Is the message of George L. Aiken's play Uncle Tom's Cabin different from the book?

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belarafon | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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George L. Aiken's play of Uncle Tom's Cabin represented a somewhat changed version of the story, as compared to Harriet Beecher Stowe's original novel. However, when Stowe viewed the play, she approved, and the play is better known in some circles than the book; at the time, more people knew the plot from the play, because it was cheaper and easier to watch than to buy and read. Of course, with common prejudices of the time, many of the unauthorized "Tom Shows" ignored these human themes in favor of minstrel comedy; this is where the modern term "Tomfoolery" comes from. Aiken was considered progressive in his views, and he played George Harris himself in the initial run.

The most important change in the play is the relegation of the Harris's escape to a 1st/2nd act plot, and to give the remainder of the play to Tom and his friendship with Little Eva. Aiken believed that Eva's sickness and eventual death, coupled with her connection to Tom, would be more palatable for audiences of the day, and he was right; the play was an enormous success. However, the main themes of the book remained; some slaveowners were evil, some were good, but all were human and fallible. The novel's message of love also remains more-or-less intact, and is exemplified by Tom and Eva.


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