Uncle Tom's Cabin Questions and Answers
by Harriet Beecher Stowe

Uncle Tom's Cabin book cover
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How did Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe influence American literature?

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Uncle Tom's Cabin had a very profound effect on American history, as it convinced many moderate Americans that slavery was wrong by personalizing slavery and showing its effects on people. While some abolitionists thought the book was too lenient, defenders of slavery thought Stowe, a northerner, was off base in her assessment and portrayal of slavery. As the legend goes, even Abraham Lincoln thought Stowe's book had had a major effect on the nation and said to her in 1862, "So you're the little woman who wrote the book that started this great war." 

Stowe's work was in the tradition of the slave narrative. Freed slaves such as Frederick Douglass wrote famous autobiographies about their experiences in slavery, but Stowe, a white woman, wrote a work that outsold all the previous slave narratives. She changed literature by taking a genre that had traditionally been written by African-Americans as autobiography and turning into a novelistic form. While Stowe intended the character of Uncle Tom to be a virtuous, Christian man, modern critics have charged that her characterization is racist in many ways. For example, they have criticized Tom for being too submissive. At the time, however, it was novel for a white author to depict a slave as the hero, while the white plantation owner, Simon Legree, was the villain. 

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