174 The Depiction of Race in Uncle Tom’s Cabin

Alyssa Desautelle

In Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, she depicts her main black characters, Eliza, George, and Harry by deliberately whitewashing them. While running away, Eliza is able to get as far as she does because she appears “so white as not to be known as of colored lineage, without a critical survey” (35).

By making Eliza only one quarter black and three quarters white and putting so much emphasis on it through the text, Stowe attempts to catch the attention of her intended readers and relate Eliza more to them. If she looks like them, then maybe they would care more about Eliza and that would affect their feelings towards slaves in their real lives. Another example of how Stowe whitewashes Eliza is how she was raised. She is like family to the Shelbys, practically raised by them, so in effect, she is describe to act differently from the other slaves in the text. Her conversations with George appear clearer then the conversations between the other slaves, highlighting how Eliza and George are “different” and why the readers of the time should have cared about them. 

This portrayal of slaves contrasts with Frederick Douglass’s portrayal of them in The Heroic Slave. He depicts Madison Washington as unapologetically black and does not try to undermine this as a part of his character. Yet Douglass also tells the story of Madison Washington from the perspective of a white person, in his attempt to make the story relatable to the intended audience. These two texts both appear directed towards a white audience of the time.

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The Depiction of Race in Uncle Tom's Cabin by Alyssa Desautelle is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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