Why was Uncle Tom's Cabin banned?

Since it was first published, Uncle Tom's Cabin has been banned for a variety of reasons. Initially, it was banned in places for being subversive of the social order. In recent times, it has been banned at least once for its racist language. More covert censorship has including twisting the nature of Uncle Tom's character and not teaching the book for fear of offending people.

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Uncle Tom's Cabin, a bestseller in both Europe and America in the nineteenth century, was banned in places such as Russia because those in power knew it threatened their own social order. It was never overtly banned in the Southern United States, but social pressure meant it was almost never carried by bookstores in Southern states. In the late twentieth century, in 1984, the novel was banned in Waukegan, Illinois schools for its use of racist language.

The novel is enigmatic in that Stowe passionately hated slavery and wanted it to be immediately abolished, yet wrote using the racist language and stereotypes that were so common at the time. It can be cringe-inducing to read her describe Black people as childlike and music loving. At the same time, it is entirely clear that she is wholly on the side of Black people and has their best interests at heart. She has positive intentions, but she struggled, not always successfully, to transcend her conditioning.

More interesting in terms of the history of the novel is the covert ways its message has been censored. After the Civil War, the novel was popularized in stage versions that increasingly changed the character of Uncle Tom. In the novel he is young, strong, and has an unshakeable moral center. He obeys his masters, but he hates slavery. In later versions, he becomes an elderly, stooped, servile figure who wants to do nothing more than enact the will of whites. This caricature became the "Uncle Tom" that Black people today passionately reject and a non-threatening figure that whites embrace.

In recent years, the novel has also been de facto "censored" when teachers are afraid to introduce it into the classroom for fear of its content.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on
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