193 The Mother, The Father, and the Holy American Man

Carmen Maura

Like Frederick Douglass’ The Heroic Slave, Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin uses “American” ideals to motivate white readers to support abolition. However, while Douglass’ The Heroic Slave focuses heavily on Madison Washington’s near-patriotic desire to be free, Uncle Tom’s Cabin portrays George, Tom, and Eliza as the figureheads of liberty, piety, and maternal strength. Stowe’s portrayal therefore not only appeals to the patriotic man, but the Christian community and mothers as well.

Similar to Madison Washington’s proclamation for liberty in the woods, when George discovers that his master is planning to keep him from his wife or sell him down South, he plans to escape to Canada. Stating, ““I won’t be taken, Eliza; I’ll die first! I’ll be free, or I’ll die!”” George exemplifies the common American ideal of freedom and masculinity by risking his life to free his family.

Unlike George or Eliza, when Tom doesn’t run when learns that he’s going to be sold. Described as “steady, honest, capable,” and ” a good, steady, sensible, pious fellow,” Tom is depicted as a the good-hearted religious man that obeys the laws of the land and works with and for–not against–whites. Though his reputation has been tarnished over the years (“Uncle Tom” often being a term used to describe someone who submits to their oppressors), Stowe’s portrayal is intended to liken Tom to the pious American father who would sacrifice himself to protect the ones he loves.

Eliza, whose “maternal love” led her to carry her son through the woods in the middle of the night to prevent their separation is intended to make the female reader sympathetic. By demonstrating the humanity of Black mothers, Stowe intended to convince white mothers to detest slavery. The contrast between white characters such as Mr. Shelby and Mr. Haley is intended to demonstrate how the “kind” masters are just as guilty as the ones in the South. This becomes more evident throughout the rest of the novel, as Stowe essentially does what Douglass couldn’t by criticizing whites in both the South and the North for their subtle and obvious support of slavery.


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

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