You Don’t Know Uncle Tom-He Was the Opposite of What Many Americans Think


 

This Image of Uncle Tom More Closely Resembles Stowe's Tom Than Modern Convention

This Image of Uncle Tom More Closely Resembles Stowe's Tom Than Modern Convention

 

Stowe: Anti-Slavery

Stowe: Anti-Slavery

On This Date in History: On this date in 1852, the first successful stage dramatization of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin took place in Troy, NY. The key word here is “successful.” Stowe herself had tried to bring the novel to the stage but it failed. How could that be? The book sold over 300,000 copies in the first year. Well, if you have read the novel, then you know that it was a huge attack on the slave culture. President Lincoln, upon meeting Stowe said, “so this is the little woman who made this big war.” Obviously that was a bit of an overstatement and unfair to put that war on her head. But, it did play a role. While she had only seen one plantation, Stowe went to former slave Frederick Douglass for help in detailing slave life. Stowe was inspired by the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 that allowed for slaves who had escaped to non-slave states in the north to be returned to slavery. Hers was the first glimpse of what slave life was really like. It brought to the attention of northerners of the brutality of many plantations and the inhuman condition brought to the slaves. This stands in sharp contrast to modern ideas.

Abolitionist Frederick Douglass Consulted With Stowe

Abolitionist Frederick Douglass Consulted With Stowe

Often in popular culture you hear the phrase “I’m no Uncle Tom” or a reference to someone as “an Uncle Tom” in derisive terms alluding to someone who knuckles under and does the white man’s bidding. But, the character of Uncle Tom in Stowe’s novel was anything but the modern vision. He was a strong figure described by many reviewers as a “Christlike figure” who was actually killed by his owner, Simon LeGree. So, how did we get such a different, opposite view of Uncle Tom? I am speculating here but I suspect that the reason Stowe’s version of Uncle Tom failed is because it followed her novel. Uncle Tom was portrayed as the strong, proud man that she had created. But the versions of the book that came to stage, and later film, that were successful presented a Tom who was a shuffling, subservient old man. My guess is that audiences, even those who opposed slavery, did not want to see a strong black man opposing and standing up to authority. That feeling remained prevalent well into the early 20th century and thus, films followed the same recipe. So, when someone is called an “Uncle Tom” it should signify characterstics of strength of characater, integrity and self-worth. Instead, due to stage and film adaptations, being called an “Uncle Tom” holds an extremely negative connotation.

Novel's Meaning Destroyed by Stage/Film

Novel's Meaning Destroyed by Stage/Film

It’s a shame because the novel held such significance. Stowe was attacked in print and vilified by the pro-slavery crowd and received “mountains of threatening mail.” One package was sent to her containing the severed ear of a slave! But, it’s nothing new. Today films that are supposedly based on history are often fudged, altered and fictionalized. There are other movies that make one think that they are historical when, in fact, they are largely nonsense. Do not depend on popular culture, films, TV or even the internet for your history. Read published works instead. Go to the primary source. The sad story of the evolution of Uncle Tom is a great example of how popular culture can distort or even destroy the truth.

Louisville NWS Sunday Night Forecast

Louisville NWS Sunday Night Forecast

Weather Bottom Line:  The humid, wet pattern we’ve been in all week is gone.  If you are looking for fall, your wait is over.  The bulk of the heaviest rain Saturday night showed up in Central Kentucky causing some serious flooding.  All in all, the HPC forecast outlined in previous days was on the money.   Now, we have a secondary front coming through.  After a pretty nice day on Sunday, we’ll have a chance for rain and t’storms overnight, though nothing serious.  The wind will pick up though as the main batch of high pressure builds in. Temperatures will fall to the 50′s.  As I’ve been saying for days now, it will be tough for us to get to the 70′s over the next 3 days.  Look for mid to upper 60′s through Wednesday with overnight lows in the 40′s.  I would not be surprised to see some upper 30′s on Tuesday morning and maybe Wednesday morning in the extreme northern parts of the viewing area about half way between Louisville and Indianapolis.

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