We cannot verify your location
Browse Book and Journal Content on Project MUSE
OR
title

Whitewashing Uncle Tom’s Cabin

Nineteenth-Century Women Novelists Respond to Stowe

Joy Jordan-Lake

Publication Year: 2005

Few books have had greater impact on U.S. history than Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin. The first American novel to sell more than a million copies, it provoked an entire reading public to extol it, debate it, weep over it, excoriate it. Fighting fire with fire, slavery apologists from North and South responded with their own fiction, producing over three dozen novels in direct response to Stowe’s work. Interestingly, a key portion of that fiction was written by women. In Whitewashing Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Joy Jordan-Lake examines those women-authored novels to produce compelling insights into both antebellum American culture and a proslavery ideology rife with internal tensions. Jordan-Lake begins by considering the male plantation literary tradition and then demonstrates how white women novelists of the anti–Uncle Tom school adopted characteristics from sentimental fiction, emulating Stowe’s own strategies more than those of their male allies. Like Stowe, these women writers tried to appeal to maternal sensibilities and offered motherhood as a means of redemption for an admittedly fallen society. But contrary to their intent, Jordan-Lake shows, their works succumb to evasions, displacements, and contradictions that disrupt their surface narratives and reveal even their most noble women characters as mere pawns in a patriarchal game in which white society’s pursuit and maintenance of wealth are made to appear humane, even holy. Ultimately, these texts dismantle themselves to expose a profit-driven chattel slavery as savage as any envisioned by Stowe. Including a discussion of twentieth- and twenty-first-century novels that revisit plantation mythology, Whitewashing Uncle Tom’s Cabin casts new light on the ethical and moral disaster of securing one group’s economic strength at the expense of other groups’ access to dignity, compassion, and justice.

Published by: Vanderbilt University Press

Table of Contents

pdf iconDownload PDF (30.7 KB)
pp. xii-xiii

Acknowledgments

pdf iconDownload PDF (40.6 KB)
pp. ix-x

read more

Preface

pdf iconDownload PDF (73.2 KB)
pp. xi-xiv

Perhaps this book began with a nineteenth-century photograph, grainy and indistinct, handed down in my family from mother to daughter for six generations. The woman in the photo is old, her mouth a thin, determined line, her jaw set stubbornly, and her hair the color of the Birmingham steel-mill smog that would, during the early and mid–twentieth century, ...

read more

Introduction: The Personal Becomes the Project

pdf iconDownload PDF (88.1 KB)
pp. xv-xxvi

Few books have had more impact upon the history of the United States and, consequently, on more American lives than Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Few books have evoked such powerful emotional responses—and few continue, scores of years later, to do so. One has only to mention Uncle Tom’s Cabin in a faculty lounge or classroom of any American university to provoke a flurry of strident responses, often from those ...

read more

Chapter 1 “To Woman . . . I Say Depart!”: The Plantation Literary Tradition, the Emergent Anti–Uncle Tom Novel, and Gender

pdf iconDownload PDF (129.8 KB)
pp. 1-24

In writing Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Harriet Beecher Stowe herself, whether consciously or not, was writing both within and against the plantation-romance tradition—as were the writers who attempted to rebut her.1 Consequently, it is important to examine first the plantation literary tradition and its evolution into anti–Uncle Tom novels. Laid out by such popular ...

read more

Chapter 2 Sanctified by Wealth and Whiteness: Mother-Saviors—and Not—in the Urban North

pdf iconDownload PDF (180.8 KB)
pp. 25-38

And you, mothers of America,” Harriet Beecher Stowe implores the audience of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, “by the sacred love you bear your child, . . . I beseech you” (384, italics mine). Plantation romances and anti–Uncle Tom novels by women commonly employ similar direct appeals, one mother to another. Like Stowe, too, her fictive detractors consistently ...

read more

Chapter 3 Justified by Mother’s Milk: Mammy and Mistress Figures in Proslavery Fiction’s Plantation South

pdf iconDownload PDF (169.2 KB)
pp. 63-96

Pointing to white slaveholding males’ sexual license with female slaves, abolitionist Wendell Phillips labeled the antebellum South “one giant brothel” (108). To counter such charges, proslavery advocates constructed the mammy figure to represent the mutual affection that bridged black and white worlds: plantation life as one big, happy, biracial family....

read more

Chapter 4 The Background that Belies the Myth: The Historical Record that Helps Explain the Preponderance of Nonslaveholding Proslavery Women Authors

pdf iconDownload PDF (141.8 KB)
pp. 97-125

Harriet Beecher Stowe envisions powerful, prophetic white and black women—mothers, community leaders, preachers—as holding hope for the nation’s societal healing and moral redemption. In replicating her techniques and ideology, proslavery women writers also script white and occasionally black female characters as angels and Christ figures unwavering in their mission, role, and faith in the South’s slave-based economy. Yet in comparing these novels with the journals and letters of ...

read more

Chapter 5 Mothering the Other, Othering the Mother: An African American Woman Novelist Battles Slavery and Uncle Tom

pdf iconDownload PDF (73.9 KB)
pp. 126-135

Harriet Wilson’s Our Nig triangulates the Uncle Tom/anti–Uncle Tom dichotomy, combining characteristics of proslavery novels, particularly The Ebony Idol and The North and South, and of the antislavery Uncle Tom’s Cabin—and pointedly differing with both.1 The author, a free African American woman living in the North, explains in the first paragraphs of her preface that she is publishing this narrative in the hope of earning sufficient income to support herself and her child; like Stowe’s,...

read more

Chapter 6 Still Playing with Fire: Perpetuation and Refutation of the Plantation Romance in Twentieth- and Twenty-First-Century Novels by Women

pdf iconDownload PDF (123.6 KB)
pp. 136-160

As Theodore Gross asserts: “America is a civilization whose literature cannot be fully understood apart from the culture that has helped to shape it” (v). Conversely, American literature has shaped the culture that produced it. During the 150 years since the composition of the first fictive rebuttals to Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Southern plantation mythmaking has ...

Notes

pdf iconDownload PDF (124.8 KB)
pp. 161-182

Bibliography

pdf iconDownload PDF (79.1 KB)
pp. 183-196

Index

pdf iconDownload PDF (54.5 KB)
pp. 197-204


E-ISBN-13: 9780826591890
Print-ISBN-13: 9780826514752
Print-ISBN-10: 0826514758

Page Count: 232
Publication Year: 2005

Research Areas

Recommend

Subject Headings

  • American fiction -- Women authors -- History and criticism.
  • Slavery in literature.
  • Women and literature -- United States -- History -- 19th century.
  • Stowe, Harriet Beecher, 1811-1896. Uncle Tom's cabin.
  • American fiction -- White authors -- History and criticism.
  • American fiction -- 19th century -- History and criticism.
  • Women, White -- United States -- Intellectual life.
  • Southern States -- In literature.
  • African Americans in literature.
  • Plantation life in literature.
  • You have access to this content
  • Free sample
  • Open Access
  • Restricted Access