Does George L. Aiken's play Uncle Tom's Cabin convey a different message from the book?

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The play differs from the book in its focus on action, rather than character development.

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The play largely keeps the themes of the original source novel intact. Slavery is presented as a dehumanizing institution contrary to Christian ideas of brotherhood and human dignity. Unlike later adaptations of the Uncle Tom's Cabin story, the characters don't devolve into minstrel show antics. The anti-slavery message is kept...

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intact, even though themelodrama of the narrative, already prominent in the source material, is played up for the advantage of the theater.

The play differs from the novel in how it cuts the text and largely focuses on the action—once again, since theater can rely much more on spectacle than a novel can. Much of the attention is given to the escape and the friendship between Tom and the saintly young Eva.

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Aiken's version of the play appeared about six months after Uncle Tom's Cabin became a wildly successful bestseller. This meant that this theatrical version was written and produced before the Civil War, when slavery was still legal in many states. At this time, sentiments in the north against slavery ran high, at least in some quarters. Therefore, the play is far truer to the intent of Stowe's anti-slavery novel than many of the versions that appeared after the war.

Aiken was an innovator in managing to convert his stage to different places depicted in the novel, from Ohio to New Orleans to Simon Legree's isolated plantation. This, of course, follows the book. Aiken deviated from the novel in adding song and dance numbers. He heightened the drama, as well, turning the story into a melodrama by making it far more emotional and sensational. He also changed the ending. The novel closes on a very sad note, with Uncle Tom beaten to death by Legree. Aiken substituted a happier finale, in which the audience see Little Eva, Tom, and Mr. St. Clare reunited in heaven amid a chorus of angels.

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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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