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Faculty Mentor

Mary R. Ryder

Abstract

The words of Shakespeare's character, Jaques, reflect the power of the best and deadliest kind of satire. Robert Harris claims that this kind of satire does not seek to do harm to any individual but to the vice itself (par. 3). The best satire creates "a shock of recognition" within oneself, and as Jaques tells his audience "If it do him right,/ Then he hath wrong'd himself." This is the mode of satire found in Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin. Yet most critics do not see Uncle Tomas satiric; rather they consider it tragic, didactic, or sentimental. Indeed, Stowe's book contains all of the aforesaid elements, but it also contains a constant and powerful strain of satire that forms the base of the novel's persuasive power. Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin effectively uses satire to motivate individuals against slavery, holding a mirror up to the guilty face of the nation. Oddly, few scholars acknowledge any satire within Stowe's work. Critics continue to cloak Uncle Tomin an impenetrable veil of domestic sentimentalism, confining Stowe to the "mob of scribbling women." As Ann Wood (Douglass) notes in her 1971 article "The 'Scribbling Women' and Fanny Fern: Why Women Wrote," women authors in the Nineteenth Century were urged to confine their writing to topics of home, family and religion, "works of sensibility steeped in depoliticized and lofty patriotism and misty. death-oriented and nonsectarian religious fervor" (7). If Stowe's focus was purely domestic, its force would not have been felt beyond the kitchen. Stowe's novel does contain the expected religious fervor and heart-rending death scenes, but to narrow the scope of Uncle Tom's Cabin in this manner is a gross misrepresentation of a novel recognized as "by far the most influential piece of writing against slavery of the entire century" (Koch xvi).

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