179 Introduction (2017)

Amelia Berube, Jordan Cady, Samantha Latos

Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811-1896), was born in Litchfield Connecticut to Reverend Lyman Beecher and Roxanna Foote Beecher. She was one of seven children born to her parents. The family moved from their New England home to Cincinnati, Ohio in 1832, since their father was made president of the Lane Theological Seminary. Stowe married her husband Calvin Ellis Stowe in 1836, having met him at the seminary her father presided over.

Having one day crossed the river with friends to the Kentucky side of the river, Stowe was met with a violent scene. She had never experienced slavery prior to that day. Passing by a slave auction, Stowe witnessed a mother being forced from her child. This incident touched her and later inspired the character of Eliza in Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

Otherwise, Stowe led a happy life with her husband, bearing a large family of seven children. However, in 1849, one of her sons passed away from cholera. A year later, the family moved to Maine, leaving the rest of the Beecher family in Ohio. It was in Maine that she began writing Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Many say this was in response to the Fugitive Slave Act, which was created that same year (Vonfrank).

Uncle Tom’s Cabin enlightened many people, and showed them the inhumane aspect of slavery. She sold 300,000 copies within the first year of its publication (Vonfrank). This novel explores the cruelties of slavery in the South, while shedding light on the human failures on all sides of the slave trade. Her characters were relatable, and many readers felt empathetic, and identified with them. Stowe accomplished this through her use of language. For one thing, Stowe brings morals into question time and time again through the use of Christianity. Many of the characters in Uncle Tom’s Cabin are Christian, especially the slaves. In the novel, it is noted that this characteristic increases the value of a slave because it was believed that this showed a moral integrity. There are other humanizing aspects to the black characters of the novel. Eliza and George have built a life together. Early on, Eliza runs away to protect her only child from a slaver who wishes to take him and sell him. There is a strong family connection here. This goes on to humanize the black characters of the novel. At other moments in the text, Stowe alludes to the features of Eliza and family. They are all of mulatto lineage, meaning a mixture of black and white.Through this and the aspects of Christianity and family, Stowe was able to appeal more to the white apologists, abolitionists, and others who were ignorant of the truths of slavery. She gave slaves a sense of humanity and relatability that was not there before, or at least not as clearly stated. Stowe also alludes to the law that is prevalent in Kentucky at the time. This of course refers to the laws about slavery and the treatment of the slaves. Overall, Stowe humanized the black slaves in her novel, while degrading the white, Christian reader, as if to make them feel guilt for not taking action. There are several points in the novel where she speaks directly to the reader, using phrases such as “If it were your Harry, mother, or your Willie.. —how fast could you walk?” and calling them out for their lack of action in abolishing slavery (Chapter 7).

Stowe met President Abraham Lincoln in 1862, two years after he first became President. Upon meeting her, he supposedly said, “So you’re the little woman who wrote the book that started this great war.” No one knows for sure if he said that or not, but there is reason to believe that he did. Stowe is known for being an early American abolitionist as well as an author. She was undoubtedly against slavery, and advocated for racial equality. A statue depicting their first greeting can be found in downtown Hartford Riverwalk Statue Park, Connecticut.

Surpassing her husband by ten years, Harriet Beecher Stowe died comfortably in her home in July 1896. She was surrounded by her family, and she was 85 years old. She published over 30 books during her lifetime, becoming quite the prolific writer. The most popular books are Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852), Dred: A Tale Of The Great Dismal Swamp (1856), The Minister’s Wooing (1859), and Palmetto Leaves (1873). The other books are not as popular as Uncle Tom’s Cabin because they lacked emotionally relateable characters such as Eliza or Uncle Tom. None of her other novels had as much pull. In the end, Stowe will always be known for her provocative anti-slavery novel, that is said to have moved a country to war with itself.

Vonfrank, Albert J. “Harriet Beecher Stowe.” History.com, http://www.history.com/topics/harriet-beecher-stowe.


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The Open Anthology of Earlier American Literature: A PSU-Based Project Copyright © 2016 by Amelia Berube, Jordan Cady, Samantha Latos is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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