Uncle Tom's Cabin


Harriet Beecher Stowe

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Uncle Tom's Cabin: Genre 1 key example

Explanation and Analysis:

Uncle Tom's Cabin is an anti-slavery novel. Originally published serially in the abolitionist newspaper The National Era in 1852, it was a landmark work of literature written to advance the abolitionist cause. The controversial passing of the Fugitive Slave Act in 1850, which required that slaves be returned to their owners even if they were found in a free state, meant that citizens were forcibly compelled to assist in the capture of runaways. As a result, the law was met with intense criticism from abolitionists and only further encouraged their cause. It was in this intense climate in which Beecher Stowe penned her novel. 

Uncle Tom's Cabin can also be characterized as a sentimental novel. A major literary genre beginning in the 18th century, the sentimental novel encouraged emotional responses from readers, prioritizing pathos over other forms of persuasion such as logos or ethos. Pathos, which Beecher Stowe uses in the novel as a form of moral persuasion, is language that appeals to an audience's emotions. Sentimental novels were very popular, especially among educated white women—who, as it happened, played a significant role in the abolitionist movement. In writing a sentimental novel, Beecher Stowe knew she would directly appeal to her targeted audience. Because women were Beecher Stowe's targeted readers, the novel can also be categorized as "domestic fiction." 

In writing the novel, Beecher Stowe was also influenced by slave narratives, a genre that also emerged in the 18th century. Perhaps the most famous slave narrative was written by Frederick Douglass, but Beecher Stowe was specifically inspired by The Life of Josiah Henson, Formerly a Slave, Now an Inhabitant of Canada, as Narrated by Himself, which was published only a few years before Uncle Tom's Cabin. Beecher Stowe based Uncle Tom's character on Henson.