Different Ways of Reading ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’
To the Editor:
Re “Rescuing the Real Uncle Tom” (Op-Ed, June 14):
As David S. Reynolds suggests, “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” has been praised and denounced by African-Americans. In 1949 a critique by James Baldwin ushered in an era during which “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” was either attacked or neglected. Nevertheless, the novel had new meaning for a growing population of literate African-Americans in the first half of the 20th century.
Between the court decision that legalized segregation in 1896 and the decision that declared segregation unconstitutional in 1954, black readers were among the most engaged consumers of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel. Children and grandchildren of former slaves sometimes read the book with particular intensity. As many adults, white and black, tried to put the past behind them, information about slavery grew scarce; slave narratives were not reprinted.
In the growing silence surrounding slavery, some black readers used “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” as a source of ideas, facts and images with which to grasp the humiliation, violence and continuing repercussions of the “peculiar institution.”
Jerusalem, June 14, 2011
The writer is a professor of American literature at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and the author of the forthcoming “Uncle Tom’s Cabin and the Reading Revolution.”
To the Editor:
Unlike Prof. David S. Reynolds, I, and most of my students over the years, believe that Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom deserves his Uncle Tomish reputation. He refuses to escape from enslavement when he has the opportunity and dies praying for his tormentors.
But Stowe presents a foil to Uncle Tom: George Harris, who escapes from slavery and defends his freedom with gun and dagger.
Moreover, Stowe’s 1856 novel, “Dred,” presents an even more radical African-American character: Dred, who has escaped slavery by killing his overseer and who has amassed a slave army to wage war against slaveholders. Clearly, Stowe was opening herself, and her readers, to a more militant kind of antislavery than that represented by Uncle Tom.
Bristol, R.I., June 14, 2011
The writer is a professor of English at Roger Williams University.
Clipped from www.nytimes.com
See this Amp at http://amplify.com/u/a15mwi