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Harriet Beecher Stowe Essay

Stowe began her writing career with small sketches and stories that earned her a modest place among the minor writers. They were examples of the domestic fiction popular in many of the magazines of the time, especially in ladies’ magazines and gift annuals. The characteristic elements of the sketch, with its looseness in plot and characterization, is also employed in her longer stories. Her stories and sketches are informed by personal details owed to her own experiences and to her New England background, which yielded a rich element of local color to her works.

Another earmark of most of her mature writing is also apparent in her early sketches: the need to participate in the moral debates of her time. With her story “Let Every Man Mind His Own Business,” collected in The Mayflower, she hoped to contribute to the temperance crusade. Another important theme, the pathetic death of a perfect child, which stands at the core of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, was already apparent in “Uncle Tim” and “Little Edward.”

Her habit of writing sketches for magazines or periodicals that paid by the page, which she could write between her housekeeping chores, shaped her style. She did not cultivate the copybook English of the Godey’s Lady’s Book but wrote as she thought and talked. Because she stuck closely to topics that concerned and interested her, there was a naturalness and almost a colloquial quality about her style. Because she was always pressed for time, she never rewrote passages, corrected punctuation and grammar, or practiced the time-consuming task of stylistic refinement. Content, for her, was decidedly more important than form. She considered herself the lucky recipient of inspiration, and very often she transformed visual images directly into literary text, which is thus descriptive and lacking the proper qualities of plot.

Uncle Tom’s Cabin

First published: 1851-1852, serial; 1852, book

Type of work: Novel

Tom, a slave, is separated from his family and sold to a plantation in the South, where he loses his life because of the abuses of his brutal owner.

Uncle Tom’s Cabin was Stowe’s first novel. Initially printed by installments in the National Era, an antislavery weekly published in Washington, D.C., from...

(The entire section is 965 words.)

Study Questions

Why did Harriet Beecher Stowe initially oppose the abolitionist movement in Cincinnati?

When they first arrived in Cincinnati, Harriet Beecher Stowe and her father Lyman believed the abolitionists, by promoting the forceful emancipation of slaves, were inciting counterviolence. Their fervor, the Beechers believed, would only cause the South to dig in their heels further, and make emancipation even more difficult. Later, when Harriet visited her brother and sister-in-law, who were both heavily involved in abolitionist activities, she was exposed to the intricacies of abolitionist thinking and soon realized that force might be the only viable option left to those who wanted to see slavery abolished.

Why did Harriet Beecher Stowe write "The Reply", addressed the women of Britain?

During the Civil War, Britain indicated that it was leaning towards recognizing the Confederacy as a nation, and planned on extending diplomatic relations. Harriet, who had traveled to England a few years previously, and had been greeted by throngs of anti-slavery supporters, was deeply troubled by this. Her disappointment was made even more acute by the fact that during that trip to England, she'd been presented with a set of over 550,000 signatures from British women, swearing their solidarity with the anti-slavery cause. However, as Britain considered recognizing the Confederacy, they did not protest. Harriet found this lack of protest reprehensible, and penned this sharp rebuke. Lincoln considered its appearance one of the main reasons why Britain never recognized the Confederacy as a nation.

Essay Questions

Explain the concept of popular sovereignty and its relevance to the question of slavery

What were the implications of the Kansas-Nebraska Act?

How and why did Uncle Tom's Cabin affect the United States when it was published?

What kinds of things did Harriet Beecher Stowe observe during her visit to a Kentucky plantation and how did her visit affect her social views, and how did it help shape the composition of Uncle Tom's Cabin?

How did Harriet Beecher Stowe best believe emancipation should be handled?

Explain how the 1850 Compromise affected the slave debate.

Why did Harriet Beecher Stowe's books fall out of favor in the early to mid Twentieth Century?

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