The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
VOLUME XVI. Early National Literature, Part II; Later National Literature, Part I.

V. Dialect Writers

§ 5. Uncle Tom’s Cabin

The best-known negro character in fiction is, of course, Uncle Tom, the hero of Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852). The dramatic power shown in this book is undeniable. More than any other one book it hastened the Civil War and made necessary the emancipation of all slaves. But Uncle Tom is portrayed so plainly for a purpose, the scenes in the book are so skilfully arranged to excite public indignation, that one can hardly call it a great work of art or even a work of art at all. Mrs. Stowe knew the negro chiefly as she had seen him on the right bank of the Ohio River. Ohio was a free state and the negroes that Mrs. Stowe talked with in Cincinnati were those that had fled from Kentucky. Uncle Tom is the type of a good man, a man of sterling piety, subjected to bitter servitude and maltreatment; but there is little about him that is distinctively negro. There is no African background. The language that he speaks is a low grade of highly evangelized English but no more distinctive of the negro than of illiterate whites. Let one compare his language on any page with that of Uncle Remus and the difference will be at once felt. For instance, Uncle Remus is telling what he is going to do to the negro that steals his hogs:

  • “An’ I boun’,” continued Uncle Remus, driving the corncob stopper a little tighter in his deceitful jug and gathering up his bag, “an’ I boun’ dat my ole muskit’ll go off ’tween me an’ dat same nigger yit, an’ he’ll be at de bad een’, an’ dis seetful jug’ll ’fuse ter go ter de funer’l.”
  • The quaint indirectness of that is more distinctive of the old-time negro speech than anything ever said by Uncle Tom.