The influence of Harriet Beecher Stowe and Uncle Tom’s Cabin on fiction writers.

Commentary by Patricia O’Brien

Author of Harriet and Isabella


Harriet, you did it.  You scraped open the hidden (and not so hidden) raw sores of racism in this country with one passionate book, and you did it by climbing into a shameful world armed only with your imagination.  That’s what novelists do. And I can talk directly to you, because you are real in my imagination – thank goodness for that, because I want you to know you were and remain an inspiration to any novelist trying to pull back the curtains on history.

You didn’t do it with a non-fiction attack on the evils of slavery. Uncle Tom lived only in your head.  But he was true, and when you gave him to a shocked society, it was a gift that opened locked consciences around the world.

All the facts had been there – families torn apart, slaves whipped and broken, cruel manhunts to corral escaped “property”- but facts can rattle about like dried corn husks; easily discarded or ignored.  The moral arguments against slavery were still scattered, still devoid of both wide support and clarity.  You illuminated truth by offering a powerful human story.

And everything changed.

Oh, what a ride that must have been.  I think of you surely reeling at the uproar following publication of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, at the anger and praise that must have hammered at your door.  And the fear?  There must have been some.  Maybe when you opened that anonymous package and found some cruel master had sent you the dried, shriveled ear of a slave?   And how, through all of this, did you keep writing while bearing seven children and keeping a home?

[Continue reading the full text of Patricia O’Brien’s commentary here.]

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