Stowe Starts a War
“Is this the little lady who started the great war?” said Abraham Lincoln during his first meeting with Harriet Beecher Stowe. The reaction of one of America’s most celebrated president is a clear demonstration of the effectiveness of Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Harriet Beecher Stowe is an effective author, proven by her addressing the reader directly and her uses of allegorical stories to bring forth a clear and convincing argument and prove the unjust doings slaves were subjected to. Lincoln’s reaction was partly because of Stowe shattering the semblance of reality by directly addressing the reader, also known as breaking verisimilitude. The first reason this makes Stow and effective author is because she is able to force her audience to put themselves in the shoes of the characters. There are several times in the story Stowe does this.
One of the many time’s Stowe breaks verisimilitude is when she questions the readers maternal instincts. As Eliza is running desperately to protect Harry, her son, from the claws of malicious slave traders, Stowe asks the readers what extent they would go if it were one of their kids, “If it were your Harry, mother, or your Willie, that were going to be torn from you by a brutal trader, to-morrow morning…how fast could you walk? How many miles could you make in those few brief hours, with the darling at your bosom,—the little sleepyhead on your shoulder,—the small, soft arms trustingly holding on to your neck?” (Stowe 80). Here, Stowe blatantly breaks verisimilitude. She uses this literary tactic in order to force the reader to empathize with Eliza and Henry. In this example specifically, she is reaching towards mothers and those with maternal instincts. By putting a quote such as this in Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Harriet Beecher Stowe gives readers no choice but to put themselves in Eliza’s shoes and feel with her, despite racial differences. As readers understand the unjust treatment of slaves, they will in turn understand what needs to be done to undo the wrongs.
In the final concluding remarks of Stowe’s novel, she forces readers to question their morals by again disturbing verisimilitude. She asks her readers a series of questions regarding what they truly know and believe to be morally right. “Does not every American Christian owe to the African race some effort at reparation for the wrongs that the American Nation has brought upon them?” (Stowe 507) In Stowe’s last chapter, she directly addresses her audiences, calling them to action. After having given insight to the lives of slaves, Stowe is forcing people to question themselves and whether or not they truly believe their doings are right and just. Many members of her audience would answer no to those questions.
Perhaps it was Stowe’s breaches in verisimilitude which caused her to elicit the reaction she did from Abraham Lincoln when they first met. “So you’re the little woman who wrote the book that made this great war” (Abraham Lincoln). Although speculations are about as to whether or not Mr. Lincoln himself said this exact thing, it is a quote which the public has accepted, and it demonstrates the great impact Uncle Tom’s Cabin had on American Society. The Civil war had a irreversible impact on American Culture. If a book can lead to such a war, is it even possible for one to argue the author of said book wasn’t effective?
By breaking verisimilitude, Stowe is able to reach out to the audience and give the readers no choice but it empathize with the characters. When the audience is able to feel what the slaves do, they are also able to better understand how desperately something needs to change. The irreversible effect of Uncle Tom’s Cabin on society is obvious as one of America’s greatest presidents, effortlessly points out.
The next way Stowe reaches out to her readers is by using allegorical stories. These are symbolic stories which readers are more familiar with. Stowe knew and understood that her audience was made up of mainly Christians, so her allegories are also mainly biblical references. She is able to clarify themes and ideas within the allegories.
One of the first allegories Stowe uses is the crossing of the Ohio/Jordan river. As Eliza enters a village with her dear Harry, she sets her sights on a symbolic river. “An hour before sunset, she entered the village of T——, by the Ohio river, weary and footsore, but still strong in heart. Her first glance was at the river, which lay, like Jordan, between her and the Canaan of liberty on the other side” (Stowe 83). The Ohio river in this situation represents the biblical Jordan River. In Christian beliefs, Joshua led his people across the river to freedom. This particular scene where Eliza leaps and bounds over the Ohio river is an allegory for the Jordan river crossing. By comparing Eliza to Joshua, and the Jordan River to the Ohio river, it is, for well versed Christians (most of Stowe’s audience at the time), bringing out a theme of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Just as Joshua’s love for his people as unbreakable, so was Eliza’s for Henry. She was willing to risk her life to save her child and the strong motherly love present in all races alike. By comparing her to a holy figure, Stowe is demonstrating the nobility of Eliza’s river crossing.
Another way Stowe uses allegory, is through the angelic Eva. Eva is sitting in her bed inches from death, when decides to give a part of her to her slaves, “I’m going to give all of you a curl of my hair; and, when you look at it, think that I loved you and am gone to heaven, and that I want to see you all there” (Stowe 408 ). Eva cutting her hair distributing it among the slaves is an allegory of the Breaking of the Bread at The Last Supper. Eva is symbolic of an Jesus or an angel, while the slaves are representative of the disciples of Jesus. Again, by comparing characters to holy figures, Stowe is bringing out theme and demonstrating the nobility of the characters. Evangeline St. Clare loves everybody and believes all to be equal, and because of this trait, she is symbolic of an angel. By having such holy figure against slavery, slavery must be wholly wrong.
Tom is another good example of Stowe using allegory. As Tom sits on his deathbed, Sambo and Quimbo come to a revelation, “‘Why didn’t I ever believe in this Jesus before?” said Sambo, ‘But I do believe – I can’t help it; Lord Jesus have mercy on us!’” (Stowe 471). This final allegory is representative of the story of Jesus converting the two sinners while on the cross. Just as Tom was about to be crucified (die from Legree’s beatings) he converts two sinners into a life a Christianity. By including this allegory in the story, Stow is demonstrating that slaves aren’t bad through and through. The allegory shows how anyone can be converted to good just be being shown love.
Abraham Lincoln, arguably the nation’s greatest and wisest president, attributed Stowe to the start of the Civil War. Harriet Beecher Stowe is an effective author because she breaks verisimilitude and uses allegorical stories to elicit the strong reaction she did from her readers, as well as starting a nation wide war.
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