Mothers in Uncle Tom's America

Riedy, Maureen E. , Department of English, University of Virginia
Howard, Alan, Department of English, University of Virginia

Uncle Tom's Cabin is a novel with a profoundly reformist message. Behind the obvious abolitionist story line is a call for the reformation of American society along maternal lines. As Jane P. Tompkins notes in her essay "Uncle Tom's Cabin and Literary History," "The novel's deepest political aspirations are expressed only secondarily in its devastating attack on the slave system; the true goal of Stowe's rhetorical undertaking is nothing less than the institution of the kingdom of heaven on earth. "1 And the kingdom of heaven, as Stowe and Catharine Beecher would write in The American Woman's Home, had as its "aptest earthly illustration" the family state, with woman as "its chief minister." Uncle Tom's Cabin is indeed a crusade to reform American society - the reform it urges does not stop at abolition but goes beyond to the upending of the patriarchal social system and the placement of a matrifocal Christian framework.  

The contemporary American reader of Uncle Tom's Cabin was part of a culture which had a particular fascination with the idea and the ideal of Mother. This web site, is an effort to reconstruct, in part, how that ideal was understood. Using texts and illustrations published in popular literature of the day, I have tried to recreate for the twentieth-century reader a sampling of the image of "Mother" which informed the nineteenth-century reader of Uncle Tom's Cabin.  

MA (Master of Arts)

Originally published on the XRoads site for the UVA American Studies program. Years range from 1995-2005. Content is captured at the level of functionality available on the date of capture.

Title from paper titlepage.: "If it were your Harry, mother," Mothers, Uncle Tom's cabin, and U.S. culture

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