Degree Year

1984

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts

Department

English

Advisor(s)

Sandra Zagarell

Keywords

Uncle Tom's Cabin, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Anti-slavery

Abstract

Harriet Beecher Stowe has engendered a good deal of critical contradiction, both in her own time and since. Most of more extreme controversy centers on her popular and influential anti-slavery novel, Uncle Tom's Cabin. Although the New England novels are generally considered to have some merit as examples of "local color" fiction, Stowe earned her place in the canon of American literature primarily on the basis her authorship of UTC. But the place is an uneasy one. UTC's popularity and impact make it too big an event in American literary history for it, or its author, to be disregarded, but disputes about its intellectual, moral, and artistic legitimacy are rife. It has been variously described by critics as disastrous and miraculous, awkward and artful, dishonest and sincere, keenly intelligent and irrationally emotionalistic, racist and anti-racist, feminist and all-too-oppressively feminine.

But whatever else may be said about UTe, few would dispute that Stowe wrote it openly, self-consciously, and unapologetical in a woman's voice, which, for a novel addressing social and political issues of national importance, was at the time something unusual (and controversial) in itself. It is perhaps seems less unusual today, but I would suggest that in some respects the controvery has remained constistent, and that much of the critical argument about UTe may be attributed to the problems of interpreting a woman's voice fairly in a man's world.

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