Henry Louis Gates Jr. on Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe

Cabin Fever

by Henry Louis Gates Jr.

“Uncle Tom” had become such a potent brand of political impotence that nobody really cared how far its public usages had traveled from the reality of its literary prototype.

When I returned to “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” not long ago, it struck me as far more culturally capacious — and sexually charged — than either Baldwin or the 60’s militants had acknowledged. Half a century after Baldwin denounced it as “a very bad novel” in its “self-righteous, virtuous sentimentality” and promotion of feminine tears and anguish as a form of political protest, both the novel and Baldwin’s now canonical critique are ripe for reassessment.

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