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Uncle Tom

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Uncle Tom is the title character of Harriet Beecher Stowe"s 1852 novel, Uncle Tom"s Cabin.[1] The term "Uncle Tom" is also used as a derogatory epithet for an excessively subservient person, particularly when that person is aware of their own lower-class status based on race. However, the use of the epithet is the result of later works derived from the original novel, and does not reflect Mrs. Stowe"s actual depiction of Uncle Tom himself.

At the time of the novel"s initial publication in 1851, Uncle Tom was a rejection of the existing stereotypes of minstrel shows; Stowe"s melodramatic story humanized the suffering of slavery for white audiences by portraying Tom as a Jesus-Christ-like figure who is ultimately martyred, beaten to death by a cruel master because he refuses to betray the whereabouts of two women who had escaped from slavery.[2] [3] Stowe reversed the gender conventions of slave narratives by juxtaposing Uncle Tom"s passivity against the daring of three African American women who escape from slavery.[2]

The novel was both influential and commercially successful, published as a serial from 1851 to 1852 and as a book from 1852 onward.[2] [3] An estimated 500,000 copies had sold worldwide by 1853, including unauthorized reprints.[4] Senator Charles Sumner credited Uncle Tom"s Cabin for the election of Abraham Lincoln, an opinion that is later echoed in the apocryphal story of Lincoln greeting Stowe with the quip, "So you"re the little woman who wrote the book that made this great war!" (See American Civil War.)[2] [5] Frederick Douglass praised the novel as "a flash to light a million camp fires in front of the embattled hosts of slavery."[2] Despite Douglass"s enthusiasm, an anonymous 1852 reviewer for William Lloyd Garrison"s publication The Liberator suspected a racial double standard in the idealization of Uncle Tom:

Uncle Tom"s character is sketched with great power and rare religious perception. It triumphantly exemplifies the nature, tendency, and results of Christian non-resistance.

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