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Title:After Uncle Tom: The domestic dialogue on slavery and race, 1852--1859
Author(s):Gardner, Eric Scott
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Baym, Nina
Department / Program:English
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Subject(s):American Studies
History, Black
Literature, American
Abstract:This study contributes to the reevaluation of sentimentalism, specifically examining the ways in which different authors appropriated sentimentalism to argue about slavery and race. It considers Mary Eastman's Aunt Phillis's Cabin (1852), Harriet Beecher Stowe's Key to Uncle Tom's Cabin (1853), Caroline Lee Hentz's The Planter's Northern Bride (1854), Frederick Douglass' My Bondage and My Freedom (1855), Stowe's Dred (1856), and Harriet Wilson's Our Nig (1859) as answers to Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin (1852) and the popular phenomena it inspired and illustrates a complex set of intersections between sentimentalism and the debate over slavery and race.
Neither the innately conservative system described by Ann Douglas nor the revolutionary, democratic entity suggested by Jane Tompkins and Philip Fisher, the sentimentalism of these texts is nonetheless not politically neutral. It functions similarly to the ethos Nina Baym elucidates in Woman's Fiction: "a practical philosophy of community development" centered on "public sympathy and benevolent fellow feeling." Its ideal family is bonded by mutual affection, realistic respect, obligation, Protestant piety, republicanism and patriotism and is the model for all other interaction. Ruled by a gendered domestic partnership, it constructs a home that produces children who are good Christians and citizens.
Slavery complicates this ideal; my study focuses on how different authors attempted to reconcile their positions on slavery and race with sentimentalism. Because the sentimental family was the overarching figure in the debate, both pro- and anti-slavery white authors constructed members of their own factions as ideal parent figures and blacks as a childlike race. In representing ideal parents, these authors paid attention to both fatherhood and motherhood, so these works force us to expand conceptions of sentimentalism that focus only on the female subject. Further, I argue that the placement of black characters in the figurative position of the child severely limited the agency of blacks within the debate; thus, black writers struggled to rewrite the debate to create more powerful discursive positions.
Issue Date:1996
Rights Information:Copyright 1996 Gardner, Eric Scott
Date Available in IDEALS:2011-05-07
Identifier in Online Catalog:AAI9712276
OCLC Identifier:(UMI)AAI9712276

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