|Type of paper:||Essay|
|Categories:||Slavery Literature review American literature|
In a review to Harriet Beecher Stowe's novel, "Uncle Tom's Cabin," George Frederick Holmes dismisses the book terming it as exaggeration which paints a different image from what exists and only aims at advancing hatred (Holmes). Despite criticizing the narration told by Stowe, he also complains of the style used to write the book claiming that the romantic aspect and the suffering of the slaves had no connection and that she was using romance as a mean to keep the readers entertained. To a reader, Holmes article is vital as it provides a different perspective of slavery, and gives the reader a chance to understand why people in the southern states supported slavery (McNeill 10). Also, his response to Stowe's work provides scholars with an opportunity to clinically analyze claims from both sides and determine the historical accuracy or inaccuracy of each claim. However, looking at Holmes criticism of the Uncle Tom's Cabin, it is evident that he makes inaccurate claims and is oblivious of the immense suffering that the slaves endured at the hands of the oppressive southern masters as narrated by Stow and supported by historical evidence from various sources.
Holmes dismisses Uncle Tom's cabin as by claiming the story is a professed fiction, where the author uses romance to divert the leisure, recreate fantasy and quicken the sympathies of successive generations (Holmes). Towards the beginning of his critique, he questions the morality of Stowe as a woman by indicating that she has overstepped her mandates and has shamelessly disregarded the truth and has forfeited the claim to be considered a lady. After a personal attack on the author, he complains about the style, choice of words and the plot. He further attacks the women characters in the story such as Mrs. Shelby whom he claims is a disgrace to womanhood and unsupportive to her husband (McNeill 14). As part of the review, Holmes laments that the cruel treatment of slaves, including the absurd idea of shooting the runaways, is farfetched and unrealistic as no slave owner would destroy his properties. He deliberately twists the law by indicating that it states the slave may "not be beaten." In defense to the southern slavery masters, he claims that "much of the odium of slavery is as a result of the New England masters" (Holmes), and thus some isolated cases of cruelty is as a result of masters who have not been raised with an understanding of how to live with the slaves. Also, he claims that the southern communities live in perfect harmony with each other and the relationship between slaves and masters is excellent contrary to Stowe's claims. To conclude his criticism, he dismisses Stowe's work as politically motivated aiming at defaming the south and promote chaos. Holmes claims that Uncle Tom's cabin is a book that paints white people black, and the black people white (Monte-Sano 06).
In his review, Holmes argues that there was no way any slave owner could give inhumane orders of killing the slaves that have escaped from the farm saying that such directives were unreasonable and defied logic. According to him, owning a healthy slave is more profitable than having the slave killed to pass a message to others as indicated by Stowe. He further suggests that "to allege that the owners, so deprived of his property, would be willing to pay an extravagant sum of money to a man who should place the property forever beyond the possibility of recovery is manifestly absurd and preposterous" (Holmes). However, this claim is historically incorrect as multiple accounts have been recorded when slaves were hunted down like animals and killed. For example, in October 1804 Andrew Jackson, a future American president, advertised in the Tennessee Gazette that a fee of $50 plus reasonable expenses would be paid to anyone who would capture his slave. The advertisement also claimed that an extra $10 would be given to anyone who would administer 100 lashes to the slave as the punishment for escaping. Later Jackson would later be elected as the seventh president of the United States and was known to own about 150 slaves. The Jacksons case is just one of the many incidents where notices were given out when slaves escaped, and substantial rewards were given to people who would capture them either alive or dead. As indicated in the novel Uncle Tom's Cabin, recaptured slaves were severely punished or killed to serve as an example to others of the consequences that they would face if they tried to escape. Therefore, Holmes claim that no person would pay vast amounts of money to have a slave captured and then tortured or killed is inaccurate as numerous records exist showing this practice was the standard punishment for recaptured slaves.
In one of the most audacious claim, Holmes says that the masters did not mistreat their slaves and the two races had mutual respect. This statement can only be interpreted as ridicule to the black people who were suffering in the brutal hands of slavery, and it shows how far Holmes was willing to lie to justify the inhuman acts. Until recently, black communities have had a firsthand experience of poor treatment as this community has been the victims of slavery and the Jim Crow rules. Racial segregation existed until the 1950s, and the hostilities of the authority towards black people is amply recorded on tape and historical books (Brophy 483). By Holmes claiming that "the property interest is quite sufficient to ensure for the Negro a kindness and attention," he ignores the key legislation that denied the black people the basic human rights (Holmes). At a time when he responded to Stowe's work, a fugitive law was already in operation which made it a crime for any person to help the slave's escaping from their owners (Brophy 465). From a historical context, the slaves were treated as properties, and the owner had the right to use them as he deemed fit. In most cases, male slaves were beaten and humiliated in front of their families and friends while female slaves were raped or used as sexual objects. In the southern states, the majority of slaves worked in the cotton plantations where they labored all day under the hot sun and had no wage. The diets of the enslaved people were inadequate to meet the physical demands and the heavy workload. Besides, the slaves lived in crude quarters where they were vulnerable to elements of nature and diseases. Such evidence has been recorded in the book "The Sexual Abuse of Black Men under American Slavery" by Thomas foster. In this book, foster starts narrating how a black man in Maryland raped a free black woman at the command of a white man, William Holland, who had pointed a pistol at the unnamed enslaved man and Elizabeth, the free black woman (FOSTER 445). Holmes claim is therefore oblivious of what was going on in the society as the black people were not treated kindly nor with affection as he would claim.
Holmes dismisses "Uncle Tom's Cabin" as fallacy claiming that the author's primary motive is to create chaos and disorder in the south. In his statement, he argues that the Confederate states have been targeted by the Union states of the United States for political reasons and that the author of the book is politically biased and exaggerating (Brophy 484). In one statement he says that "No, the tribunal to which our defense must be addressed, is the public sentiment of the North and Europe. In both latitudes, the case is already prejudged and decided against us; in both, popular ignorance and popular fanaticism, and a servile press have predetermined the question" (Holmes). By this statement, he depicts the Confederates as the victim of unfair targeting by the Northern States which had rejected slavery. To him, the novel is inspired by propaganda and the desire to promote racial divide which according to his analysis, no disparity by race existed in the south. He further accuses the American public and the British people of accepting what he terms as a lie and promoting the sale of the book which according to him is a work of fiction and does not depict the American society. However, looking at history, Holmes misleading the people by claiming that the southern states were unfairly targeted. In 1774 to 1804, all the northern states abolished slavery while the Southern states strengthened laws which promoted slavery. Laws such as the slave codes regulated the slave system in the south and advanced absolute control by masters and total submission by the slave. Under these laws, slaves were treated as property and source of labor that could be bought and sold anytime and without consent. Therefore, Stowe does not attack the southern states nor does she aim to defame the regions for any political reason (Brophy 495). Instead, she highlights the struggles that black people underwent at the cruel hands of their masters. The effort by Holmes to deny how evil slavery was, contradicts history where we find that that the primary cause of the civil war was the uncompromising differences between the free and the slave states. The national government, through President Abraham Lincoln, wanted to prohibit slavery in territories that still practiced it, but the southern states seceded from the central government and formed the Confederate states prompting a civil war.
In conclusion, Holmes criticism is both shallow and unjustified in the context of slavery and its effect on black American people. In his response, he chooses to ignore critical events that were happening in the south such as tracking down runaway slaves and killing them without any legal ramifications. Holmes also decides to ignore the miserable conditions in which the slaves lived in for such considerations would not be useful in his efforts to discredit Stowe's work. By attacking stows personality, he demonstrates to the reader the biasness that southern scholars had towards women where they were viewed as household managers and without a significant contribution to the American political landscape. Also, Holmes criticism is unjustified and does not raise any genuine claim on why Stowe's work should be disregarded; he only laments of the general issues that have been proved inaccurate from historical context and firsthand narrations from slaves. Bearing in mind that Holmes was a law professor who taught at some of the prestigious universities in the United States, it can be assumed that his inaccurate criticism was only inspired by a desire to justify the heartless acts of slavery and that he was not oblivious to what was going on around him.
Brophy, Alfred L. "Over and above... There Broods a Portentous Shadow,--The Shadow of Law": Harriet Beecher Stowe's Critique of Slave Law in "Uncle Tom's Cabin." Journal of Law and Religion, vol. 12, no. 2, 1995, p. 457.
FOSTER, THOMAS A. "The Sexual Abuse of Black Men under American Slavery." Sexuality and Slavery, pp. 124-144.
Holmes, G. F. "Southern Literary Messenger Review (2)." Uncle Tom's Cabin & American Culture, utc.iath.virginia.edu/reviews/rere24bt.html.
McNeill, Marty. "Is Uncle Tom's Cabin Historically Collect?" A Thesis Presented In Partial Fulfillment Of the Requirements for Completion of The Chancellor's Scholars Program, 24 Apr. 2102.
Monte-Sano, C. "The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, http://www.gilderlehrman.org. Created by Thirteen/WNET and the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History. Maintained by the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, New York, N.Y. Reviewed Jan. 1-7, 2008." Journal of American History, vol. 95, no. 4, 2009, pp. 1256-1258.
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