Portrayal od Racial Stereotypes in Uncle Tom's Cabin

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“A round, black, shining face is hers, so glossy as to suggest the idea that she might have been washed over with white of eggs, like one of her own tea risks. Her whole plump countenance beams of satisfaction and contentment from under her well-starched checked turban, bearing on it, however, if we must confess it, a little of that tinge of self-consciousness which becomes the first cook of the neighborhood, as Aunt Chloe was universally and acknowledge to be.“ (Stowe 39)

Aunt Chloe is portrayed as ugly, dark skinned and obese. She is also a good cook, housekeeper and nurturing of her owners children while she cares less for her own children. In a way she is a member of the white family as she is their main caretaker. This portrayal of aunt Chloe cemented the mammy stereotype in literature and later in movies (Pilgrim). In the St. Clare household Mammy represents this stereotype. Despite having headaches and being seperated from her husband and children she is seen as content to serve her white owners.

The next stereotype is that of the titular character uncle Tom. This stereotype, just like the mammy, served to humanise slavery. Nowadays this stereotype is used to call African – Americans who are subservient in relation to whites and to call someone an uncle Tom is seen as an insult (Conceição 53). The uncle Tom stereotype portrays black men as faithful and happy servants (Pilgrim, The Tom Caricature). Uncle Tom is described as follows: “He was a large, broadchested, powerfully-made man, of a full glossy black, and a face whose truly African features were characterized by an expression of grave and steady good sense, united with much kindliness and benevolence. There was something about his whole air self- respecting and dignified, yet united with a confiding and humble simplicity.“ (Stowe 40, 41)

Unlce Tom is portrayed as a model slave. He is hard-working, loyal, obedient, Christian and content. Through Tom, Stowe wanted to show the gentleness and forgiving nature which she believed lay dormant in all African – Americans (Pilgrim, The Tom Caricature). She also wanted to show how slavery is against the Christian faith (Pilgrim, The Tom Caricature). Tom's last master, Legree intends to make Tom an overseer and commands him to flog a slave woman. Tom refuses as it is against his Christian faith and is beaten for it. Later Legree demands of Tom the whereabouts of Cassy and Emmeline which Tom refuses to answer for which he is again beaten. In the end Tom dies from his injuries having forgiven Quimbo and Sambo as well as Legree. It is easy to see why calling someone an “uncle Tom“ has become an insult. It is a model for every servile, simple-minded black person and is a synonim for being subservient (Conceição 54).

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The next stereotype is the pickaninny. It is a stereotype meant to represent black children. A pickaninny has big eyes, unkempt hair, dark skin, red lips and wide mouths (Pilgrim, The Picaninny Caricature). A pickaninny is poorly dressed, wearing old, torn clothing, or is sometimes completely nude (Pilgrim, The Picaninny Caricature). In the novel Topsy represents this stereotype. Topsy is decribed as follows:

“She was one of the blackest of her race; and her round shining eyes, glittering as glass beads, moved with quick and restless glances over everything in the room. Her mouth, half open with astonishment at the wonders of the new Mas'r's parlor, displayed a white and brilliant set of teeth. Her woolly hair was braided in sundry little tails, which stuck out in every direction. The expression of her face was an odd mixture of shrewdness and cunning, over which was oddly drawn, like a kind of veil, an expression of the most doleful gravity and solemnity. She was dressed in a single filthy, ragged garment, made of bagging; and stood with her hands demurely folded before her. Altogether, there was something odd and goblin-like about her appearance,—something, as Miss Ophelia afterwards said, 'so heathenish,'(...)“ (Stowe 33, volume 2)

Topsy was portrayed in this way to garner sympathy from the reader as many slave children were in this position. Her former mistress beat her so badly that Topsy only knew how to respond to violence. She did not even know who her parents were or where she came from. Topsy was purchased for Miss Ophelia and at first caused a lot of trouble, but after Eva's death she reformed and later in life became a missionary in Africa. Topsy's traits were found to be amusing and so she became a stereotype in shows and tv instead of a symphatetic figure (Pilgrim, The Picaninny Caricature).

The next stereotype is that of the tragic mulatto. Lydia Maria Child introduced this stereotype in her short stories. (Pilgrim, The Tragic Mulatto Myth). A tragic mullato is a mixed race person depicted as the victim of society he or she lives in. A tragic mulatto is usually a woman.

In the novel these characters are George, Eliza, Harry, Cassy and Emmeline. They are all slaves who ran away from their masters to secure their freedom. George ran because of the abuse he suffered from his master who saw George as superior to himself due to his intelligence. He was forced to work and was told to take a new wife despite being married to Eliza. Eliza runs away from her priviliged life as a slave because her son Harry was sold. The family succesfully runs away to Canada. Another character is Cassy who is violated and sold as well as seperated from her children. She has been brought up well educated but after her father's death she is sold as he never freed her mother. She later falls in love with a white man and she has two children with him. Later we discover that one of those children is Eliza. This love with the white man is ruined when his cousin, Butler comes and introduces him to gambling.

To settle the debt from gambling Cassy and her children are sold and seperated. Cassy also had one child with her new owner, but she chose to kill this child to save him from the fate of a slave. Emmeline who is also a tragic mullata character is bought by Legree as a replacement for Cassy. Both she and Cassy escape from Legree. In a twist of fate, Cassy is later reunited with Eliza, while George is reunited with his sister, Madame de Thoux. They choose to move to France and then to Africa. All of them had tragic moments throughout the novel but in the end they are all happily reunited and reach a happy ending. The stereotype deviates from here, as usually tragic mulattos have a tragic ending. Through their narrative Stowe aimed to show how slavery seperates families and how destructive it is to seperate a mother from her children. These characters also defy slavery by choosing to run and be free.

To conclude, Stowe aimed to present the cruelty of slavery but in doing so she reinforced racial stereotypes that have remained present up to this day due to mass media and the popularity of the novel. The racial stereotypes present in the novel are the mammy who is represented by aunt Chloe, uncle Tom who is a loyal and obedient slave, Topsy the pickaninny and the tragic mulattos George, Eliza, Harry, Cassy and Emmeline.

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