194 The Book That Started the Civil War

Randy Garfield

First off, let me use this platform to argue my case for Captain Underpants worthy place in the canon of American Literature. JUST KIDDING.

Uncle Tom’s Cabin reads like a beach-read. No, it isn’t 54 pages of vague, homoerotic freestyle (“Song of Myself”). If I were to re-write “Self-Reliance ” to be more in the vein of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, it would read something like this: “Do what you want, screw everything else.” Yes, all that self-important pandering could be reduced to seven crude words- sorry Emerson. Uncle Tom’s Cabin isn’t as sophisticated or head-scratch-worthy as the aforementioned works, but it’s arguably more important than them to the American story.

Some literature is canonized not because of its symbolism, elegance or style, but because of its sheer impact on a society. That’s what I’m assuming Jane Tompkins wrote about in her argument for the canonization of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Yes, the novel may be veering on “sentimental drivel” catered to the popular pallet, but its ease of access and popularity is what gave it such weight in its day. A work shouldn’t be considered worthy of canonization in American Literature because of its ambiguity or complexity, but for the magnitude of impact that it made on America as a whole.

David Reynolds of the New York Daily News wrote an article on Uncle Tom’s Cabin and its impact. He attributes Lincoln’s political victory to Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Its contents polarized a nation. It stirred righteous indignation from the northern abolitionists, while at the same time, says Reynolds, “it stiffened the South’s resolve to defend slavery and demonize the North.” Reynolds writes, “Uncle Tom’s Cabin. . . created such a stir when it was published in 1852 that Abraham Lincoln reportedly called Stowe ‘the little lady who made this great war.’” Mind that the war Stowe allegedly “made” was the costliest war ever fought on American soil.

One could only imagine the hooplah this book must’ve made, considering that, when it was published, there was no television or radio. Books were the most accessible form of entertainment. One might even say (given a bit of imaginative licence) that Uncle Tom’s Cabin is to 19th-Century America what (insert your favorite widely consumed television show) is to today. But when was the last time Stranger Things started a civil war?


Good Read/Source: http://www.nydailynews.com/opinion/book-start-civil-war-uncle-tom-cabin-testament-power-culture-article-1.112605


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

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