Book Club: Uncle Tom's Cabin
Posted by Jeralan on August 6, 2008 - 3:00pm
Categories: Within the Walls

Did you make it to last month's book club?  If you were not able to make it, here is a quick recap. A moderate sized crowd met in the Modern's auditorium on a warm, summer evening to discuss Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriett Beecher Stowe.  Bob Ray Sanders, a popular Fort Worth Star-Telegram columnist, opened up the discussion about Uncle Tom's Cabin by simply stating that he loved this book.  Uncle Tom's Cabin was published in 1852, but it still evokes emotions and questions within readers today. 

After reading the book, Sanders had questions of his own, and he wanted to know the audience's response to his questions.  One of the questions the writer posed to the audience was how would you describe Uncle Tom?  Some members of the audience thought that Uncle Tom was religious and Christ-like.  Others described him as a man who likes to please, an "oreo", a sell out, and a conformist.  "Uncle Tom" has also become a derogatory name in  African-American culture.  Sanders shared that he had been called an "Uncle Tom" in the past, but surprisingly revealed the truth behind the negative label.  He stated that many caricatures and minstrel shows came on the scene after the release of Uncle Tom's Cabin.  Stowe's Uncle Tom character was taken from the novel and depicted stereotypically in caricatures and minstrel shows.  It was at this time that the negative, derogatory "Uncle Tom" label came into the culture.

As the discussion continued, actress Arian Augustus read an excerpt from Uncle Tom's Cabin where the story found the Shelbys discussing the sale of Uncle Tom.  Uncle Tom would soon meet Eva, the young daughter of his new owner.  The relationship between Uncle Tom and Eva was a central theme in the book which influenced Bob Ray Sanders' next question to the audience:  What is it about allowing white children to love black people vs. white adults loving black people?  There were many answers to this provocative question including the fact that the relationship between an adult black man and a white child was non-sexual.  It was ok for the child to love him.  However, a relationship between an adult white woman and an adult black man was not ok, because it was assumed that the relationship would be sexual.  This mindset increased the fear of integration. 

Furthermore, Sanders explained that white womanhood in the 1850s was seen as angelic, and black manhood was seen as devilish. Therefore, the angel couldn't love the devil.  Well, in the end Harriet Beecher Stowe's novel defied those backward mindsets.  She took a stand and exposed the truth about slavery and racism.  Uncle Tom's Cabin sold 300,000 copies its first year, and Abe Lincoln credited Stowe for being "the little lady that started the Civil War".   I can definitely see how this author and her novel influenced Kara Walker and her artwork.

You can also find out how Beloved by Toni Morrison influenced the artwork of Kara Walker as Summer Reading: From the Artist's Library continues.  Come out and join the discussion tomorrow, August 7th at 7pm in the Modern Auditorium.  The Beloved discussion will be available on the Modern Podcast after the event.  

Click here for the Modern Podcast of the discussion on Uncle Tom's Cabin.