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Uncle Tom's Cabin and Benito Cereno - Book Report/Review Example

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Uncle Tom's Cabin and Benito Cereno

Stowe herself had always thought that her novel depicted the favorable side f slavery, and the fact that she did so should have appeased the South. The typical Southern reaction, however, did not reflect such an awareness. Indeed, in the eyes f most contemporary Southerners (even those who had never read Uncle Tom's Cabin) Stowe's novel was an abomination, utterly false and therefore a full-fledged misrepresentation f the institution f slavery (Johnston 263).
Whereas, in one respect, Southern criticism regarding the veracity f Uncle Tom's Cabin was justified, most contemporary Southern readers f the novel failed to give Stowe the credit she obviously sought. Still, in both overt and subtle ways, Stowe had consciously attempted to appease the South. Like Melville's Benito Cereno, one such concession in Uncle Tom's Cabin, which has been overlooked by previous critics, is found in chapter 19 when Augustine St. Clare recounts to his wife Marie an incident in the past when he conquered an unsubmissive slave with kindness. He does this in response to Marie's complaint about a lazy slave her father had once owned who did not want to work.
A sensitive, kind, and effeminate man, St. Clare purchases from his brother Alfred an unruly slave named Scipio. The slave had tried to run away into the swamp because he had been struck by one f Alfred's cruel overseers, then was hunted like an animal, and shot by his pursuers. Proving to be basically intractable, Scipio is a slave who, in St. Clare's words, "'all the overseers and masters had tried their hands in vain'" (253). Scipio had run away, St. Clare reports, because he "'appeared to have the rude instinct f freedom in him'" (254). Yet under the compassionate attention and care f St. Clare, his new master, Scipio becomes "'tamed as submissive and tractable as heart could desire'" (254). Once St. Clare has nursed the wounded Scipio back to health, he draws up manumission papers and offers the slave his freedom, which Scipio in turn rejects. Apparently self-conscious about Scipio's rejection f freedom, St. Clare reports: The "'foolish fellow tore the paper in two, and absolutely refused to leave me. I never had a braver, better fellow, trusty and true as steel'" (254-55). In rejecting St. Clare's offer, Scipio seems to have come to regard slavery as benevolent and being a slave under a caring and paternalistic master preferable to the uncertainties connected with freedom. Subsequently, Scipio, whom St. Clare has treated humanely and compassionately, becomes a Christian who is "'as gentle as a child'" (255). Moreover, St. Clare recognizes Scipio's competence, assigning to him the responsibility f overseeing St. Clare's lake property, and Scipio "'did it capitally'" (255). In Stowe's character portrayal f Augustine St. Clare as a caring and compassionate master and f Scipio as a devoted and contented slave, her portraiture actually conforms closely to the familiar stereotype used to portray other African American slaves and their relationships with their masters that had previously been featured in the antebellum Southern novels such as John Pendleton Kennedy's Swallow Barn (1832) and William Gilmore Simms's The Yemassee (1835).
Yet in making this concession to her Southern ...Show more


The use f racial stereotypes adds credibility to the long-standing notion that both Stowe and Melville consciously made concessions to the South in Uncle Tom's Cabin and Benito Cereno. As Forrest Wilson has pointed out, "the kindest, most philanthropic, and most upright characters were, with some minor exceptions, all Southerners and slave-holders" (276)…
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Uncle Toms Cabin and Benito Cereno essay example
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