MIGHTIERTHAN THE SWORD: UNCLE TOM`S CABIN AND THE BATTLE FOR AMERICA, BYDAVID S. REYNOLDS
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MIGHTIERTHAN THE SWORD: UNCLE TOM`S CABIN AND THE BATTLE FOR AMERICA, BYDAVID S. REYNOLDS
DavidS. Reynolds is a renowned American literary critic, historian, andbiographer well-known for his works on American literature andculture. He got a Ph.D. in English literature from the University ofCalifornia. He is also the author and editorial manager of fifteenbooks that have changed the general beliefs and along these linessignificantly affected American life in different perspectives.Reynolds is also an expert on the Civil War era with figures likeEmily Dickinson, George Lippard, David Thoreau, Abraham Lincoln, WaltWhitman, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and Edgar Allan Poe among others. Hehas several awards such as the Ambassador Book Award, the ChristianGauss Award, the John Hope Franklin Prize, the Gustavus Myers BookAward, and Bancroft Prize. In addition to that, the writer is aconsistent reviewer for the New York Times Book. Reynolds advocatesfor what he terms as cultural biography.
In“Mightier than the Sword: Uncle Tom`s Cabin and the Battle forAmerica” David S. Reynolds contends for the remarkable influence ofHarriet Beecher Stowe`s “Uncle Tom`s Cabin” on American societyand democracy. The book demonstrates how Uncle Tom Cabin was key toreshaping American democracy on equal grounds.1It also illustrates that Uncle Tom Cabin was central to reclassifyingAmerican democracy on a more libertarian foundation. It remediessocial injustice by certifying empowerment and reasonableness forminority groups. The writer’s central thesis describes Uncle TomCabin as the most prominent work of fiction ever written in America.
Beginningwith Lincoln`s affirmation that "Our administration rests inpublic view. Whoever can change public perception can alter thegovernment," Reynolds continues to refer to the president’spurported address of Stowe: "Is this the little woman who madethis Great War?" He states that "no book in the Americanhistory shaped public belief more sturdily than Uncle Tom`s Cabin,"emphasizing that the novel was crucial in making America a moredemocratic state. In the initial chapters, Reynolds observes facetsof Stowe’s personality that stirred the book: a sentimentaltechnique that encouraged readers to reconsider their preconceptionswithout feeling aggravated, an instinctive indulgence of adventuretales that arrested the public mind, and a brand of Christianitywhich made her compassionate to abolitionism.2
Theelements earned Stowe, a reputation as an indulgent antislaveryagitator. The chapter "The Gospel according to Stowe,"(1)is particularly enlightening and covers much ground as it portraysthe writer as engaging in certain religious arguments of her time.Some of these were disagreements concerning the rise of a feministChristian system and an excavating concentration in otherspiritualties, including Roman Catholic, Spiritualist, andcharismatic or Pentecostal manifestations. Intrinsically, Stowe isperceived as a sort of spiritual inventor, who was sometimesinfatuated with the "cloud of witnesses" of the departeddear ones. I think this portrayal is true in an abundant way. It goescontrary to the ounce of the normal account of Stowe as a stodgy,conventional, old-school believer. In this perspective, she is viewedas nervous, tentative, and occasionally a bit nutty. She preciselywished to move on into a fresh and exhilarating spiritual frontiers.3I am pleased Reynolds begins with this aspect. It is because thereligious insinuations of Stowe`s novel are characteristically themost undervalued and ignored materials.4
Theentire book covers the presumptions about slavery, race, and thelevel that Uncle Tom`s Cabin among other works can be thought to"transform" history. Reynolds contends fervently forliterature`s capability to alter change. His ideologies are quitesubstantial. As a matter of fact, Reynolds’ notions on Uncle Tom`sCabin are much deeper than any other preceding critic. Thoughsometimes he may seem to exaggerate, I still think his initial ideais precise: yes, the book has perhaps had a more insightful impactand has prompted more response, both positive and negative, than mostof the novels in the American history. His scrutiny of the deepracist foundations of the traditions, spreading on into the early andmiddle portions of the 20th century as well as his attention on theabolitionist debates, though not startling for professionals in thefield, are nevertheless excellent.
Thework ends with an extended debate of the reaction to the history ofUncle Tom`s Cabin. The vivid story lingers to display the influenceof Stowe`s features and plot. The perceptions are used out ofcontexts like in, The King and I, Bugs Bunny cartoons, Shirley Templemovies, the 1970s mini-series Roots, and the plethora of "Tomshows." Even recent works such as The Shaw shank Redemption,Driving Miss Daisy, and "Tom-like" African Americansidekicks in The Green Mile portray the impact of this novel.Reynolds` assertions of the infamous Tom Shows, is amongst the highpoints of the volume.
Itis because, for many years, these theatrical adaptations have beenchiefly assumed as little more than atrocious stereotyping. Theauthor states otherwise, imploring that they stirred a fresh kind ofempathy for black Americans after the Civil War. According to him,the Tom shows demonstrated heroic and admirable black personalitiesto the diverse cultural audiences. In doing so, it likely attainedthe biggest favorite listeners for positive African American figuresof the medium, for several decades. Additionally, it is not usuallyappreciated that the Tom shows underlined the spirituals and slavesongs, packed with the profound desire and hope that so enthused suchliberal leaders as Mark Twain, and Thomas Wentworth Higginson. Inmost circumstances, Reynolds asserts, rather defiantly against theprecarious current, this phase plays in instituting the dignity andhuman characteristics of black individuals. In addition to that, itimpacts on the creditable nature of their genuine Christian faith ina similar manner to Tom, when accurately understood.5
Apparently,there are several debatable issues, but classroom knowledge tells methat the racial portrayals are continuously a major fear for learnersreading the book for the first time. However, Reynolds conveys theneed to stand the absolute authority of one of the senior critics andlisten prudently to what he is trying to communicate. His scrutiny isindeed moving, for instance, in his assessment of black artists inthe 1930s, such as Bill "Bojangles" Robinson, and HattieMcDaniel of Gone with the Wind fame. The actors were founders, saysReynolds, and it is a high time there roles in the American culturalhistory were recognized. The minute McDaniel won the Oscar for actinga slave "mammie" in Gone with the Wind film symbolizedchange. The author states, "I consider this acknowledgment astride further for the race, rather than individual growth."Hattie anticipated being assumed as a race woman, even as sherepresented the submissive house slave.
Inthe perspective of their courage, Reynolds prompts us to realize theaccomplishments of such founders rather than reckoning them asdisgraceful sell-outs to the white master, and thus related to thedescription "Uncle Tom" famed by James Baldwin. Reynoldssets a lengthy list of African Americans who have been referred to as"Uncle Toms" over the years, and maybe startlingly itcomprises just about all black leaders.6Apart from the artists stated above, pioneering athletes such asWillie Mays, Michael Johnson, Hank Aaron, and Jackie Robinson couldhave faced the same epithet. In addition to that, radicals likeMartin Luther King, Barack Obama, and Du Bois have all been labeledwith the nickname one time or another. Reynolds is precise to drawour focus to the satire of this wrong convention: no matter what ablack woman or man does, it is certainly not fundamental enough forsome audiences.
Whenwriting Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Stowe faced many challenges due to thediverse audience and the ideas she had in mind. The novel focuses onthe need to eliminate slavery, moral reforms, gender roles, andalcohol temperance.7However, it does not attack the problems head-on. Reynolds affirmsthat it represented several ills in that generation, but did notprovide solutions for the same. It filters “the most exciting,raucous, or subversive cultural energies of that era through the cultof domesticity that put home and family at the epicenter of life”(43). In other words, Stowe focuses on her area of profession i.e.home and family, so that she can relay her ideas to the audiencewithout facing rejection as a radical feminist.
WasUncle Tom`s Cabin the huge accomplishment of American fiction, themost prominent book ever written by an American, as claimed byReynolds? Did this single book by a "little lady" actuallyspur the Civil War, and assist to end bondage? One is a literaryquestion, the other somehow historical and hence, certain responsesare hard to get. Reynolds probes us to deliberate on the suggestionand vote. I have long been compassionate to his ideologies, and hisimpressive interpretation here, which is the ultimate fruit of an eraof exceptional scholarship, only enhances my zeal for Harriet BeecherStowe.
Themain agenda behind this book is the enlightenment of the currentgeneration. As it portrays, many artists during the civil war facedchallenges while trying to champion equality. For instance, Stowe wasafraid of tackling issues head-on due to the sensitivity of heraudience. However, Reynolds clearly outlines the problems to a morerational generation. A reader may want to know the various aspects ofracism and slavery concerning the current world. The fact that thisbook gives unbiased insights of the current society makes it quitereadable.
Perhapsthe fact that readers nowadays have a problem taking its heroes andvillains with seriousness is a tribute to its achievement. In someway, this book assisted to bring out the war that was renderedinconceivable in the world that Stowe attempted to envision.
Althoughit is a challenging book, students can gain from it considerably. Inmy experience, the students might be embarrassed by it. They identifyit as a prized article for understanding the history of what we nowcall the “conversation” about race in America. I would recommendit to students who have a passion for American history. It may evenchange someone’s perception of race in a positive manner.
Bordewich, Fergus. "The Novel That Changed America." The Novel That Changed America. June 24, 2011. http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052702304657804576402420520976258 (accessed June 22, 2016).
Brophy, Alfred. "The Shadow of the Law: Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Critique of Slave Law in Uncle Tom’s Cabin." Journal of Law and Religion 12.2, 2012: 457-506.
Delbanco, Andrew. "The Impact of ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin." The Impact of ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin." June 24, 2011. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/26/books/review/book-review-mightier-than-the-sword-by-david-s-reynolds.html?_r=0 (accessed June 22, 2016).
Reynolds, David. Mightier than the Sword: Uncle Tom`s Cabin and the Battle for America. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2011.
Stowe, Harriet Beecher. Uncle Tom’s Cabin. 1852. Ed. New York: Norton Critical Edition, 2010.
1 Bordewich, Fergus. "The Novel That Changed America." The Novel That Changed America. June 24, 2011, 166
2 Reynolds, David. Mightier than the Sword: Uncle Tom`s Cabin and the Battle for America. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2011, 64
3 Bordewich, Fergus. "The Novel That Changed America." The Novel That Changed America. June 24, 2011, 66
4 Stowe, Harriet Beecher. Uncle Tom’s Cabin. 1852. Ed. New York: Norton Critical Edition, 2010, 32
5 Reynolds, David. Mightier than the Sword: Uncle Tom`s Cabin and the Battle for America. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2011, 74
6 Delbanco, Andrew. "The Impact of ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin." The Impact of ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin.", 78
7 Bordewich, Fergus. "The Novel That Changed America." The Novel That Changed America. June 24, 2011, 78