Table of Contents
2. Racial stereotypes in 19th century America
2.1 Introduction to the concepts of race and racial stereotypes in 19th century America
2.2 In between races: The Mulattoes
3.Gender and family concepts of white middle/upper – class Anglo-Saxon Americans in the 19th century
4.The mulatto family Harris – a ‘perfect white middle – class Anglo - Saxon 19th century family’
4.1 The mulatta Eliza Harris – a ‘true woman’
4.2 The mulatto George Harris – a ‘true white 19th – century man’
5.Summary and Conclusion
Uncle Tom’s Cabin was written by Harriet Beecher Stowe and first published in 1852. The book immediately became a bestseller in both Great Britain and the U.S. and had such an immense influence on its readers, that Lincoln supposedly greeted Mrs. Stowe, at her visit to the White House in 1863, as “the little woman who wrote the book that made this great war.” (qtd .in Kazin 2003: ix) Uncle Tom’s Cabin is very simply put a book about the horrors of slavery. The book has two parallel storylines: the first story is that of the pious slave Tom and his ‘adventures’ at the farms of his different slave owners.
The second story is that of the slaves Eliza, George and Harry Harris who are mulattoes1. Eliza and George Harris are a married couple, who are living and working on different farms in the same community. Their son Harry lives with Eliza on the Shelby farm. George, upon being deprived from his privileged work in a factory by his brutal owner, decides to flee to Canada to seek his freedom. Shortly after the escape of George, Eliza, together with her toddler son Harry, also decides to escape from the Shelby farm. Her resolve to escape is based on Mr. Shelby’s deal with the salve trader Haley, who forced Mr. Shelby to sell him Harry together with Tom. After surviving lots of perils on their escapes, George, Eliza and Harry are reunited. They reach Canada and freedom, spend 4 years in France, get another child- little Eliza, and finally go back to their ‘roots’ -to Africa/ Liberia.
The story or more correctly the depiction of George and Eliza Harris as a ‘perfect white Anglo-Saxon middle class family of the 19th century’ will be the topic of this term paper. The description of blacks or mulattoes in terms of white categories was quite a novelty in a time in which blacks were often considered as:
[…]”child/savage” in counterpoint to their [whites] own self-image: The antithesis of themselves and of what they value, he lacked “incentive to industry,” “moral restraint,” the principle of “accumulation” and control over the “animal part” of man. (Takaki 1979: 126)
Racial stereotypes in 19th century America will be further discussed in chapter 2. Chapter 3 will focus on white Anglo-Saxon gender and family concepts. Chapter 4 will present a detailed discussion on how Mrs. Stowe uses these concepts in the description of the mulattoes Eliza and George Harris. Chapter 5 will sum up the discussions of this term paper.
2. Racial stereotypes in 19th century America
This chapter tries to establish a frame for the following discussions. In order to understand and appreciate the impact of the book Uncle Tom’s Cabin and the fierce discussions about it, it is important to understand the concepts of race as well as racial stereotypes in the 19th century America. The chapter is divided in two parts. Section 2.1 gives an introduction to general issues on race and racial stereotypes in 19th century America. Section 2.2. will deal with issues surrounding mixed raced persons (mulattoes) and the depiction of mulattoes in literature.
a. Introduction to the concepts of race and racial stereotypes in 19th century America
“Ashley Montagu (1974) described the notion of ‘race’ as man’s most dangerous myth.” (qtd. in Ratcliffe, 2004: 15) This definition of race as myth corresponds with the description of race as socially constructed concept as well as Werner Sollors (1989: xi) discussion of the terms ‘ethnicity, ‘nationalism’ and ‘race’ as inventions. These interpretations of ‘race’ and ‘ethnicity’ are ,however, very recent ones. Previously ‘race’ as well as ‘gender’ (see term paper chapter 3) were seen as essentialist categories with which roles of different persons were explained and the world classified and ordered. Michael Omi and Howard Winant (1994: 3) sate, that:
Within any given historical period, a particular racial theory is dominant – despite often high levels of contestation. The dominant racial theory provides society with “common sense” about race, and with categories for the identification of individuals and groups in racial terms.
This identification of individuals with one group and thus the creation of ‘us’ and ‘other’ is the concept of ‘otherness’. Gilman (1985:18) explains that:
Because there is no real line between self and the Other, an imaginary line must be drawn; and so that the illusion of an absolute difference between self and Other is never troubled, this line is as dynamic in its ability to alter itself as is the self.
Along the line of the concept of ‘otherness’ and its implications on racial stereotypes and concepts are the definitions of race ,class, gender and sexuality by Lynn Weber, who defines them as “[…] historically and geographically constructed systems of oppression […]. They are power hierarchies in which one group exerts control over another, securing its position of dominance […].”(Weber 2001:87 emphasis in the original)
1 The word mulatto is in this term paper used in the 19th century context to describe descendents of a white and a black parent. The author of this term paper is aware that in the 21st century context the term is not politically correct.