Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Lasting Impact on Social Consciousness

Explore the long-lasting contributions of Harriet Beecher Stowe who used her gift of writing to help further the abolitionist movement and impacted history.

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TW: This article contains mention of slavery, racism, and abuse. Please exercise care when reading.

Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, was a known abolitionist who shaped society’s consciousness around the hardships of slavery. Her book follows the story of a man named Uncle Tom who saves a young girl by the name of Eva. Eva’s father eventually purchases Uncle Tom, and it’s Eva’s dying wish for her father to free the enslaved people. Stowe is known for writing multiple anti-slavery books, which helped push the abolitionist movement forward in America and deepen the idea that you impact the people around you in society.

Stowe is not only known for writing Uncle Tom’s Cabin but also for writing Dred: A Tale of the Great Dismal Swamp, where an escaped slave aids fellow refugees and plots a slave rebellion. She was inspired to write this book because of the aftermath of the publication of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, in which tensions between pro-white and anti-slavery groups arose. The University of North Carolina Press states, “Stowe brings to life conflicting beliefs about race, the institution of slavery, and the possibilities of violent resistance.” Opposite Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Stowe indulged in a political conversation through the lens of an African American experience.

“Any mind that is capable of a real sorrow is capable of good.”

Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Harriet Beecher Stowe

Positive Action, an educational program that focuses on improving behavior and character within a community, states, “As we grow, social awareness skills and societal awareness help us to understand how one fits into and contributes to the community and the world, as well as how we get what we need from the world.” Social consciousness allows us to feel empathy for one another, and Stowe’s work in both writing and the abolitionist movement illuminated the grim reality of slavery for society. Her writing inspired social awareness in America’s 19th-century society and challenged the ignorance within it.

Image of a sketched cabin with trees over a light brown background.

Stowe received a lot of backlash after the publication of her book from pro-slavery advocates, who believed Stowe presented a one-sided view of slavery. Stowe argued that slavery was anti-Christian, and her books regarding the institution of slavery reflected that. Stowe also received criticism from the African American community, which believed that she used stereotypical characters to represent anti-slavery concepts that harmed the perception of the community. As per her Uncle Tom character in Uncle Tom’s Cabin, she paints the character as a passive slave who does not fight back against those who offend and harm him. Although Stowe brought social consciousness to 19th-century society, her work also brought a list of stereotypes and prejudices used against the African American community.

Image of Harriet Beecher Stowe with writing faded in the background.

In today’s society, Harriet Beecher Stowe’s work still creates conversation, not only about anti-slavery ideas, but it also conceptualizes an image of Uncle Tom and images like him. For example, Uncle Ben, a well-known character on a rice box, creates a space where African Americans are used to promote an idea of black masculinity for white-owned companies. The Conversation, a nonprofit platform where researchers and university faculty inform the public, states, “To live in North America meant that one had to choose not only between racial loyalty and disloyalty but also between life and death. Survival meant performing servile roles as Uncles and Mammies, in public or on the job.”

This idea of Uncle Tom forced the community to serve as characters in daily life to survive. Despite the controversial issues surrounding Stowe’s work, we need to recognize the value of having difficult conversations about issues in our society. We can use the work that has been done to present new ideas and mold a better future for all.

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