torture: when one's constructed identity abjects the body and physical passion, fantasies of pain enable one to imagine the ecstasies of unmaking that repressive subjectivity, without experiencing its agonies.36
Southern reviewers worried about the threat Uncle Tom's Cabin posed to the purity of their "best" women. An anonymous reviewer in the New Orleans Picayune, for instance, charged that Stowe "painted from her own libidinous imagination scenes which no modest women could conceive of."37 In his review, or "critical punishment," as he calls it, George Frederick Holmes exhorted:
Are scenes of license and impurity, and ideas of loathsome depravity and habitual prostitution to be made the cherished topics of the female pen, and the familiar staple of domestic consideration or promiscuous conversation? Is the mind of woman to be tainted, seduced, contaminated, and her heart disenchanted of all its native purity of sentiment, by the unblushing perusal … of such thinly veiled pictures of corruption? Can a lady of stainless mind read such works without a blush of confusion, or a man think of their being habitually read by ladies without shame and repugnance?38
One can only assume that Holmes would feel "shame" if ladies read about "ideas of loathsome depravity" because they would have first-hand knowledge of the extent to which their husbands, brothers and fathers are regularly "seduced … [by] thinly veiled pictures of corruption" in the books normally reserved for them. Surely, the metaphor William Gilmore Simms constructed to express his loathing for Stowe displays an imagination more libidinous than the one he seeks to condemn: "Mrs. Stowe betrays a malignity so remarkable that the petticoat lifts of itself, and we see the hoof of the beast under the table."39 His rather ambiguous image—is Stowe the devil in disguise but identifiable by her private parts? is she copulating with some devilish beast beneath her sentimental petticoats? is she the whore of Babylon?—suggests that he sees the book as a pornographic testament to female impurity. Because they are immune to the appeal of the fiction of communal bonding through suffering, these commentators are alert to the pornographic aspects of the book and concerned about the transgressive effects of that eroticism upon their wives and daughters.
Male readers evidently enjoyed more latitude to indulge the pleasures of unmaking—in their case—of hegemonic norms of manhood. According to George Templeton Strong, a prominent New York lawyer, Uncle Tom's Cabin was "a sentimental romance … that set all Northern women crying and sobbing over the sorrows of Sambo."40 However, the affect of Uncle Tom's Cabin was not limited to women. Horace Greeley's tears were so uncontrollable that he had to interrupt a trip from Boston to Washington to spend the night in a hotel—presumably crying in private.41 William Lloyd Garrison mentions a feminine "frequent moistening of our eyes, and the making of our heart grow liquid as water, and the trembling of every nerve within us."42 Rev. Henry Clarke Wright observed, "It has fascinated and repulsed me at the same time, as a reptile that enchants you, while it excites your loathing and abhorrence … moving and melting and swaying my heart and sympathies …"43 Longfellow comments that "we read ourselves into despair in that tragic book, Uncle Tom's Cabin. It is too melancholy, and makes one's blood boil too hotly."44 And John Dix, an English immigrant, commented that a friend was "sleeping one night in a strange house," and being "annoyed by hearing somebody in the adjoining chamber alternately groaning and laughing," he "knocked upon the wall and said, ‘Hallo, there! What's the matter! Are you sick or reading Uncle Tom's Cabin ?’" The stranger answered that he was reading Uncle Tom's Cabin. 45 These male readers, like female readers, may have found a transgressive pleasure in being forced to shed abjected "female" tears despite themselves, released from oppressive fictions of virile manhood.
The involuntary nature of these responses frees both white men and women to indulge socially unacceptable desires without having to accept responsibility for them. But such compulsion is not merely a veil screening the novel's potential to provoke erotic feelings; rather, the physical compulsion effected by the novel intensified its potential to stimulate sexual feelings. According to D. A. Miller, readers of Victorian sensational fiction experienced an erotic thrill from physical subjection to the adrenaline effects characteristic of that fictional mode fiction: "accelerated heart rate and respiration, increased blood pressure, the pallor resulting from vasoconstriction." These "fight or flight" symptoms are involuntary: "the body is compelled to automatism … the rhythm of reading is frankly addictive." And Miller describes this physical subjection to an author's "Pavlovian expertise" as a form of slavery, an "involuntary servitude" that provokes a masochistic titillation.46 Analogously, Uncle Tom's Cabin affords the masochistic pleasures of "involuntary servitude" to the visceral power of Stowe's wounding ("I cannot do away with it," May says).47 Slavery is not only the subject of the novel, but its effect. And this doubly enslaving textuality reinforces the ability of the reader to fantasize about the kind of ecstatic liberation from hegemonic identity that Tom does when Legree kicks him. Because the author has forced the experience of passion upon her readers, they are not responsible for its transgressiveness. Separated from the body, yet in a heightened relationship to the body, the reader can thrill to a sense of incoherence, a gap in the illusion of unitary identity. Stowe not only represents what Case #57 claimed was "the aim and end of all masochistic ideas"—"the unlimited power of life and death, as exercised over slaves and domestic animals"—but her sentimental wounding subjects her reader to something resembling it.
This freedom through enslavement produces a kind of transcendence for the reader, who can experience a release from the coherence of subjectivity, a transcendence deriving not from rising above the body, but rather from experiencing it in a splintered way. This ecstatic experience of incoherence is related to—but crucially different from—the decentered intersubjective identity sentimental authors idealized in the rhetorical technique of wounding. In the sentimental ideal, a sufferer and an observer exceed their own bodily limits through the common bond of pain; the observer knows what the sufferer feels and becomes intertwined with the other. One does unto one's neighbor as unto oneself because one's neighbor is, in a sense, oneself. As Adam Smith put it, in sympathy for another, "we enter as it were into his body, and become in some measure the same person with him."48
But the eroticization of that experience does not necessarily extend the observer outwards to a communion with the sufferer; it may turn the observer inward, compensating with a self-satisfying illusion of humanitarian altruism that may well not be acted upon at all.49 After all, as Wendell Phillips said, "There is many a man who weeps over Uncle Tom and swears by the [pro-slavery New York] Herald."50 And the response of a group of Swiss mountaineers, as recorded by Stowe's brother Charles, also indicates a disturbingly exploitative side of sympathy:
It was touching to listen to the talk of these secluded mountaineers. The good hostess, even the servant maids, hung about Harriet, expressing such tender interest for the slave. All had read Uncle Tom [Uncle Tom's Cabin ]; and it had apparently been an era in their life's monotony, for they said, ‘Oh, madam, do write another! Remember, our winter nights here are very long!’
While these mountaineers are sympathetic to the slaves' plight, Charles Beecher suggests that their preoccupation with their own dismally long winter nights partially undermines their pretensions to humanitarian altruism. They can do little to help the slave, but they long for another tale about bondage in order to alleviate their boredom. Philip Fisher suggests that, despite its altruistic gesture, self-reflexive pleasures are endemic to the sentimental genre because it relies upon death as an "analogy for social, remediable suffering." Because sentimentality emphasizes "our general helplessness," "the will to act is weakened if not denied. The feeling of suffering becomes more important than the action against suffering. Tears become more important than escapes or rescues."51 Thus in response to her own rhetorical question "What can we do?" Georgiana May fantasizes about being stoned to death, an image that gratifies with the illusion of heroic agency but identifies no real action. Fisher's sweeping critique of the fail- ure of sentimentality to produce genuine political commitment offers a temptingly appropriate closure. After all, it would be satisfying to observe that not only do the sadomasochistic pleasures of racist fantasies of torture violate all human decency and compassion, degrade the human spirit, perpetuate racist stereotypes, but they fail to produce the desired goal.
But surely history proves that Uncle Tom's Cabin did not weaken the will of the nation to act.52 Some readers may have simply indulged the decadent pleasures of enslavement within a private reading situation, but many nonetheless responded to those pleasures by taking arms against enslavement in a public arena. The pleasures of suffering did not invariably prevent outward-oriented action. Rather, they appear to have fostered a fiction of interracial bonding in many white Americans that inspired action on behalf of the community as a whole. Indeed, the pleasures of that fiction, including the pleasures of narcissistic and erotic gratification, encouraged readers around the world to endorse the book's abolitionist message. Though the communal ideal frequently was predicated upon the erasure of the subjectivity of black Americans, it nonetheless awakened abolitionist passions in many citizens who had grown accustomed to rationalizing slavery. Without the fictions of unity that authorized it, emancipation might never have become a national priority. As the complex erotics of the sentimental wound demonstrates, sympathy is a dangerous form of political thought, tending to objectify the other or recreate him in one's own image; but as history demonstrates, a lack of sympathy is more dangerous.
The political ramifications of the eroticization of sympathy in Uncle Tom's Cabin are equally double-edged from a feminist standpoint. Sentimental authors conceived of wounding as a distinctly feminine contribution to the political sphere, but in promoting "feeling right" as a significant form of female political agency, they unwittingly participated in the sadistic exploitation of slaves positioned as erotic objects. They also participated in the construction of ideas of an essential female masochism, since the promotion of "feeling right" rewarded women who suffered on behalf of "the oppressed and afflicted" with both social esteem and sensual gratification, thereby suggesting that women enjoy suffering and should enjoy it. White men could return from their flirtation with the masochistic pleasures of identification with abused slaves to their positions of cultural dominance, while women were led to understand suffering as their particular calling and privilege. However, the masochistic pleasures of Uncle Tom's Cabin are not simply a means of brainwashing female readers to accept their positions within the panopticon. They also represent the fact that bourgeois white women, like everyone else, were already in the panopticon, searching for effective means of experiencing the full range of their feelings and desires within their particular cultural constraints. Fantasies of ecstatic martyrdom did not necessarily describe what women like Stowe and May actually wanted in their lives but they did make available a language of desire, articulated in codes largely determined by prevailing social discourses, such as Calvinism and racial essentialism. For better or for worse, in antebellum America, tropes of torture and enslavement enabled white, middle-class women to articulate their longings for intimacy, ecstasy, reconnection to the body, interracial bonding, and reform of the alienated abstraction that characterized the male-dominated literary and political spheres. Recognizing and understanding the eroticism of sentimental wounding neither naturalizes nor apologizes for it; revealing its historical and cultural contingency takes an important first step towards finding equally exciting and more humane alternatives.53
1. I am grateful to Robert Ferguson, Mary Loeffelholz, Jonathan Loesberg, Michael Manson, Kevin Moore, Roberta Rubenstein, Eric Savoy, Vanessa Schwartz, Richard Sha, and Laura Wexler for helpful comments on this essay. I am especially grateful to Jim Berg for his careful readings of far too many drafts. My epigraph is from Thomas F. Gossett, Uncle Tom's Cabin and American Culture (Dallas, TX: Southern Methodist University Press, 1985), 165.
2. Harriet Beecher Stowe, Uncle Tom's Cabin, or Life among the Lowly, 1851 edition, ed. Ann Douglas (New York: Viking Penguin, 1981), 156.
3. Ever since James Baldwin published his brilliant critique of the universal humanism in Uncle Tom's Cabin, critics have engaged in the important work of fleshing out the myriad repressive implications of sentimental humanism for marginalized people in America. See "Everybody's Protest Novel," Uncle Tom's Cabin, ed. Elizabeth Ammons (New York: Norton, 1994). In her influential article "Bodily Bonds: The Intersecting Rhetorics of Feminism and Abolitionism," Representations (Fall 1988), for example, Karen Sanchez-Eppler suggests that sentimental authors tend to sever body from self in response to a "terrified sense" that the raced and gendered body rigidly determines personhood and a feminist-abolitionist longing that personhood be unrelated to body-type (50). The latter masks and legitimizes the former, she claims, for locating freedom only in an always-deferred elsewhere leaves unaddressed repressive constructions of identity based on female or black bodies in the here and now. In Hard Facts: Form and Setting in American Fiction (New York: Oxford University Press, 1985), Philip Fisher demonstrates that pretensions to universal humanism are undermined by the workings of sentimentality, which, by using death as the analogical basis for sympathy, fails to distinguish between suffering that is remediable and that which is not. In "Tender Violence: Literary Eavesdropping, Domestic Fiction, and Educational Reform," Yale Journal of Criticism 5.1 (Fall 1991): 151-87, Laura Wexler demonstrates the repressive implications of universal humanist assumptions for Native-American readers. In "Harriet Jacobs and the Sentimental Politics of Female Suffering," ELH 59 (1992): 939-964, Franny Nudelman indicates the exclusion of African-American women from the supposedly inclusive community of sentimental suffering. Some critics argue that sentimental representations of embodiment presume a potentially racist equivalence between inner and outer being implicit in sentimental representation and sentimental affect. For example, Amy Schrager Lang claims that Stowe's comparison of her introductory portrait of Tom to a daguerreotype "assures us of its fidelity not merely to the outward man but to the inner one—aspects of the self understood by sentimental culture to be inextricably connected"; she adds that Stowe has an "unhesitating ability to read Tom's character in his face" (in "Class and the Strategies of Sympathy," The Culture of Sentiment: Race, Gender and Sentimentality in Nineteenth-Century America, ed. Shirley Samuels (New York: Oxford University Press, 1992), 132). Likewise, Catharine O'Connell sees an equivalence between interior state and exterior signs in sentimentality, arguing that the physical appearance of Eliza in Senator Bird's kitchen immediately transfers to him a full comprehension of her suffering. See "The Magic of the Real Presence of Distress: Sentimentality and the Competing Rhetorics of Authority," The Stowe Debate: Rhetorical Strategies in Uncle Tom's Cabin eds. Mason I. Lowance, Jr. et al. (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1994). However, while bodily signs do frequently represent inner states in sentimental discourse, as Shirley Samuels observes in "The Identity of Slavery," collected in Culture of Sentiment, "the identification of corporeality and personhood… is placed squarely at issue in these works"; sentimental authors were conscious of the problem of "the transmission of identity through the body" (160). I want to suggest that seeing the body in a metonymic relationship to personhood—an essential component of a decentered, affective self—helps us understand why sentimental representations of corporeality and personhood have stirred so much debate, and to appreciate the radical nature of what sentimental representation aimed to accomplish.
5. Marcia Marcus, A Taste for Pain: On Masochism and Female Sexuality, trans. Joan Tate (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1981), 16.
6. Richard von Krafft-Ebing, Psychopathia Sexualis: A Medico-Forensic Study, trans. Harry E. Wedeck (New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1965), 172.
7. In Harriet Beecher Stowe: A Life (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994), Joan Hedrick writes that when Stowe "met Abraham Lincoln at the White House in 1862, the lanky, angular president is said to have greeted Stowe, who stood less than five feet high, with the words, ‘So you're the little woman who wrote the book that started this great war!’" (vii)
8. Milton Rugoff, The Beechers: An American Family in the Nineteenth Century (New York: Harper & Row, 1981), 111.
9. Paula Bennett, "The Descent of the Angel: Interrogating Domestic Ideology in American Women's Poetry, 1858-1890," American Literary History 7.4 (Winter 1995): 593, n. 2.
10. As Sandra Gustafson demonstrates, even a visibly ambitious, feminist author such as Margaret Fuller can be called sentimental. See "Choosing a Medium: Margaret Fuller and the Forms of Sentiment," American Quarterly 47.1 (March 1995): 34-65. In Woman in the Nineteenth Century, Fuller promotes a recognizably "high sentimental" epistemology, calling for a greater fluidity between genders, restoring to men their repressed, female "intuitive" and "electrical" qualities. I read sentimentality not as a literary value judgment, but as an epistemology devoted to emotive and kinetic cognition. It can produce rigorous writing or "rancid writing," as Ann Douglas puts it, depending upon the talent of its user. Douglas, however, is quite right to observe that sentimentality frequently fails to meet the high literary goals of its theorizers. See The Feminization of American Culture (New York: Anchor, 1977). In "The Moral Aesthetics of Sentimentality: A Missing Key to Uncle Tom's Cabin," Nineteenth-Century Literature 43.3 (December 1988): 319-45, Gregg Camfield offers a useful hypothesis that high sentimentality degenerated as its practitioners lost sight of the genre's roots in Common Sense philosophy.
11. Charles Edward Stowe, Life of Harriet Beecher Stowe Compiled from Her Letters and Journals, 1889 edition (Detroit: Gale Research Company, 1967), 203-4. Subsequently cited in the text as "CES."
12. See Nudelman's analysis of the sentimental authors' ideal of a community of free and enslaved women bonded through suffering in "Harriet Jacobs and the Sentimental Politics of Female Suffering."
13. Thomas Laqueur, "Bodies, Details and the Humanitarian Narrative," The New Cultural History (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989), 179. Laqueur excludes Uncle Tom's Cabin from the category of humanitarian narrative that relies upon "details about the suffering bodies of others [to] engender compassion," implicitly disputing recent critical emphases upon bodies as the predominant expressive tropes in sentimentality (176). I agree that while the inspiration for Uncle Tom's Cabin was in fact a sensational scene of physical torture, the physical mutilations in the novel serve largely as graphic images for and metonymic representations of the psychological trauma of separation that is the genre's central "imaginative vehicle." Karen Halttunen, by contrast, includes Uncle Tom's Cabin in her study of humanitarian reform literature: she analyzes the pornography of pain in the representations of wounded bodies that undeniably are present in the text. Her central argument is that in an era in which pain was no longer inevitable, it became a taboo, and therefore obscene subject that was titillating when conjoined to sexual activity. See "Humanitarianism and the Pornography of Pain in Anglo-American Culture," American Historical Review 100:2 (1995): 303-334. In "Sparing the Rod: Discipline and Fiction in Antebellum America," Representations 21 (Winter 1988): 67-95, Richard Brodhead also discusses the whipped body as the central imaginative vehicle in the book, arguing that whipping encapsulates the evils of slavery, whereas Stowe privileges discipline through loving intimacy.
14. Jessica Benjamin, The Bonds of Love: Psychoanalysis, Feminism and the Problem of Domination (New York: Pantheon, 1988).
15. Sanchez-Eppler, 37.
16. In Thinking through the Body (New York: Columbia, 1988), Jane Gallop describes a variety of efforts, within the limitations of an individualistic, androcentic culture, to affirm and understand a cognition relying upon the interpreter's own body—a site of non-intellectual thought processes—as an instrument for interpreting data. She calls for an epistemology that will reunite "the mind-body split." In her introduction, she quotes Adrienne Rich's Of Woman Born to explain her own project: "I am really asking whether women cannot begin, at last, to think through the body, to connect what has been so cruelly disorganized" in Western culture (1). Gallop documents the embodied—and erotic—responses to literature she experiences in her quest for alternatives to a hermeneutics of intellect.
17. Sanchez-Eppler, 38.
19. The anecdote is widely recorded. See, for example, CES 148.
20. As Glenn Hendler observes, sentimentality tends to "confuse the equivalence it posits between subjects with a dangerous identity between them." See "Louisa May Alcott and the Limits of Sympathy," American Literary History 3:4 (1991): 689. The danger lies in the presumption that one's own subject position is the universal norm, which can lead to the abuses so ably delineated by Baldwin, Sanchez-Eppler, Nudelman, Wexler and Hendler. However, the dangers of sympathy are at least partially offset by the dangers of a lack of sympathy, as exemplified in a Southern review written in 1893. The author, Francis Shoup, takes Stowe to task for the same "dangerous" reliance on sympathy as does Hendler. "She did what women always do … She translated herself in fancy to the cotton fields of the South as a slave, and then interrogated herself as to how she felt. She did not reflect that in the put-yourself-in-his-place method of testing a state of case, it is clearly implied that it shall be—not you, any longer, in the new place, but—he as he is, who is to feel. In her transmigration she carried with her all her intellectual vigor … the suppositious personality of the cotton-field was no longer poor Sambo, but the high-strung, highly cultured Mrs. Stowe. It was not wonderful that she did not like her hypothetical situation…." In Critical Essays on Harriet Beecher Stowe, ed. Elizabeth Ammons (Boston: G. K. Hall, 1980), 51-2. Anticipating anti-humanist arguments, Shoup rightly observes that the sentimental "put-yourself-in-his-place" method presumes an impossible identification between sufferer and witness. However, Shoup's remarks vividly demonstrate that the assumption that sympathy cannot afford any comprehension at all can also protect and rationalize racism and misogyny.
21. Jane Tompkins, Sensational Designs: The Cultural Work of American Fiction 1790-1860 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1985), 142.
22. Ruth Bloch, "American Feminine Ideals in Transition: The Rise of the Moral Mother, 1785-1815," Feminist Studies 4.2 (1978): 101-126.
24. The details of the processes by which wounds become eroticized in poststructuralist psychoanaltyic theory are actually quite complex. In Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection (New York: Columbia University Press, 1982), Julia Kristeva proposes that in the process of constructing an ego, each infant undergoes a process called abjection, suppressing within the self that which is deemed the "not-me." The spectre of this repudiated realm, the abject, is "a vortex of summons and repulsion," threatening with death, but enticing with the promise of a restoration of a lost wholeness (3). Feces, pus, corpses, urine, mother's milk and wounds all function as metonyms for the entire abject realm, and as such they represent the disruption of the hegemonic fiction of social identity, alluring with the promise of a euphoric jouissance. Kristeva writes that the abject is "the border of my condition as a living being" (3); wounds can be seen as privileged tropes for the rupture of subjectivity implicit in the abject, for they make visualizable this "border" zone. Jacques Lacan offers a more drive-oriented analysis of the jouissance of wounding. Each of the biological drives, he claims, is metonymically represented by the orifice connected with it because of the orifice's privileged position as the threshold between the self and other. The mouth, for example, mediates between the apple "out there" and the hunger "in here"; therefore, it metonymically represents the demand for food. However, the mouth can also represent the desire that underlies demand, which no food can ever fully satisfy: that longing for the (m)-other from whom the infant had to separate in order to assume an identity. To the extent that the orifice is a metonymic representation of the incorporation of an object of desire, it can become associated with the fulfillment of desire. In this schema, any cut in the skin can represent desire to the extent that it is a metonymic representation of the drive by which desire—not merely demand—is appeased. See The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psycho-Analysis ed. Jacques-Alain Miller, trans. Alan Sheridan (New York: Norton, 1981). See also Elizabeth Grosz, Jacques Lacan: A Feminist Introduction (London: Routledge, 1990) for a clear explanation of how openings in the skin are eroticized in Lacan.
25. The word "throb" in particular was a recognized euphemism for sex in general and female orgasm in particular. In The House of the Seven Gables (New York: Norton, 1967), Hawthorne writes: "The bed-chamber, no doubt, was a chamber of very great and varied experience, as a scene of human life; the joy of bridal nights had throbbed itself away here …" (72). In Moby Dick (New York: Penguin, 1988), Melville also uses the word to describe intercourse: "the sun seemed giving this gentle air to this bold and rolling sea; even as bride to groom. And at the girdling line of the horizon, a soft and tremulous motion—most seen here at the equator—denoted the fond, throbbing trust, the loving alarms, with which the poor bride gave her bosom away" (589).
26. Hortense Spillers, "Changing the Letter: The Yokes, the Jokes of Discourse, or, Mrs. Stowe, Mr. Reed," in Uncle Tom's Cabin, ed. Elizabeth Ammons (New York: W. W. Norton, 1994). Eldridge Cleaver captures this mythology in his contrast between the black male "Supermasculine Menial"—associated with tropical heat, fire, blood and strength—and the white male "Omnipotent Administrator"—associated with frailty, cowardice, impotence and abstraction in Soul on Ice (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1967), 174. And, he argues, the "Ultrafeminine" white female, whose "basic fear is frigidity," desires the black man because she feels a "psychic lust for the flame, for the heat of the fire: the Body" in proportion to her fear of her own frigidity (170). Among the many literary representations of the myth of black super-sexuality and white women's corresponding desire for black men, see Richard Wright's Native Son, James Baldwin's "Going to Meet the Man," and William Faulkner's Light in August. See also Gerda Lerner, "The Myth of the ‘Bad’ Black Woman," Black Women in White America: A Documentary History (New York: Pantheon, 1972).
27. In "Heroines in Uncle Tom's Cabin," American Literature 49 (1977): 161-179, Elizabeth Ammons demonstrates that Tom is characterized as a stereotypical Victorian heroine. And Baldwin points out that he is emasculated. As for Dodo, Stowe writes, he "had been only a few months away from his mother. His master had bought him … for his handsome face." When Eva is kind to him, "the blood rushed to his cheeks, and the tears to his eyes" (232).
29. Gossett, 167.
30. May's masochistic pleasure of fantasizing about her own anguished resistance to an implied outsider forcing her to leave a dying child resembles the pleasure Mary Ann Doane attributes to the female spectator of the 1940s woman's films, particularly the subgroup of "maternal melodramas in which an enforced or threatened separation between mother and child tends to produce an alignment of the mother with the figures of masochism." See The Desire to Desire (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1987), 36. However, Doane claims that the pleasures of anguished spectatorship are deeroticized ("Masochistic fantasy instead of sexuality" (19). This observation about desexualization does not necessarily apply to nineteenth-century sentimentality in the same way that it does to 1940s film. Doane bases her claim upon an argument that the spectator of a sentimental woman's film is "a bodyless woman" because the genre discourages its female viewer from identifying with a male and renders such identification with female characters impossible by representing them as bodiless. But Stowe's reader is not left bodiless, for while "true womanhood" does idealize bodiless women, the physical affect produced by the text recuperates the experience of the physical body for its female reader, enabling her to enjoy her fantasy as a sexualized participant rather than as a non-sexual, detached observer. Moreover, as Ammons observes, women can easily identify with Tom's experiences, pleasures and desires.
31. There is no single, "correct" meaning of the Atonement, of course. I refer to its meaning as characterized in Horace Bushnell's The Vicarious Sacrifice (1866), which is frequently seen as the definitive statement of the meaning of the Atonement in Victorian America.
32. William Acton, The Functions and Disorders of the Reproductive Organs (3rd. American edition; Philadelphia, 1871). Quoted in John S. and Robin M. Haller, The Physician and Sexuality in Victorian America (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1974), 163-4.
33. Nancy Cott, "Passionlessness: An Interpretation of Victorian Sexual Ideology, 1790-1850," Signs 4.2 (1978): 219-236.
35. Elaine Scarry, The Body in Pain: The Making and Unmaking of the World (New York: Oxford University Press, 1985).
36. In Bodies that Matter (New York: Routledge, 1993), Judith Butler expands the theory of abjection to a culture-wide paradigm, focusing specifically on the construction of hegemonic genders. She proposes that cultures negate desires that run counter to dominant norms, but that those negated aspects remain as "the abject," aspects of being that are always absent from discourse but present as "the constitutive outside to the domain of the subject. The abject designates here precisely those ‘unlivable’ and ‘uninhabitable’ zones of social life which are nevertheless densely populated by those who do not enjoy the status of the subject, but whose living under the sign of the ‘unlivable’ is required to circumscribe the domain of the subject" (3).
37. Gossett, 191.
38. Gossett, 190.
39. Gossett, 190.
40. Gossett, 167.
41. Ammons' introduction to the Norton edition of Uncle Tom's Cabin.
42. Gossett, 169.
43. Gossett, 170-1.
44. Gossett, 165-6.
45. Gossett, 167.
46. D. A. Miller, The Novel and the Police (Berkeley, U of California Press, 1987), 146.
47. Hawthorne indicts popular fiction on the grounds of its sexually enslaving qualities. In "Alice Pyncheon" in The House of the Seven Gables, for example, he writes that Alice becomes a "slave" to Matthew Maule, who violates her "virgin" spirit by reading her a story destined for Godey's or Grahams. Among discussions of the connection between sentimental or sensational fiction and sex, see Karen Halttunen, D. A. Miller, and Ann Cvetkovich, Mixed Feelings: Feminism, Mass Culture, and Victorian Sensationalism (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press).
48. Quoted in Halttunen, "Humanitarianism and the Pornography of Pain," 307.
49. On the eroticization of sympathy, see Leo Bersani, "Representation and Its Discontents," Allegory and Representation, ed. Stephen Greenblatt (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1981).
50. Gossett, 168.
51. Fisher, 110.
52. Robyn Warhol argues for the activist—rather than regressive—impact of sentimental tears within nineteenth-century American culture. See "As You Stand, So You Feel and Are: The Crying Body and the Nineteenth-Century Text," in Tattoo, Torture, Mutilation, and Adornment: The Denaturalization of the Body in Culture and Text, eds. Frances E. Mascia-Lees and Patricia Sharpe (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1992).
53. My closing remarks are indebted to Sandra Lee Bartky's analysis of the limitations of both (a) the "liberal" notion that any expression of sexual freedom, including sadomasochism, is liberating and (b) what she calls "sexual voluntarism"—the notion that one can repudiate repressive desires at will. While the "liberal" position fails to recognize the manipulation of desire through the ideologically determined production of subjectivity, the "voluntarist" position fails to recognize the deeply systemic nature of patriarchal oppression. In order to challenge the eroticization of male dominance, she argues, it is important to understand the cultural production of desire. See Femininity and Domination: Studies in the Phenomenology of Oppression (New York: Routledge, 1990). On the production of repressive norms of subjectivity in Uncle Tom's Cabin, see also Lora Romero, "Bio-Political Resistance in Domestic Ideology and Uncle Tom's Cabin," American Literary History 1:2 (1989): 719-734.
Ed Piacentino (essay date spring 2000)
SOURCE: Piacentino, Ed. "Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin." Explicator 58, no. 3 (spring 2000): 135-38.
[In the following essay, Piacentino interprets Augustine St. Clare's benevolence in Uncle Tom's Cabin as Stowe's attempt to appease Southern readers.]
Harriet Beecher Stowe's best seller Uncle Tom's Cabin (1852) has been heralded as the most controversial and most influential antislavery novel written in antebellum America. According to Josephine Donovan, Stowe's principal intent in the book "was to persuade her audience that slavery was intolerable" (30). And the critical consensus generally supports this contention.
In a recent reassessment of Uncle Tom's Cabin, Richard Yarborough has noted that "although Stowe unquestionably sympathized with the slaves, her commitment to challenging the claim of black inferiority was frequently undermined by her own endorsement of racial stereotypes" (47). Because these stereotyped notions not only appear in Uncle Tom's Cabin but show up more frequently than perhaps Stowe had intended, it would seem that Stowe's attitude toward chattel slavery, or rather how she pandered to her readers' conflicting attitudes toward slavery, was ambivalent.
The use of racial stereotypes adds credibility to the long-standing notion that Stowe consciously made concessions to the South in Uncle Tom's Cabin. As Forrest Wilson has pointed out, "the kindest, most philanthropic, and most upright characters were, with some minor exceptions, all Southerners and slaveholders" (276).1 Among white Southerners and slave owners featured in the novel, Mrs. Shelby and Augustine St. Clare—the former the wife of Tom's first owner, and the latter Tom's second master—are for the most part admirable characters. And the novel's most despicable character, Simon Legree, is a New Englander from Vermont. Stowe herself had always thought that her novel depicted the favorable side of slavery, and the fact that she did so should have appeased the South. The typical Southern reaction, however, did not reflect such an awareness.2 Indeed, in the eyes of most contemporary Southerners (even those who had never read Uncle Tom's Cabin ) Stowe's novel was an abomination, utterly false and therefore a full-fledged misrepresentation of the institution of slavery (Johnston 263).
Whereas, in one respect, Southern criticism regarding the veracity of Uncle Tom's Cabin was justified, most contemporary Southern readers of the novel failed to give Stowe the credit she obviously sought. Still, in both overt and subtle ways, Stowe had consciously attempted to appease the South. One such concession in Uncle Tom's Cabin, which has been overlooked by previous critics, is found in chapter 19 when Augustine St. Clare recounts to his wife Marie an incident in the past when he conquered an unsubmissive slave with kindness. He does this in response to Marie's complaint about a lazy slave her father had once owned who did not want to work.
A sensitive, kind, and effeminate man, St. Clare purchases from his brother Alfred an unruly slave named Scipio. The slave had tried to run away into the swamp because he had been struck by one of Alfred's cruel overseers, then was hunted like an animal, and shot by his pursuers. Proving to be basically intractable, Scipio is a slave who, in St. Clare's words, "‘all the overseers and masters had tried their hands in vain’" (253). Scipio had run away, St. Clare reports, because he "‘appeared to have the rude instinct of freedom in him’" (254). Yet under the compassionate attention and care of St. Clare, his new master, Scipio becomes "‘tamed as submissive and tractable as heart could desire’" (254). Once St. Clare has nursed the wounded Scipio back to health, he draws up manumission papers and offers the slave his freedom, which Scipio in turn rejects. Apparently self-conscious about Scipio's rejection of freedom, St. Clare reports: The "‘foolish fellow tore the paper in two, and absolutely refused to leave me. I never had a braver, better fellow, trusty and true as steel’" (254-55). In rejecting St. Clare's offer, Scipio seems to have come to regard slavery as benevolent and being a slave under a caring and paternalistic master preferable to the uncertainties connected with freedom. Subsequently, Scipio, whom St. Clare has treated humanely and compassionately, becomes a Christian who is "‘as gentle as a child’" (255). Moreover, St. Clare recognizes Scipio's competence, assigning to him the responsibility of overseeing St. Clare's lake property, and Scipio "‘did it capitally’" (255). In Stowe's character portrayal of Augustine St. Clare as a caring and compassionate master and of Scipio as a devoted and contented slave, her portraiture actually conforms closely to the familiar stereotype used to portray other African American slaves and their relationships with their masters that had previously been featured in the antebellum Southern novels such as John Pendleton Kennedy's Swallow Barn (1832) and William Gilmore Simms's The Yemassee (1835).
Yet in making this concession to her Southern readers, Stowe created a predicament for herself. Even though she presents Scipio's character indirectly (St. Clare's fond memories of him), Stowe seems to allow the considerations of her audience and the matter of political and social expediency to take precedence over honest and consistent portrayal of Scipio's humanity. Even so, Stowe surely must have realized that in acknowledging Scipio's trustworthiness and his capability in managing St. Clare's property responsibly, she was undermining the racial stereotype. Nor does it seem that Stowe's contemporary readers likely perceived St. Clare's ineffectuality to accomplish what he sets out to do—to free his slave—as a reflection of his own moral paralysis, a deliberate counterpoint that serves to enhance Scipio's personal effectiveness. And not many of her readers, especially her Southern readers, perceived that Stowe may have created in St. Clare's account about Scipio the disturbing reality that even under the most benevolent of circumstances, slavery is debilitating to the slave as well as to the master. The propaganda leveled against slavery in the Scipio segment is at best subtle, if it exists at all. Rather, in focusing on the slave's individualized human traits, Stowe seems to have placed a higher premium on Scipio's character portraiture, giving greater emphasis to her integrity as a literary artist than to the narrowly dogmatic sociopolitical agenda expected of a novelist with an indisputable abolitionist bias. In having St. Clare accentuate Scipio's loyalty and selfless devotion, a dedication that the slave carries out to the fullest extent during a cholera epidemic by endangering his own health and consequently losing his life by caring for the ailing master, Stowe raises in the reader's mind (and perhaps her own as well) the question of why a man of Scipio's capability should have to remain a slave. No doubt, had Scipio lived, St. Clare would have felt obligated to insist that the slave to whom he had offered liberty once before, only to have it rejected, accept his deserved freedom this time.
In retrospect, it seems clear that Stowe had written herself into a quandary, one she had to find a way to resolve, especially if she intended to pacify her Southern readers. In continuing to use St. Clare as a mouthpiece, Stowe prevents the inevitable from occurring: She writes Scipio out of the plot, providing an outlet so that St. Clare does not have to extend freedom to his slave for a second time. It appears that Stowe had found yet another way to make peace with her proslavery readers, many of whom were Southerners, by awkwardly alleviating what now seems a bothersome contradiction and dilemma. But as a consequence Stowe, probably quite unintentionally, creates an ambivalent perspective about slavery. Stowe has St. Clare conclude his story about Scipio by declaring that "‘I never felt anybody's loss more’" (255), a sentiment that enabled Stowe to wrench Scipio back to stereotypical status, thereby capitulating to Southern expectations regarding race. She anticipated her contemporary Southern reader's reaction that Scipio should not be regarded as a human being and transformed him into an object of sentimental pathos. And in converting Scipio from a character of viable human potential into what amounts to one who is pathetic and inconsequential, Stowe confirms what seems to have been her intention all along—to proffer yet another conciliatory gesture to the Southern readers of Uncle Tom's Cabin.
1. A similar viewpoint was expressed by Edmund Wilson, who observed that Stowe, "if anything leans over backwards in trying to make it plain that the New Englanders are as much to blame as the South and to exhibit Southerners in a favorable light" (6-7).
2. For instance, Louis S. McCord, who reviewed Uncle Tom's Cabin in the Southern Quarterly Review, voiced the familiar Southern reaction, designating the novel "‘the loathsome rakings of a foul fancy’" (qtd. in Hedrick 232).
Donovan, Josephine. Uncle Tom's Cabin: Evil, Affliction, and Redemptive Love. Boston: Twayne, 1991.
Hedrick, Joan D. Harriet Beecher Stowe: A Life. New York: Oxford UP, 1994.
Johnston, Johanna. Runaway to Heaven: The Story of Harriet Beecher Stowe. Garden City: Doubleday, 1963.
Stowe, Harriet Beecher. Uncle Tom's Cabin. 1852. New York: New American Library, 1966.
Wilson, Edmund. Patriotic Gore: Studies in the Literature of the American Civil War. New York: Oxford UP, 1962.
Wilson, Forrest. Crusader in Crinoline: The Life of Harriet Beecher Stowe. Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1941.
Yarborough, Richard. "Strategies of Black Characterization in Uncle Tom's Cabin and the Early Afro-American Novel." New Essays on Uncle Tom's Cabin. Ed. Eric J. Sundquist. New York: Cambridge UP, 1986. 45-84.
Carolyn Vellenga Berman (essay date summer 2000)
SOURCE: Berman, Carolyn Vellenga. "Creole Family Politics in Uncle Tom's Cabin and Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl." Novel 33, no. 3 (summer 2000): 328-52.
[In the following essay, Berman claims that Uncle Tom's Cabin "fundamentally restructured the American family," specifically emphasizing the influence of Louisiana Creole culture on Stowe's novel.]
Domestic ideology in American fiction is a slippery thing, possibly because it is so closely linked to the debates over American slavery. Take, for example, Uncle Tom's Cabin, a novel that George Sand proclaimed to be admirably "domestic and of the family" (Review 4).1 In recent years, scholars have (re)discovered that Stowe's brand of sentimentalism was a radical revision of family ideology of the patriarchal sort, and they have praised it for subverting the "domestic institution" of American slavery.2 Yet Sand's review ought to remind us that Uncle Tom's Cabin was no work of avant-garde subversion, but rather, a successful bid for national (and even international) prominence. Uncle Tom's Cabin represents a crucial moment in the United States, when debates over slavery in the expanding territories came to redefine the American family and the American nation. In order to repudiate slavery and render it foreign to the sentimental core of her imagined community, Stowe worked hard to disassociate it from another "domestic" institution that the break-away colonists had inherited from their colonial forefathers: that of the colonial family. In the process, as I will argue, Uncle Tom's Cabin fundamentally restructured the American family by separating settlers from slaves in American households, assimilating French colonial others, and effacing the colonial family's origins as a settler-and-slave formation.
To understand just how Stowe restructures the American national home in Uncle Tom's Cabin, it is crucial to decipher her use of Louisiana Creole characters and settings. This is a challenge that even our most celebrated thinkers have failed to meet. In his survey of the black characters in the novel, for example, James Baldwin simply discards those blacks who pass as French or Spanish, "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" (16). Stowe's all too explicit racial labels—Cassy is a "quadroon," Tom a "full glossy black" (68), Eva a "Saxon" despite her gallic blood—only add to the bewilderment.3
This confusion culminates in the case of the "maddened quadroon" whom Tom discovers in the final stage of his journey. The French-speaking slave-and-mistress Cassy, the most "unquiet" slave in the novel, has become a centerpiece of feminist readings that stress her "outraged domesticity" (Brown 35) and her "female retribution" (Gilbert and Gubar 533); she further provides "the novel's most dramatic example of a radical black agency tamed and disciplined by the power of the maternal" (Burnham 139). Yet the history of Uncle Tom 's reception belies Cassy's power. As Leslie Fiedler commented, the story of Cassy's "protected Creole upbringing, in which she is scarcely aware that she is a Negro," is "fictional material of real interest," and yet "it fades from the mind even just after we have read Uncle Tom " (265). Whereas Uncle Tom, Little Eva, and Topsy became household words, we cannot say the same for Cassy. Testifying to her ability to "fade" from readers' minds, Cassy goes unmentioned in the reviews of both Sand and Baldwin.
Without Cassy and the other blurry figures in French and Spanish, however, Uncle Tom's Cabin could not so effectively dismantle the "patriarchal institution" or imagine an American nation free of slavery. Stowe's manichean version of America depends crucially upon its Americans who are not American, blacks who are not black and their counterparts, the whites who are not white, in Louisiana. In making this case, I will argue that Stowe's Creole characterization is a representation of colonial others similar to Charlotte Brontë's famous Creole madwoman in Jane Eyre.4 In order to understand the historical equivalence between these two representations, we must recall that the term Creole in English, like its counterparts in French and Spanish (créole and criollo), designated colonial subjects (crucially, both settlers and slaves) raised in the settler-slave colonies. By the nineteenth century, Anglo-Americans, even in the slave states, no longer called themselves Creoles because they were no longer colonials. But the residents of the Louisiana territories continued to call themselves créoles long after Louisiana had become part of the United States, suggesting that the Louisiana Purchase had not so much liberated them from a colonial relationship as replaced their distant overlords with a new set closer to home. This helps to explain why the term Creole in American English came to refer to persons of French and Spanish descent, even as it continued to designate British colonials in British English.5
For Anglo-Americans as for the British, Creoles occupied a moral and geographical frontier, at once within and beyond their respective nations. Tainted by their close relationship to slavery, the Creoles were also peculiarly "domestic" subjects by the etymology of the term.6 My reading of Stowe's attack on pro-slavery domestic ideology thus highlights the importance of the Louisiana Purchase and the interstate slave trade, French slave revolutions, and French and Spanish colonial family practices in Uncle Tom's Cabin. It is precisely by canvassing and then rejecting French colonial mores, in my view, that Stowe places slavery and slaves outside the moral confines of the Anglo-American community and reshapes the colonial family in the service of an expanding nation.
Stowe's Creole family politics are cast in stark relief when read against the account of domestic slavery in Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, the autobiography of a woman whom Stowe did not imagine as a member of her reading public (or the nation for which it stands).7 Harriet Jacobs, a fugitive slave living in New York, contacted Stowe in 1853 for assistance in publishing her life story. Jacobs's letters reveal her outrage at Stowe's reply, which proposed using the history in Stowe's own Key to Uncle Tom's Cabin (Yellin 234-35). When Jacobs set out to write her autobiography after this encounter, she was obviously familiar with Stowe's novel. We may reasonably read this version of her own life as—in part—a literary response to Stowe. Yet it is also possible that Stowe based her story of the slave Cassy's flight on the legend of Jacobs's own escape from slavery.8 The similarities between the stories of Stowe's fictional Cassy and Jacobs's pseudonymous heroine Linda Brent are, in any event, striking. Both women endure forced sexual intimacy with their white masters. Both escape from the slave system by feigning flight, then returning to hide in a place so close to home that it is not suspected. Secreted in an attic, both control their would-be masters by sending uncanny messages, and both observe their masters through a "loophole." For both women, this secret hiding-place proves to be the "loophole" allowing them to escape slavery and flee to the precariously free North. Unlike so many of their imprisoned and sexually abused sisters of fictional lore, moreover, neither one dies in confinement.
I will conclude this essay by highlighting the difference between Jacobs's and Stowe's efforts to dismantle pro-slavery family ideology and to imagine an American nation free of slavery. Incidents [Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl] does not, by any stretch of the imagination, feature a "Creole" woman in the Anglo-American sense: its heroine is not a woman raised in the formerly French and Spanish colonies of Louisiana. But, as I will argue, Jacobs lays claim to American citizenship precisely as a "Creole" slave in the broader, etymological sense—one who has been brought up "domestically" in a settler colony.9 Critical discussions of Jacobs's autobiography tend to presume that the literary conventions of domestic fiction existed in a separate sphere from arguments over slavery.10 I will emphasize instead the importance of domestic ideology in arguments over slavery and the importance of slavery in arguments about domestic life. By embracing the conventions of domestic fiction, in my view, Jacobs dramatically revises the domestic norms at the heart of the Creole nation formed by the break-away colonies of the United States.
1. Dark Places
In order to grasp the role played by the Creoles in Stowe's novel, we must first recall the importance of the Louisiana Purchase to the American struggle over slavery. Uncle Tom's Cabin identifies the New Orleans slave market as the crux of an interstate slave trade no less horrifying than the international slave trade which Congress had banned in 1807. Although "[t]he slave-trade is now, by American law, considered as piracy," the narrator declares, "a slave-trade, as systematic as ever was carried on on the coast of Africa, is an inevitable attendant and result of American slavery" (622). That the interstate slave-trade took place in New Orleans was no accident. When the United States bought the vast expanse of territories on its western frontier from France in 1803, the U.S. Senate initially voted to ban the importation of slaves to Lower Louisiana from other American states. By failing to back this ban, however, President Jefferson allowed Louisiana to draw slaves from other states and exploit its potential for sugar and cotton cultivation (Blackburn 284). This decision resulted in the establishment of the New Orleans slave market as it is depicted in Uncle Tom's Cabin : a market in "the souls and bodies of men" (and women and children) designed to supply laborers for the western frontier (624). With this vote, according to historian Robin Blackburn, the Louisiana Purchase "confirmed that the United States was an empire as well as a republic and it confirmed that slaveholders would have their own reserved space within that empire" (284-85). Paradoxically, the Congressional ban on an international slave trade in 1807 only hastened the formation of a vast domestic market for slaves in New Orleans.
The moral geography of Uncle Tom's Cabin tracks the progress of this interstate slave traffic. Following the fortunes of a Christian man sold out of state and away from his friends and relations, Uncle Tom's Cabin exposes the interstate trade as the moral equivalent of the African slave trade. Tom first travels from purgatory in Kentucky to a shimmering devil's paradise in New Orleans, and then moves on to a Louisiana plantation in the middle of Hell. Like souls caught in purgatory, the slaves in Kentucky suffer not so much from present torments as from the prospect of being sent South: "Perhaps the mildest form of the system of slavery is to be seen in the State of Kentucky," Stowe suggests (50). "Whoever visits some estates there, and witnesses the good-humored indulgence of some masters and mistresses, and the affectionate loyalty of some slaves, might be tempted to dream the oft-fabled poetic legend of a patriarchal institution" (50-51). But "over and above the scene there broods a portentous shadow," since "the failure, or misfortune, or imprudence, or death of the kindest owner, may cause [the slaves] any day to exchange a life of kind protection and indulgence for one of hopeless misery and toil" (51). Likening Tom's river voyage to the African slaves' journeys by ship to the New World, Stowe titles her chapter on Tom's journey from New Orleans into the Louisiana wilderness "The Middle Passage." By situating her grimmest tales of woe in Louisiana, Stowe implicitly links the terror of a trade in human beings to the threat that territorial expansion posed to the domestic integrity of the Anglo-American nation.
Depicting the "patriarchal institution" in its most benign light in Kentucky, Stowe nonetheless unmasks the sentimental claims of slaveholders about the "moral influences flowing from the relation of master and slave, and the moral feelings engendered and cultivated by it."11 The idealized Kentucky slaveowner Mrs. Shelby, for instance, considers her slaves to be like children, but her attempts to teach these slaves the Christian virtues of family ties are thwarted by her husband's sale of Eliza's child Henry to settle his debts. Stowe thus frames the problem of American slavery as one of parental hypocrisy: "I have taught them the duties of the family, of parent and child, and husband and wife," Mrs. Shelby complains to her husband; "and how can I bear to have this open acknowledgment that we care for no tie, no duty, no relation, however sacred, compared with money?" (83). Stowe further theorizes the difference between slaves and children at the occasion of Augustine St. Clare's death, rejecting pro-slavery claims that the distress of slaves upon their master's death proves that the "sentiments in the breast of the negro and his master … belong to the class of feelings ‘by which the heart is made better’" ("Slavery" 338):
We hear often of the distress of the negro servants, on the loss of a kind master; and with good reason, for no creature on God's earth is left more utterly unprotected and desolate than the slave in these circumstances.
The child who has lost a father has still the protection of friends, and of the law … the slave has none. The law regards him, in every respect, as devoid of rights as a bale of merchandise.
(Stowe, Uncle Tom 457)
For Stowe, the interstate slave trade illustrates that "Domestic Slavery (the basis of all our institutions)" ("Slavery" 337) is no family structure, but rather, a family-rupturing traffic in human merchandise.
Sold south by his imprudent Anglo-American master, Tom at first evades the fate of "hopeless misery and toil" on the frontier by beguiling an "angel," little Eva, on the boat to New Orleans. When he arrives at the mansion of Augustine St. Clare, he finds an exotic paradise: an "ancient mansion, built in that odd mixture of Spanish and French style, of which there are specimens in some parts of New Orleans," with a courtyard "built in the Moorish fashion" that "carried the mind back, as in a dream, to the reign of oriental romance in Spain" (252). As Hortense Spillers has commented, Tom's response to the New Orleans estate is mediated by his own supposedly African exoticism (27). With the "negro['s] … passion for all that is splendid, rich, and fanciful," Tom first "looked about with an air of calm, still enjoyment." The enticing scene appears to be fashioned for him, with its "pomegranate trees, with their glossy leaves and flame-colored flowers, dark-leaved Arabian jessamines, with their silvery stars, geraniums … golden jessamines, lemon-scented verbenum, all unit[ing] their bloom and fragrance" (Stowe, Uncle Tom 253). But this gorgeous estate is later exposed as a heathenish illusion by Tom's sale up the Red River to the true precincts of desperate labor. As Karen Halttunen points out, "just as the oriental sensuality of the Ward of Pleasure points the way to the Ward of Death" in Stowe's brother's sermon on prostitutes, "St. Clare's gorgeous home serves in Stowe's narrative as a kind of way station to the ruined mansion of Simon Legree" (119).
The seductive New Orleans mansion thus finds not its inverse, but its complement in Legree's awful estate up the Red River, with its "steep red-clay banks" stained the color of blood (487). Legree's property "formerly belonged to a gentleman of opulence and taste," but it now has a "ragged, forlorn appearance," with a "mildewed jessamine" and a garden "grown over with weeds, through which, here and there, some solitary exotic reared its forsaken head" (491). Out in the swamps, Augustine's mode of tolerating slave indolence gives way to Legree's method of working of his slaves to death: "I don't go for savin' niggers. Use up, and buy more, 's my way;—makes you less trouble, and I'm quite sure it comes cheaper in the end" (485). Legree's household sponsors systematic torture, as explained by its resident mistress, Cassy: "Here you are, on a lone plantation … not a white person here, who could testify, if you were burned alive,—if you were scalded, cut into inch-pieces, set up for the dogs to tear, or hung up and whipped to death…. I could make any one's hair rise, and their teeth chatter, if I should only tell what I've seen" (512). Confirming the alienness of these procedures, Cassy explains that Legree "learned his trade well, among the pirates of the West Indies" (534). On a "wild, forsaken road" where "doleful trees rising out of the slimy, spongy ground, hung with long wreaths of funeral black moss," Legree's plantation in the Louisiana wilderness is nothing less than an earthly prison for the damned (488).12
Upon closer inspection, Legree's estate succinctly symbolizes the domestic degradation wrought by the Louisiana Purchase. Like Louisiana itself, the forlorn estate had "been purchased, at a bargain, by Legree, who used it, as he did everything else, merely as an implement for money-making" (491). For all his French colonial alienness, the soulless Legree was himself brought up in New England. But the New England Legree has taken over his Louisiana property without respecting its aristocratic traditions. Instead, he allows his sitting room to become a kind of counting-house: its "wall-paper was defaced, in spots, by slops of beer and wine; or garnished with chalk memorandums, and long sums footed up, as if somebody had been practising arithmetic there" (524). Giving the lie to the pro-slavery argument that slave ownership fosters "patriarchal" feelings of "parental attachment" as the slaveowner comes to "love" his slave "because he is his" ("Slavery" 338), Legree muses as he kills Tom, "I hate him! And isn't he MINE? Can't I do what I like with him?" (Uncle Tom 578). The bond of patriarchal possession finds its dystopian reply in Legree's passionate engagement with Tom: "There was one hesitating pause,—one irresolute, relenting thrill,—and the spirit of evil came back, with seven-fold vehemence; and Legree, foaming with rage, smote his victim to the ground" (583). Drawing upon the interstate slave trade for an endless renewal of disposable human capital even as he conducts private tortures and inquisitions, Legree represents for Stowe the worst possible combination of New England and New France.
2. The San Domingo Hour
Louisiana was significant in the early decades of the nineteenth century not only as the site of American slavery's expansion, however, but also as a port of entry for French-speaking colonials from the West Indies. This relationship to the former French colonies of the Caribbean is crucial to Stowe's attack on the "patriarchal institution" of slavery. In order to understand just how French colonial immigrants challenge the Anglo-American institution of "domestic slavery" in Stowe's novel, we must now turn to the story of Cassy, the French-speaking woman whose voice cries out to Tom in the darkness of Legree's god-forsaken plantation.
Appearing first as a "dark, wild face" at the window, Cassy dominates the chapter titles during Tom's residence in hell (494, 501).13 Like Legree himself, Cassy makes a mockery of the assertion that "moral feelings" are "engendered and cultivated" by the "relation of master and slave" ("Slavery" 338). As she relates it to Tom, Cassy's story begins ironically with a privileged childhood in New Orleans, where, she remembers, she was "dressed up like a doll" and sent to convent school until the age of fourteen. Although her mother was a slave, Cassy expected her father and master to free her; but when he died suddenly, she found herself set down instead in the list of his property. Her father's family then gave her in pseudo-marriage to a young man, who "had paid two thousand dollars for me, and I was his property." Considering him "the handsomest I had ever seen," she "became his willingly," for, she concedes to Tom, "I loved him" (516). Cassy reminisces that with this "husband," who "called me his good angel," she had had "two beautiful children." This facsimile of marriage reproduces the devastating disappointments of her childhood, when, like her white father, Cassy's white "husband" makes vague and ultimately empty promises to set her and her children free (516-17). By the time she recounts her history to Tom, subsequent events have remolded the loving mother and wife of Cassy's memory into a "she-devil" (517-18). First, she reports, the young man, encumbered with debt, "sold us" to his evil cousin (518). Worse still, Cassy continues, the cousin then sold her children away from her, prompting Cassy to fly upon him with a "great sharp bowie-knife"; after this, Cassy tells Tom, "all grew dark, and I didn't know any more—not for days and days" (520). Finally, she confesses, she killed her newborn baby by giving him laudanum, after which she held him "close to my bosom, while he slept to death" (521). Cassy's story demonstrates just how un-domesticated an excessively domesticated slave can become. In her final days as Legree's mistress, she has lost both her moral compass and her mind: "partial insanity had given a strange, weird, unsettled cast to all her words and language" (567).
As Ann Douglas has written, in an apt phrase, Cassy offers a "kind of voodoo version" of the influence a domestic woman was supposed to have over her husband ("Introduction" 18). Once "her irritability … broke out into a raving insanity," Cassy gains a "strange and singular" influence over Legree (526, 567). This force only increases when Cassy escapes to freedom by hiding in Legree's attic, where once a "negro woman, who had incurred Legree's displeasure, was confined for … several weeks" and brought out dead (564). Before feigning her own flight, Cassy revives the legend of an attic ghost, so that a "superstitious creeping horror seemed to fill the house; and though no one dared to breathe it to Legree, he found himself encompassed by it, as by an atmosphere" (566-67).
As Douglas's reference to voodoo suggests without exactly saying so, there is something about Cassy's extraordinary power in Uncle Tom's Cabin that is not derived just from her "hardened womanhood," but is specific to the former colonies of the French. The language of her influence is manifestly French: "She fixed her black eyes steadily on him, her lips moved slightly, and she said something in French. What it was, no one knew; but Legree's face became perfectly demoniacal in its expression, as she spoke; he half raised his hand, as if to strike,—a gesture which she regarded with fierce disdain, as she turned and walked away" (506-07). To call this local effectivity "superstition" or "voodoo" and leave it at that, however, would be to miss the point. What is fascinating and challenging about Cassy—and Louisiana Creoles generally in Uncle Tom's Cabin —is not just the local religious practices, but also the French Creole challenge to Anglo-American racial norms. In Louisiana, as Stowe depicts it, blacks are not always docile, and slaveowners are not always white.
Stowe probably knew that it was not so much a moral distaste for the trade in humans as a fear of Caribbean slaves that prompted Congress to outlaw the international slave trade in 1807, as refugees from the French colony of Saint Domingue poured into Louisiana after being expelled from British Jamaica and Cuba. Slaves and free people of color in Saint-Domingue had joined to fight off Napoleon's reinstitution of slavery in the 1790s, successfully gaining independence in the name of a new nation called Haiti. Slaveholders in the U.S. responded to this event by isolating American slaves from their foreign counterparts, making American slaves exclusively home-grown, or American Creole. "The revolution in St Domingue redoubled [the] conviction of the need for a prudential ban on the importation of African or foreign slaves," and thus by 1798 every Southern state had voted to ban "slave imports" (Blackburn 275). Even as the Anglo-American slaveholding states were taking these steps to ban foreign slaves from their communities, however, French-speaking refugees from the former Saint-Domingue and their slaves arrived in Louisiana in growing numbers.14
Stowe addresses the widespread fear among American slaveowners that black revolution might spread from the Caribbean to the U.S. by staging an argument between two French Creole men over the future of American slavery. In the course of this discussion, Augustine St. Clare warns his brother that "the masses are [apt] to rise" like "[t]he people of Hayti" (392). Like other writers of this period, Stowe aligns this prospect of slave revolution with the recent French revolution of 1848, which resulted in the emancipation of slaves in the French colonies. In her "Concluding Remarks," Stowe magnifies Augustine St. Clare's warning: "This is an age of the world when nations are trembling and convulsed. A mighty influence is abroad, surging and heaving the world, as with an earthquake. And is America safe? Every nation that carries in its bosom great and unredressed injustice has in it the elements of this last convulsion" (629).
As in the case of Charlotte Brontë's Creole madwoman, Cassy's French Creole background and "partial insanity" thus function to harness the rebellious image of successful West Indian slave revolts to a wife's desire for flight and vengeance. It is precisely as a French-speaking Creole woman that Cassy is equipped to attack with a stiletto knife the man who took custody of her children; to smother her infant with laudanum; and to incite Tom himself to violence, bringing him an axe to kill Legree. Although Tom dissuades her from this revenge, on the grounds that she would be damned for eternity, Cassy eventually finds a way to punish Legree for Tom's own martyrdom. Impersonating the "granite conscientiousness" of Legree's dead Yankee mother, Cassy demonstrates that "a human soul is an awful ghostly, unquiet possession, for a bad man to have" by standing in a white sheet next to his bed, "a stern, white, inexorable figure, saying, ‘Come! come! come!’" until Legree drinks himself to death (595, 597). Like the rebellious nations abroad, Cassy herself sobs "with a convulsive violence" (514).
As St. Clare's prophecy of a "San Domingo hour" makes clear, however, what Stowe found dangerous and fascinating in Louisiana was not only the legendary rebelliousness of its French-speaking slaves, but just as importantly, the acknowledged European inheritance of its gens de couleur. Unlike the fugitive slave George Harris's Anglo-American father, "one of your Kentucky gentlemen—who didn't think enough of me to keep me from being sold with his dogs and horses" (185-86), the French (and Spanish) colonials of Louisiana tended more often to assume that "blood" relationships, or "consanguinity," implied a "sharing of the spoils."15 This is why the refugees from Saint-Domingue arrived as equal numbers of free whites, enslaved blacks, and free persons of color. As the former Kentucky slave Henry Bibb noted matter-of-factly in his 1849 narrative, concerning his own time on the New Orleans slave market:
Many of the old French inhabitants have taken slaves for their wives, in this city, and their own children for their servants. Such commonly are called Creoles. They are better treated than other slaves, and I resembled this class in appearance so much that the French did not want me. Many of them set their mulatto children free, and make slaveholders of them.
By all accounts, mulatto children born to slave women were not unique to the French colonies. But as this description suggests, French fathers were more likely than their English counterparts to treat their slave mistresses as wives and their mulatto children as their children by freeing them and giving them an inheritance. Cassy was not entirely unrealistic to expect freedom from her first pseudo-marriage.
The tendency to acknowledge such familial relationships produced a tertiary rather than binary system of racial classification in Louisiana and other French possessions. What Bibb experienced in New Orleans was thus the reinscription of his mulatto appearance in the gap between two colonial cultures: the Anglo-American culture, in which mulatto skin signified a slave mother and slave status; and the Franco-American culture, in which the same mulatto skin signified a free father as well as a slave mother, and therefore anything from slavery to freedom and property-holding status.16 Dressed in a suit in New Orleans, Bibb received divergent responses to his query, "‘Sir, I understand you are desirous of purchasing slaves?’" (118). One promising candidate, "supposing me to be a slave trader," said, "‘What kind of slaves have you, sir?’" whereas another answered just as politely, "‘Yes, I do want to buy some, are you for sale?’" (117-18). It was not that Bibb magically became lighter-skinned in New Orleans, but that in New Orleans, light-skinned men of some African descent did own slaves. An alternative model of colonial family relations disrupted Anglo-American racial identification in Louisiana.
For Stowe, this French colonial tendency to enfranchise mixed-race slaves went hand-in-hand with the history of French slave rebellion. Mulatto slaves challenged the domestic ideology of the "patriarchal institution" when they claimed a birthright not as figurative but as biological children of their father/slaveowners. Stowe thus contests pro-slavery assumptions about the eternal subjugation of American blacks by taking a French-colonial view of the question, even as she accepts the pro-slavery notion of the "negro's" "peculiar nature," characterized by a high "degree of loyal devotion" ("Slavery" 338). In response to Augustine's allusion to the masses in Haiti, his brother Alfred proclaims that "The Haytiens were not Anglo Saxons … The Anglo Saxon is the dominant race of the world, and is to be so" (Stowe, Uncle Tom 392). Ignoring the fact that neither Augustine nor Alfred are Anglo-Saxon, since their ancestors were French (239), Stowe goes on pander to the vanity of the "Anglo Saxon race" in a remarkable passage:
"Well, there is a pretty fair infusion of Anglo Saxon blood among our slaves, now," said Augustine. "There are plenty among them who have only enough of the African to give a sort of tropical warmth and fervor to our [sic] calculating firmness and foresight. If ever the San Domingo hour comes, Anglo Saxon blood will lead on the day. Sons of white fathers, with all our haughty feelings burning in their veins, will not always be bought and sold and traded. They will rise, and raise with them their mother's race."
Reading Anglo-American slavery through a French colonial prism, Stowe undermines the patriarchal institution not by questioning racial differences between Anglo-Americans and Africans, but by enumerating the biological family ties between masters and slaves. As "Domestic Slavery" replaced the importation of African slaves, Stowe suggests, the "Africans" were fast becoming a minority among slaves. Calling upon "white fathers" to acknowledge not their metaphorical "paternal attachment" to slaves but their biological paternity, Stowe's Haitian allusion makes the "rising" of these "sons of white fathers" in Anglo-America, regardless of their mother's "tropical" race, a point of national pride.
The Louisiana portions of Bibb's narrative thus provide a source not only for Stowe's description of the frontier plantation but also for her depiction of the class and race opacity of mixed-race persons in Louisiana.17 Again and again in Uncle Tom's Cabin, mixed-race slaves pass as something other than slaves not by passing as white Anglo-Americans, but by passing as Spanish or French. The fugitive George Harris appears in a tavern as a newcomer "with a dark, Spanish complexion, fine, expressive black eyes, and close-curling hair, also of a glossy black- ness," "impress[ing] the whole company instantly with the idea of something uncommon" (180). Driving up with a "one-horse buggy," a "genteel appearance," and "a colored servant driving," the seemingly "Spanish" George looks like a "well-dressed, gentlemanly man," making the landlord "all obsequious" as he calmly reads his own advertisement for capture (180-81). Confounding the advertiser's prediction that the runaway "mulatto boy" would "try to pass for a white man" (178), George has in fact disguised himself by adding black: "A little walnut bark has made my yellow skin a genteel brown, and I've dyed my hair black; so you see I don't answer to the advertisement at all" (182).18
George's long-lost sister Emily similarly resurfaces as "a French lady, named De Thoux" at the end of the novel (599). The French aristocratic name of Madame de Thoux disguises Emily's origins as a Kentucky slave, so that when she claims George Harris as her brother, her interlocutors react "with a strong accent of surprise" (600). Together, George and Emily demonstrate the consequences of the French and Spanish Creole tendency to take children as servants and slaves as wives. The name de Thoux signifies Emily's emancipation by sexual liaison in Louisiana. Having been "sold to the South," she "was bought by a good and generous man. He took me with him to the West Indies, set me free, and married me," she explains (600). Our heroine Cassy, finally, recapitulates both disguises when she walks away with Legree's next intended mistress from Legree's house. "[S]ome of the negroes had seen two white figures gliding down the avenue," the narrator suggests, but paradoxically, Cassy is, like George, dressed in black: she is "dressed after the manner of the Creole Spanish ladies,—wholly in black. A small black bonnet on her head, covered by a veil thick with embroidery, concealed her face. It had been agreed that, in their escape, she was to personate the character of a Creole lady, and Emmeline that of her servant" (597, emphasis added). It is crucial that all of these mobile former slaves pass neither as whites nor as blacks but as Louisiana Creole aliens. As concerned as Uncle Tom's Cabin is to establish fixed racial oppositions, it challenges the "patriarchal institution" by cataloguing the racial destabilization in these Creole lines of flight.
3. Creole Impersonation
If Cassy personifies a Creole challenge to the patriarchal institution of slavery in Uncle Tom's Cabin, however, she does so without full authorial sanction. It is now time to consider why Stowe undermines Cassy's status as a (French) Creole woman by reducing her to an act of Spanish Creole "personation." Stowe never describes Cassy as a Creole, except in this single scene of escape. This is because Stowe's matriarchal cure for the nation ultimately shares pro-slavery assumptions about racial identity. Having employed the figure of an "unquiet" Creole woman to challenge the patriarchal institution of slavery and to illustrate its wild effects, Uncle Tom's Cabin works awkwardly to reinscribe the un-domesticated Creole within the very racial and social categories she broke apart. In so doing, the novel dispenses with the category of the Creole itself, along with its joint settler-and-slave claim to local identity. It is neither the charm nor the authority of this re-domestication but its very clumsiness and haste that reduce Cassy to a chastened invisibility within the much-remembered text.
Cassy tends to fade from readers' minds because Stowe allows her to survive only at the cost of a transformation that robs her of her Creole identity. Her conversion to a properly Christian (Protestant) maternity begins in Tom's presence, when she gives up plans for "an hour of retribution, when her hand should avenge on her oppressor all the injustice and cruelty to which she had been witness, or which she had in her own person suffered" (560). Stowe links Cassy's violent resolve to Catholic dogma: the "sisters in the convent" had told Cassy about a "day of judgment, when everything is coming to light;—won't there be vengeance, then!" (522). But Tom counters this by counseling Cassy to follow in the footsteps of the Lord, who "never shed no blood but his own" (561), and upon hearing Tom's resolve to love his enemies, a "softness gather[s] over the lurid fires of her eye" (562). Following Tom's advice, Cassy chooses flight over violence, earning the unconditional love of a daughter from Emmeline (580). Her next reward is the rediscovery of her biological child Eliza, who escaped to Montreal after being raised in Kentucky by the slavemistress Mrs. Shelby. In a scene of impossibly perfect familial restoration, Cassy meets up again not only with her grown daughter but with a miniature of her, also named Eliza, who appears "every outline and curl, just as her daughter was when she saw her last" (605). The very exactitude of this reincarnation cannot help but underline how everything has changed: the two Elizas are Anglicized and Protestant. With the help of Eliza's "steady, consistent piety, regulated by the constant reading of the sacred word," Cassy "seemed to sink, at once, into the bosom of the family," and by the end of the chapter, "such a change has passed over Cassy, that our readers would scarcely know her" (607).
This triumph of maternal sentiment not only converts Cassy to pacifism in the "bosom" of an Anglo-American Protestant family culture, but also convinces her extended mixed-race family to make their home in Africa. "I might mingle in the circles of the whites, in this country, my shade of color is so slight, and that of my wife and family scarce perceptible," Cassy's son-in-law George declares, but "I have no wish to pass for an American, or to identify myself with them" (608). As Michelle Burnham has commented, "the very need to ‘pass for an American’" in this passage "implies that George is not an American any more than he is white" (134). Here as elsewhere, Stowe conflates racial belonging with nationhood, eliding the Creole component of national identity: the importance of being raised locally, regardless of genealogical descent. But George justifies his repudiation of "American" identity and his embrace of Africa as a way of valuing maternal sentiment over family ties to a well-known and detested father. As George explains, "My sympathies are not for my father's race, but for my mother's. To him I was no more than a fine dog or horse: to my poor heartbroken mother I was a child; and, though I never saw her, after the cruel sale … yet I know she always loved me dearly" (608).
By contrasting a mother's love to a father's repudiation of family ties under slavery, Stowe insinuates that fathers in general do not deserve custody of their children and that the colored sons of white fathers belong more genuinely to (black mother) Africa than to (white father) America. The greatest travesty of the patriarchal institution thus proves to be its patriarchal bias: it is not natural mothers but a set of unnatural fathers who have the power to dispose of slave children. Small wonder, then, that Stowe's implicit solution to the problem of slavery should be maternal rather than paternal custody for children.19 Rejecting the French Creole history of slave revolts as part and parcel of a dangerous practice of mixed racial inheritance, Stowe returns in the end to the racial imaginary of slavery advocates. Her critique of patriarchy undermines the practice of slavery while also undoing the family ties between white fathers and their mixed-race children and thus between American blacks and whites. Reestablishing a racial and national binary between whites and blacks, Stowe's Creole fugitives ultimately become what Stowe called in her Preface "the African race, as they exist among us" (xiii).
In order to enact this African solution, however, Stowe must dispel the counter-example of Creole nationhood in Haiti. She accordingly takes a moment to discredit Haiti as a dead end, by putting an improbable slur against the French in George's mouth:
The desire and yearning of my soul is for an African nationality. I want a people that shall have a tangible, separate existence of its own; and where am I to look for it? Not in Hayti; for in Hayti they had nothing to start with. A stream cannot rise above its fountain. The race that formed the character of the Haytiens was a worn-out, effeminate one; and, of course, the subject race will be centuries in rising to anything.
This gratuitous insult about the "effeminate" French makes little sense coming from George. The son-in-law of French Creole Cassy, the brother of Madame de Thoux, and the product of "four years at a French university," where, "applying himself with an unintermitted zeal, [he] obtained a very thorough education" (608), George seems an unlikely source for Francophobic sentiment. But this dismissal of Haiti as a model of national belonging paves the way for George's choice of Liberia as the land where he will "find myself a people" (609). Prophesying a proud future for Liberia, George takes on the mantle of recolonizing Africa as a properly (Protestant) Christian mission: "Our nation shall roll the tide of civilization and Christianity along its shores, and plant there mighty republics, that, growing with the rapidity of tropical vegetation, shall be for all coming ages" (609).20
Maternal custody can only perform this repatriation for mixed-race children born to mothers of African descent, however. What about mixed-race children born to white American mothers? This possibility, in my view, lends a heightened charge to the powerfully lachrymose death of little Eva. Given Eva's remarkable intimacy with the slaves around her, and her attachment to Tom in particular, we might well read her premature death as the author's effort to preserve her purity (and the Creole-American nation's racial homogeneity) by preventing her from bearing any mixed-race children. Both the mixed-race Creole Cassy and her white Creole counterpart Eva, after all, move about with a freedom that proves dangerous to the novel's equilibrium. Once hidden in Legree's attic, Cassy "promenaded," or walked in the French style, "with a freedom that was alarming" (594). Despite shut and locked doors, "a tall figure in a white sheet did walk, at the most approved ghostly hours, around the Legree premises,—pass out the doors, glide about the house,—disappear at intervals, and, reappearing, pass up the silent stair-way, into that fatal garret" (595). This ghostly white wandering notably resembles Eva's first appearance on the riverboat: "Always dressed in white, she seemed to move like a shadow through all sorts of places, without contracting spot or stain; and there was not a corner or nook, above or below, where those fairy footsteps had not glided, and that visionary golden head, with its deep blue eyes, fleeted along" (231). Even before Tom's approach, Eva demonstrates her reckless freedom and familiarity with racial opposites: "when she tripped fearlessly over dangerous places, rough, sooty hands were stretched involuntarily out to save her, and smooth her path" (231).
It is possible that Eva's death trumps Cassy's survival in the American cultural imagination because Eva actually represents a more dangerous Creole threat for Stowe and requires a more pressing solution. Nancy Armstrong has proposed that Eva's prepubescent death expresses a theory of national social reproduction in the English colonies, where English identity had to be "reproduced outside of England" (12). In this theory, "the English family is virtually the same thing as English culture in that both depend on the descendants of an English family marrying with their kind. Such a culture abhors a mixture. It prefers a dead daughter to an ethnically impure one" (12). By dying like the faithful daughters in English captivity narratives, Eva proves that she "cannot exist outside her original household" and helps to "distinguish those within the diasporic community from those whose inclusion would cancel out its English identity" (Armstrong 14, 2). Viewed from this perspective, the alternative model of social reproduction smothered by Eva's premature death becomes clear. At stake is the stifled possibility of another sort of Creole nation, a French colonial version in which children of settlers and children of slaves might become members of the same family.
If this is the case, then George Sand did well to ignore Cassy's story, focussing instead on the "affection that unites" the "little child" Eva and the "negro slave" Tom as "the only love-story, the only passion of the drama," and adding that "I know not what other genius but that of sanctity itself could shed over this affection and this situation a charm so powerful and so sustained" (Review 5). Despite Sand's claims about sanctity, as Spillers has pointed out, Uncle Tom bears the classic features of a dirty old man, with seductive guiles and toys in his pockets, and Eva appears at times a dangerously sexual little angel. If marriage looks like slavery in Cassy's case, slavery looks like marriage when Eva requests that her father buy her the man named Tom. "I want him," she tells her father, adding a reason he finds "original": "I want to make him happy" (236). In this encounter as elsewhere, Stowe considers (and then rejects) alternative concepts of national social reproduction by making Eva and her father not English Creoles, but French. Sanctified or not, the ill-fated and disguised romance between the blackest Christian Tom and the "transparent" Creole Eva finds in Creole Cassy's potentially defiant survival an (im)possible dénouement (236).
Like Cassy in Uncle Tom's Cabin, Harriet Jacobs's pseudonymous heroine Linda Brent hides in a garret in order to escape from slavery and finds that from a hidden "loophole in the garret," she is able to expose the family secrets of the "patriarchal institution." But Jacobs makes even more of Brent's "loophole of retreat," which she uses to describe not just the spy-hole but the garret itself, a kind of hole within the house which becomes her escape clause from slavery. Confined for seven years within a crawl-space, Brent/Jacobs gains a perspective on slavery by watching and listening as her master, her children, and other members of the community pass within and outside her freed grandmother's house. In the "cognitive maneuver of the modern subject" typical of a European exhibition, the subject "separates himself from an object-world and observes it from a position that is invisible and set apart" (Mitchell 308). Brent/Jacobs becomes through her confinement just such an ideal witness. This allows her to challenge the claims of apparently impartial observers, like an English lady who had "paint[ed] the condition of the slaves in the United States" in a "rose-colored" fashion:
A small portion of my experience would enable her to read her own pages with anointed eyes. If she were to lay aside her title, and, instead of visiting among the fashionable, become domesticated, as a poor governess, on some plantation in Louisiana or Alabama, she would see and hear things that would make her tell quite a different story.
By "becoming domesticated" herself, Jacobs invites us to join her in an act of literary eavesdropping.21 Hidden in the walls of her grandmother's house, Brent/Jacobs attains the invisible sanctuary of authorial privilege from her own uncannily "domesticated" situation.
Jacobs removes her readers' "rose-coloured glasses" by parodying the domestic sentiments of slaveholders. A letter supposedly written by the descendants of Dr. Flint to entice the fugitive Brent back into slavery, for example, adopts the pose of a sentimental family willing to forgive and forget the behavior of a wayward child:
Come home…. We would receive you with open arms and tears of joy…. You know my sister was always attached to you…. [Y]ou were taken into the house, and treated as one of us, and almost as free…. The family will be rejoiced to see you; and your poor old grandmother expressed a great desire to have you come…. Doubtless you have heard of the death of your aunt [Nancy]…. Could you have seen us round her death bed, with her mother, all mingling our tears in one common stream, you would have thought the same heartfelt tie existed between a master and his servant, as between a mother and her child.
This letter, faithful as it is to pro-slavery sentimentalism, cannot be read at face value. Buried within the letter-writer's analogy of "master and servant, mother and child" is the toll of six dead babies borne by the servant-mother Nancy, who was forced to spend her nights cramped on the threshold of her mistress's bedroom door. Even in the text of this slaveholder's letter, Jacobs does not go so far as to state baldly that "the same heartfelt tie existed" between master and servant as between mother and child. Instead, she writes that "you would have thought" such a tie existed, highlighting by that locution what Linda Brent would not have thought, had she witnessed the sentimental scene.
If Incidents requires us to read pro-slavery sentimentalism against the grain, it also does surprising things with anti-slavery sentiment. In a passage about a semi-literate black Christian named "uncle Fred," Jacobs begins to sound like Stowe—so much like Stowe that we ought to become suspicious. "I knew an old black man," writes Jacobs à la Stowe, "whose piety and childlike trust in God were beautiful to witness" (72). Jacobs describes uncle Fred's determination to learn to read his Bible, in spite of the laws against slave literacy, in the dialect-specific speech typical of Stowe: "Lord bress you, chile," says uncle Fred, "You nebber gibs me a lesson dat I don't pray to God to help me to understan' what I spells and what I reads" (73). With this story, Jacobs appears to pave the way for the sort of Christian mission dear to Stowe, who hoped that northern Christian mothers could save the nation by adopting former slaves, teaching them how to form their own Christian families (and nations), "receiv[ing] them to the educating advantages of Christian republican society and schools, until they have attained to somewhat of a moral and intellectual maturity, and then assist[ing] them in their passage to those shores [of Liberia], where they may put in practice the lessons they have learned in America" (Uncle Tom 626). But Jacobs comes to a startling conclusion in her commentary about uncle Fred:
There are thousands, who, like good uncle Fred, are thirsting for the water of life; but the law forbids it, and the churches withhold it. They send the Bible to heathen abroad, and neglect the heathen at home. I am glad that missionaries go out to the dark corners of the earth; but I ask them not to overlook the dark corners at home. Talk to American slaveholders as you talk to savages in Africa. Tell them it is wrong to traffic in men. Tell them it is sinful to sell their own children, and atrocious to violate their own daughters.
The substitution of "slaveholders" for "heathen" in this passage is stunning. The indeterminacy of "heathen" and "dark corners" "at home" has allowed the reader to picture "dark heathens" as black men like uncle Fred and uncle Tom, longing for instruction in the Biblical "water of life." The injunction to "[t]alk to American slaveholders as you talk to savages in Africa," however, displaces this commonplace, suggesting that it is not American blacks but American slaveholders who require instruction in family values.
This rhetorical move is indicative of the distinction between Jacobs's and Stowe's Creole family politics. Jacobs focusses not on the rupturing of slave families in the interstate slave trade, but on the everyday life of "domestic slavery" at its most domestic: the breeding of humans for consumption. In so doing, Jacobs unravels pro-slavery ideology not by rejecting the vaunted family ties between patriarchs and slave children, but by demonstrating just what it means to be a Creole (bred, reared, brought up, domestic) slave in his regime. Jacobs employs the figure of the wet-nurse, which served slavery advocates as proof that the slaveholding relationship was familial in nature. The unsigned reviewer of James Kirk Paulding's Sla-very in the United States, for example, argued that the master's feelings of "parental attachment" to the slave derived from childhood: "They have their rise in the relation between the infant and the nurse. They are cultivated between him and his foster brother. They are cherished by the parents of both. They are fostered by the habit of affording protection and favors to the younger offspring of the same nurse" ("Slavery" 338). Jacobs describes the familial correspondences of the foster system in terms that appear to confirm this tender theory: "My mother's mistress was the daughter of my grandmother's mistress. She was the foster sister of my mother; they were both nourished at my grandmother's breast" (6-7). But she immediately points out that rather than affording protection to the slave children, this system appropriates the children's biological mother for another's consumption: "In fact, my mother had been weaned at three months old, that the babe of the mistress might obtain sufficient food" (7). Jacobs thus stresses that the slave children's "favors" derive from the same source as their meager ration of milk: from the generous slave mother/nurse.22 Slaves are not dependents but neglected foster parents in Jacobs's account. While the slaveowners act like wayward children and die insolvent in her story, Brent's slave relatives run profitable businesses and support their extended families.
Jacobs thus exposes the slaveholding "family" as a cannibalistic household in which ungrateful children consume those who have raised them. The "American slaveholders" treat their supposed family members as food, not so much feeding their slaves as feeding on them. Her master's sexual harassment itself appears in the form of a tortuous consumption: "my master, whose restless, craving, vicious nature roved about day and night, seeking whom to devour, had just left me, with stinging, scorching words; words that scathed ear and brain like fire" (18, emphasis added).23 Like torture, rape is not what happens when slaves fall into the hands of bad men in Incidents (as it is in Uncle Tom's Cabin ) but rather, part and parcel of the slave-breeding system. It is a form of consumption endemic to "domestic slavery," consonant with what the slavery advocates called the "promotion of families" among the slaves. In a story about a "neighboring slaveholder," Jacobs presents the slaveholder's rape of his new wife's slaves as no more and no less than an act of "claim[ing] this family as his property" (50). This practice complements that of the overseer who "entered every cabin, to see that men and their wives had gone to bed together," since "[w]omen are considered of no value, unless they continually increase their owner's stock" (49). Led astray by the "unclean influences" of such household practices, in Jacobs's carefully ironic language, a white daughter "selected one of the meanest slaves on [her father's] plantation to be the father of his first grandchild": "In such cases the infant is smothered, or sent where it is never seen by any who know its history. But if the white parent is the father, instead of the mother," Jacobs adds, "the offspring are unblushingly reared for the market" (52).
These insights into the system of "domestic slavery" require us to read between the lines of any offers of "a home and freedom" to a slave. Incidents is notorious for its use of sentimental language to describe the slaveowner Dr. Flint's harassment, as in the following proposal to his slave:
I will procure a cottage, where you and the children can live together. Your labor shall be light, such as sewing for my family. Think what is offered you, Linda—a home and freedom! Let the past be forgotten. If I have been harsh with you at times, your wilfulness drove me to it. You know I exact obedience from my own children, and I consider you as yet a child.
Although this passage might be lifted straight out of Samuel Richardson's Pamela, Incidents requires us to parse it carefully, noting that there are three distinct families in Dr. Flint's offer. First, there is the family unit of "you and the children," a unit which, like the freedom papers that Flint might prepare, has no legal value (84). Second, there is "my [Dr. Flint's] family," a legally protected unit of social reproduction feeding on the labor of slaves. The third "family" unit consists of master and slave: "I consider you as yet a child." This extended "familial" relation undergirds the relative positions of the first two families: since the slave mother is a "child" to her master, her family is supposed to be dependent upon and obedient to the master's heirs. Understanding all too well the way in which the first family (you and the children) will be sacrificed to the second under the mask of the third, Brent considers her master's offer "a snare": "I shuddered; but I was constrained to listen, while he talked of his intention to give me a home of my own, and to make a lady of me. Hitherto, I had escaped my dreaded fate, by being in the midst of people" (53).
Despite her understanding of the pitfalls of domestication, however, Jacobs's Brent never gives up her claims to freedom or to a home for her family. Inci-dents ends in a manner unusual for a slave narrative, with a reference to the traditions of domestic fiction and a longing for domestic space:
Reader, my story ends with freedom; not in the usual way, with marriage. I and my children are now free! We are as free from the power of slaveholders as are the white people of the north; and though that, according to my ideas, is not saying a great deal, it is a vast improvement in my condition. The dream of my life is not yet realized. I do not sit with my children in a home of my own.
This statement has proved perplexing to critics like Annette Niemtzow, who suggests that the "images of the domestic novel seem to mesmorize [sic] Brent so that she seems unable to grasp the miracle—at the end of the text—of her own escape from slavery to freedom" (107).24 Yet Jacobs explicitly derides this "miracle," suggesting instead that the freedom of white northerners from the power of slaveholders "is not saying a great deal." In order to understand what might be at stake in Jacobs's longing for a home of her own, we must read Incidents as a narrative of domestic emancipation and as a response to Uncle Tom's Cabin in particular.25 In this context, the national dimensions of a longing for freedom and a home in America become clear. As in Uncle Tom's Cabin, Incidents' descriptions of the family always involve a double political move, since the family must be distinguished from the "patriarchal institution" of slavery, while also determining membership in the Creole nation. Not to be confused with a trivial longing for a husband, Jacobs's yearning for a home for her family in America implicitly demands a legitimate place in the American nation for Creoles of all kinds.
Unlike Stowe, who accepts that slaves are children but rejects the masters as bad "fathers" in order to deny the Creole family relationships established by shared blood, Jacobs instead confirms the Creole family relationship of masters, mistresses, and slaves, only to suggest that the slaves are not so much their masters' children as they are their unacknowledged foster parents. However "lightly" slaveholders (like her children's own father, a member of Congress) hold their "parental relations," Jacobs refuses to renounce these family ties or their implicit claims, and instead repeatedly calls upon the slaveholding American nation to acknowledge its much-abused relations. Jacobs provides an implicit response to Stowe's repatriation of "the Africans amongst us," when she asks, "And then who are Africans? Who can measure the amount of Anglo-Saxon blood coursing in the veins of American slaves?" (44). With this phrase, Jacobs calls to mind Stowe's own Creole challenge. By appealing to the "Anglo-Saxon blood" coursing through the veins of slaves, Jacobs appears to confirm Stowe's idea that only the "sons of white fathers" pose a challenge to the American nation by their biological-familial claims. Yet by announcing that this blood cannot be measured, Jacobs suggests that no Creole American slaves can rightly be termed "African." To call them Africans, as Stowe does, conceals their biological and cultural relationships to the white Creoles whom Stowe dubs "Americans."
Jacobs thus takes up Stowe's own Creole challenge when she dares to envision a future American home for the "family" consisting of her mulatto children and herself. Unlike Stowe's Cassy, Jacobs's Brent refuses to be domesticated by the "miracle" of her freedom and instead challenges an evolutionary narrative that would negate her earlier attic stance. Defying psychological distance from her slave "self," Jacobs keeps Brent in a threshold position between slavery and freedom throughout her account, just as her title turns its object (a "slave girl") into the subject of her own story ("written by herself"). It is from this precarious position that Jacobs/Brent triumphs over the Flint family values, which she declares bankrupt in a joke at the end: "The doctor had died in embarrassed circumstances, and had little to will to his heirs, except such property as he was unable to grasp" (196). This sentence indicates, first, that the doctor died in debt. His tendency to devour got the best of him; he wasted money chasing after Brent and paid the price. But the particular phrase Jacobs selects to describe this fate also evokes a well-known euphemism for pregnancy. The doctor died "in embarrassed circumstances" like a woman bearing an illegitimate child. Because she refused to observe the laws of property that would have enabled the reproduction of his family, in fact, the "property he was unable to grasp" ensured the slaveholding family's dissolution. In narrative terms, Jacobs declares the slaveholder's household insolvent and illegitimate; what remains is the fugitive property ensconced in her own authorial voice. Authorizing a new domestic ideal, the freed mother and her two (fatherless, mulatto) children end by anticipating the prospect of their own domestic inheritance, in a legitimate home of their own.
Jacobs's domestic orientation is thus more than a holdover from a feminine genre or an attempt to court white women as readers. Despite her claims to the contrary, Jacobs's story ends not with "freedom," since she remains bound by duty and gratitude to her employer, but with the writing of her book. The production of the book itself lays claim, in writing, to the Jacobses' "own" past and in so doing, serves as an heirloom chronicling the genealogy of her family.26 Yet Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl represents an important family legacy in more than one sense. By addressing the imagined community of print-readers proper to domestic fiction, Jacobs, like Stowe, took up the task of re-defining domestic norms for the American family and nation. In laying claim to this kind of domestic utterance as a Creole slave, however, Jacobs disclosed what Stowe wished to efface: the Creole contours of the nation formed by the break-away colonies of the United States. Revealed in the rhetorical maneuvers of this momentous book is the claim to an extraordinary inheritance, the legitimating and power-producing figure of the family itself and the home-grown Creole nation for which it stands.
1. "Mothers of families [housewives], young girls, little children, servants even, can read and understand" the book's "long discussions, its minute details, its carefully studied portraits," Sand explained, and "men themselves, even the most superior, cannot disdain them" ("Review" 460). Demonstrating how abolitionist and domestic discourses built on one another, the works of Lydia Maria Child and Harriet Beecher Stowe include such titles as The American Frugal Housewife, The Mother's Book, The Anti-Slavery Catechism, An Appeal in Favor of that Class of Americans called Africans, "Slavery's Pleasant Homes," House and Home Papers and The American Woman's Home.
2. Jane Tompkins, for example, dubs the "new matriarchy" in Uncle Tom's Cabin "the most politically subversive dimension of Stowe's novel, more disruptive and far-reaching in its potential consequences than even the starting of a war or the freeing of slaves" (142). While disagreeing about the relative insignificance of the latter accomplishments, Philip Fisher agrees that by depicting "the corrosive institution of slavery" as a threat to the sentimental family, Stowe's fiction prompted "a restructuring of the national home" (101, 87).
3. Two of the three "important Negroes" in the novel "may be dismissed immediately" in Baldwin's phrase, since one escapes from slavery "disguised as a Spanish gentleman" and the other turns out to have "connection with French gentility" (16-17). Hortense Spillers evinces a similar perplexity about a white man who is not exactly white in Stowe's novel. Spillers points out that "the descriptive apparatus that surrounds [Augustine St. Clare] in the New Orleans scene is loaded with hints of ‘gorgeousness’" and that St. Clare is thereby linked textually to "[t]he Negro" whom Stowe considers "an exotic of the most gorgeous and superb countries of the world" (Uncle Tom 253), "[e]ven though Augustine St. Clare is, as far as his status goes, a ‘white’ man—and we are also explicitly told this by the narrator" (Spillers 27, emphasis added).
4. See my "Undomesticating the Domestic Novel."
5. Louisiana was a French colony until 1763, and it reverted from Spain to France just before the Purchase; it "never became Spanish in a cultural sense, and it would still be a colonial French city when the United States took over in 1803" (Johnson 45).
6. The OED traces the word creole to a Spanish word meaning "bred, brought up, reared, domestic," although there is evidence suggesting that the term derived from an Old Portuguese word with similar meanings. See Arrom and Berman (2000).
7. In Imagined Communities, Benedict Anderson argues that the novel played a key role in the emergence of the modern concept of nationhood and that Creoles—settlers in the Americas—pioneered what might be called "print-nationalism." Unfortunately, Anderson, like Stowe, mistakenly identifies "Creoles" only as those of "pure" European descent and consequently omits the Haitian revolution from his history of revolutionary nationalism.
8. Burnham hints at this alternate line of influence when she suggests that Stowe was familiar with Jacobs's story "well before its publication in 1861" (139). The letters collected by Jean Fagan Yellin show that Jacobs contacted Stowe about publishing her narrative in 1853, after Uncle Tom's Cabin was written, but Jacobs's story was being described in anti-slavery circles as early as 1842, and it may have been shared with Stowe then (Jacobs 227, 234).
9. The term "crioulo," in Old Portuguese, referred to a domestic animal "raised" at home rather than purchased at the market. By extension, slaves bred in the colonial "home" rather than imported from the international slave market—as well as settlers "bred" by colonial families—came to be called "Creole" (or "domestic") as well. See Arrom and Berman (2000).
10. See, for example, Niemtzow and Smith. Due in part to its novelistic style, historians long classified Jacobs's book as a work of domestic fiction. John Blassingame, for example, argued that "the story is too melodramatic" to be representative of slave experience (373). When Jean Fagan Yellin succeeded in authenticating both the events and the former slave authorship of the pseudonymous narrative in 1981, therefore, she stressed how the narrator is not, as it would first appear, "trapped within traditional language and literary conventions" (Yellin xxxiv). See also Carby 45-46.
11. The description is quoted from "Slavery" (338). Joan Dayan follows Bernard Rosenthal in arguing that Edgar Allan Poe authored this anonymous review of two pro-slavery works, which I will use throughout this essay as exemplary of pro-slavery domestic ideology.
12. As Spillers puts it succinctly, "‘Simon Legree’ is ‘really’ ‘Augustine St. Clare’ with his drawers down" (32). See also Halttunen 109, 118. Harriet Martineau's account of the "French creole" community in Louisiana anticipates Stowe's novel in emphasizing how outward civility merely masks the worst of brutalities, as in Delphine Lalaurie's house, where a "hospitable table" concealed a houseful of slave skeletons and a cook chained to the fire (Martineau 139-40).
13. These chapters include "Cassy," "The Quadroon's Story," "Emmeline and Cassy," "The Strategem" (for their escape), and "An Authentic Ghost Story."
14. Most exiles from Saint Domingue arrived in Louisiana between the 1790s and 1810, when France lost the last of its Caribbean colonies. In the influx of 1809, for example, 2,731 whites, 3,102 free persons of color, and 3,226 slaves from Saint Domingue emigrated to Louisiana. See Lachance 105-06 and Blackburn 275, 280.
15. Virginia Domínguez's history of social classification in Creole Louisiana emphasizes the conflicts between this assumption and government attempts to "ensure that relationship by ‘blood’ did not entail equality of status or … equal access to property" (57).
16. Unlike his Anglo-American counterparts, Louisiana's first presiding cleric, appointed in 1704, promoted intermarriage with Indians, writing to Paris that "the blood of the savages does no harm to the blood of the French" (qtd. in Johnson 35). Slaves of African and Indian descent in Louisiana married one another as well.
17. Stowe's letter to Frederick Douglass in July 1852 references Bibb, indicating her familiarity with his narrative (Stepto 137).
18. Julia Stern makes this point in "Spanish Masquerade."
19. Fleischner points out that for Stowe, "matrilineage is a way to preserve racial segregation" (59). For discussions of the custodial politics in nineteenth-century British and American narratives, see Berry and Palwick.
20. As Burnham comments, Stowe thus "obviates violence by redefining domestic racial borders as imperial umbilical cords" (124).
21. Wexler argues that the impact of domestic ideology must be measured not only by its intended effects on middle-class white girls and women, but also by its effect on unintended readers who respond with acts of "literary eavesdropping."
22. "To this good grandmother … I was indebted for all my comforts, spiritual and temporal. It was her labor that supplied my scanty wardrobe" (6, 11, original emphasis).
23. Anne Bradford Warner identifies the importance of the "absolute inversion of cooking, the use of food as a device for torture" in Jacobs's account (25). In a particularly gruesome "favorite" torture for "thefts" of food, a neighboring slaveholder would "tie a rope round a man's body, and suspend him from the ground. A fire was kindled over him, from which was suspended a piece of fat pork. As this cooked, the scalding drops of fat continually fell on the bare flesh" (Jacobs 46).
24. In response, critics have argued that Jacobs "discovers the limits of her own proposal for a domestic liberty" (Sanchez-Eppler 91), or that she "comes to understand that her failure to find that place happens not because she has somehow failed but because the patriarchal, racist society has failed her" (Becker 412).
25. With the words, "Reader, my story ends with freedom; not in the usual way, with marriage," after all, Jacobs situates her tale not within the tradition of male slave narratives, which usually ended with freedom, but within the genre of women's fiction. Her pronouncement echoes, even as it repudiates, the final "Reader, I married him" of such popular novels as Jane Eyre.
26. The production of the book as family heirloom is documented in the papers collected by Yellin. That Jacobs was able to control the circulation of her story and book stands in significant contrast to her inability to circulate herself within the bonds of slavery. When her printer went bankrupt, she bought the plates herself; the title page reads "Published for the Author." A letter from her editor, Lydia Maria Child, indicates just how the book would become Jacobs's first inheritable property: "I want you to sign the following paper, and send it back to me…. [I]n case of my death, [it] will prove that the book is your property, not mine" (246).
Anderson, Benedict. Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism. Rev. ed. New York: Verso, 1983.
Armstrong, Nancy. "Why Daughters Die: The Racial Logic of American Sentimentalism." Yale Journal of Criticism 7.2 (1994): 1-24.
Arrom, José Juan. "Criollo: Definicion y matices de un concepto." Certidumbre de America. Madrid: Gredos, 1971. 9-24.
Baldwin, James. "Everybody's Protest Novel." Notes of a Native Son. Boston: Beacon, 1955. 13-23.
Becker, Elizabeth C. "Harriet Jacobs's Search for Home." College Language Association Journal 35 (1992): 411-21.
Berman, Carolyn Vellenga. "Undomesticating the Domestic Novel: Creole Madness in Jane Eyre." Genre: Forms of Discourse and Culture 32 (1999): 267-96.
———. "Undomesticating the Domestic Novel: Slavery and the Creole Woman in British, French and American Fiction." Diss. Brown U, 2000.
Berry, Laura C. The Child, the State, and the Victorian Novel. Charlottesville: UP of Virginia, 1999.
Bibb, Henry. Narrative of the Life and Adventures of Henry Bibb, An American Slave, Written by Himself. 1849. Rpt. in Puttin' On Ole Massa. Ed. Gilbert Osofsky. New York: Harper, 1969. 53-171.
Blackburn, Robin. The Overthrow of Colonial Slavery, 1776-1848. New York: Verso, 1988.
Blassingame, John W. The Slave Community: Plantation Life in the Antebellum South. 2nd ed. New York: Oxford UP, 1979.
Brown, Gillian. Domestic Individualism: Imagining Self in Nineteenth-Century America. Berkeley: U of California P, 1990.
Burnham, Michelle. Captivity and Sentiment: Cultural Exchange in American Literature, 1682-1861. Hanover: UP of New England, 1997.
Carby, Hazel V. Reconstructing Womanhood: The Emergence of the Afro-American Woman Novelist. New York: Oxford UP, 1987.
Dayan, Joan. "Romance and Race." The Columbia History of the American Novel. Ed. Emory Eliott. New York: Columbia UP, 1991. 81-109.
Domínguez, Virginia. White by Definition: Social Classification in Creole Louisiana. New Brunswick: Rutgers UP, 1986.
Douglas, Ann. "Introduction: The Art of Controversy." Uncle Tom's Cabin. By Harriet Beecher Stowe. New York: Penguin, 1981. 7-34.
———. Introduction. "The Legacy of American Victorianism: The Meaning of Little Eva." The Feminization of American Culture. New York: Anchor/Doubleday, 1977. 3-13.
Fiedler, Leslie. Love and Death in the American Novel. New York: Anchor/Doubleday, 1992.
Fisher, Philip. Hard Facts: Setting and Form in the American Novel. New York: Oxford UP, 1985.
Fleischner, Jennifer. Mastering Slavery: Memory, Family, and Identity in Women's Slave Narratives. New York: New York UP, 1996.
Gilbert, Sandra, and Susan Gubar. The Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth-Century Literary Imagination. New Haven: Yale UP, 1979.
Halttunen, Karen. "Gothic Imagination and Social Reform: The Haunted Houses of Lyman Beecher, Henry Ward Beecher, and Harriet Beecher Stowe." New Essays on Uncle Tom's Cabin. Ed. Eric J. Sundquist. New York: Cambridge UP, 1986. 107-34.
Jacobs, Harriet. Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Written by Herself. 1860/61. Ed. Jean Fagan Yellin. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1987.
Johnson, Jerah. "Colonial New Orleans: A Fragment of the Eighteenth-Century French Ethos." Creole New Orleans: Race and Americanization. Eds. Arnold R. Hirsch and Joseph Logsdon. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State UP, 1992. 12-57.
Lachance, Paul F. "The Foreign French." Creole New Orleans: Race and Americanization. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State UP, 1992. 101-30.
Martineau, Harriet. Retrospect of Western Travel. 3 vols. London: Saunders and Otley, 1838. Rpt. New York: Greenwood, 1969.
Mitchell, Timothy. "Orientalism and the Exhibitionary Order." Colonialism and Culture. Ed. Nicholas B. Dirks. Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P, 1992. 289-317.
Niemtzow, Annette. "The Problematic of Self in Autobiography: The Example of the Slave Narrative." The Art of the Slave Narrative: Original Essays in Criticism and Theory. Eds. John Sekora and Darwin T. Turner. Macomb: Western Illinois U, 1982.
Palwick, Susan. "Delivered from Confinement: Women Writers, Maternal Journeys and the Rhetoric of Reform, 1848-1861." Diss. Yale U, 1996.
Rosenthal, Bernard. "Poe, Slavery and the Southern Literary Messenger: A Reexamination." Poe Studies 7 (1974): 29-38.
Sanchez-Eppler, Karen. Touching Liberty: Abolition, Feminism, and the Politics of the Body. Berkeley: U of California P, 1993.
Sand, George. Review of Uncle Tom's Cabin. 1853. Rpt. in Critical Essays on Harriet Beecher Stowe. Ed. Elizabeth Ammons. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1980. 3-6.
"Slavery." Rev. of Slavery in the United States, by James Kirk Paulding, and The South Vindicated from the Treason and Fanaticism of the Northern Abolitionists, by Anon. Southern Literary Messenger April 1836: 336-39.
Smith, Valerie. "Form and Ideology in Three Slave Narratives." Self Discovery and Authority in Afro-American Narrative. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1987. 9-43.
———. "‘Loopholes of Retreat’: Architecture and Ideology in Harriet Jacobs's Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl." Reading Black, Reading Feminist: A Critical Anthology. Ed. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. New York: Penguin, 1990. 212-26.
Spillers, Hortense. "Changing the Letter: The Yokes, the Jokes of Discourse, or, Mrs. Stowe, Mr. Reed." Slavery and the Literary Imagination. Eds. Deborah E. McDowell and Arnold Rampersad. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1989. 25-61.
Stepto, Robert B. "Sharing the Thunder: The Literary Exchanges of Harriet Beecher Stowe, Henry Bibb, and Frederick Douglass." New Essays on Uncle Tom's Cabin. Ed. Eric J. Sundquist. New York: Cambridge UP, 1986. 135-53.
Stern, Julia. "Spanish Masquerade and the Drama of Racial Identity in Uncle Tom's Cabin." Passing and the Fictions of Identity. Ed. Elaine K. Ginsberg. Durham: Duke UP, 1996. 103-30.
Stowe, Harriet Beecher. A Key to Uncle Tom's Cabin; Presenting the Original Facts and Documents upon which the Story is Founded. Together with Corroborative Statements Verifying the Truth of the Work. 1853. Rpt. Bedford: Applewood, 1998.
———. Preface. Uncle Tom's Cabin. New York: W. W. Norton, 1994.
———. Uncle Tom's Cabin, or, Life among the Lowly. 1852. New York: Penguin, 1981.
Tompkins, Jane. Sensational Designs: The Cultural Work of American Fiction, 1790-1860. New York: Oxford UP, 1985.
Warner, Anne Bradford. "Harriet Jacobs's Modest Proposals: Revising Southern Hospitality." The Southern Quarterly: A Journal of the Arts in the South 30 (1992): 22-28.
Wexler, Laura. "Tender Violence: Literary Eavesdropping, Domestic Fiction, and Educational Reform." The Culture of Sentiment: Race, Gender and Sentimentality in Nineteenth-Century American. Ed. Shirley Samuels. New York: Oxford UP, 1992. 9-38.
Yellin, Jean Fagan. Introduction. Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Written by Herself. By Harriet Jacobs. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1987.
Anderson, Beatrice A. "Uncle Tom: A Hero At Last." ATQ 5, no. 2 (June 1991): 95-108.
Argues against the widespread criticism of Stowe's depiction of race in Uncle Tom's Cabin.
Brandstadter, Evan. "Uncle Tom and Archy Moore: The Antislavery Novel as Ideological Symbol." American Quarterly 26, no. 2 (May 1974): 160-75.
Studies nineteenth-century views on slavery by comparing Uncle Tom's Cabin with Richard Hildreth's 1836 book The Slave; or, Memoirs of Archy Moore.
Florey, Kenneth. "Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin." Explicator 45, no. 1 (fall 1986): 20-1.
Investigates the replication of African American dialect in Uncle Tom's Cabin.
Krog, Carl E. "Women, Slaves, and Family in Uncle Tom's Cabin: Symbolic Battleground in Antebellum America." Midwest Quarterly 31, no. 2 (winter 1990): 252-69.
Observes themes of patriarchal control in Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin.
MacFarlane, Lisa Watt. "‘If Ever I Get to Where I Can’: The Competing Rhetorics of Social Reform in Uncle Tom's Cabin." ATQ 4, no. 2 (June 1990): 135-47.
Commends Stowe for avoiding easy answers to complex problems in Uncle Tom's Cabin.
O'Loughlin, Jim. "Articulating Uncle Tom's Cabin." New Literary History 31, no. 3 (summer 2000): 573-97.
Assesses the impact of Uncle Tom's Cabin on popular culture.
Riggio, Thomas P. "Uncle Tom Reconstructed: A Neglected Chapter in the History of a Book." American Quarterly 28, no. 1 (spring 1976): 56-70.
Concentrates on Thomas Dixon's reworking of Uncle Tom's Cabin in The Leopard's Spots.
Zwarg, Christina. "Fathering and Blackface in Uncle Tom's Cabin." Novel 22, no. 3 (spring 1989): 274-87.
Evaluates the relationship between identity, authority, and parenthood in Uncle Tom's Cabin.
Additional coverage of Stowe's life and career is contained in the following sources published by Gale: American Writers Supplement, Vol. 1; Authors and Artists for Young Adults, Vol. 53; Concise Dictionary of American Literary Biography, 1865-1917; Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vols. 1, 12, 42, 74, 189, 239, 243; DISCovering Authors; DISCovering Authors: British Edition; DISCovering Authors: Canadian Edition; DISCovering Authors Modules: Most-studied Authors, Novelists; DISCovering Authors 3.0; Exploring Novels; Feminism in Literature: A Gale Critical Companion, Ed. 1:3; Junior DISCovering Authors; Literature and Its Times, Vol. 2; Literature Resource Center; Major Authors and Illustrators for Children and Young Adults, Eds. 1, 2; Nineteenth-Century Literature Criticism, Vols. 3, 50, 133; Novels for Students, Vol. 6; Reference Guide to American Literature, Ed. 4; Twayne's United States Authors; World Literature Criticism, Vol. 6; and Yesterday's Authors of Books for Children, Vol. 1.
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