Setting the Record Straight in Uncle Tom’s Cabin

  • Michael Borgstrom
Part of the The Future of Minority Studies book series (FMS)


The nonnormative intersections among racial, gender, and textual identities that inform the vexed reputation of Frank J. Webb extend also to one of the most widely celebrated (and studied) texts of the nineteenth century, Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin.1 That scholarship on Stowe’s book similarly appears unable to support such intersections is striking, particularly since one of the primary goals of recent scholarship on Uncle Tom’s Cabin has been to reassess the novel’s depictions of minority identity and thereby recuperate several of its minoritized characters. Dinah, Eva, Topsy, George, Eliza, and Uncle Tom (among others) figure prominently in discussions of racial and gender identity.2 Ironically, however, the success of critiques centered on race and gender may unintentionally cut off other avenues for analysis, foreclosing the possibility of distinguishing additional minority identities within the book—particularly those that intertwine race and gender in ways different from normative standards. Adolph, Augustine St. Clare’s manservant, is a case in point: his character is almost entirely overlooked in the criticism devoted to the book, and this chapter takes up the theoretical challenge posed by his scholarly fate as well as its critical implications. While a vast amount of scholarship has critiqued Uncle Tom’s Cobin’s tendency to subdivide African American identity into readily recognizable character types like the mammy, the pickaninny, the tragic mulatto, and the figure now known as the Uncle Tom, such analysis considers Adolph’s role only tangentially.3


Gender Identity Black Masculinity Slave System Dominant Culture Masculine Identity 
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    Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, “Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence Against Women of Color,” in Critical Race Theory, ed. Kimberlé Crenshaw et al. (New York: New Press, 1995), 358Google Scholar
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    Valerie Smith, Not Just Race, Not Just Gender: Black Feminist Readings (New York: Routledge, 1998), xvGoogle Scholar
  3. 25.
    Karen Sanchez-Eppier, “Bodily Bonds: The Intersecting Rhetorics of Feminism and Abolition,” in The Culture of Sentiment. Race, Gender, und Sentimentality in Nineteenth-Century America, ed. Shirley Samuels (New York: Oxford University Press, 1992), 95.Google Scholar

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© Michael Borgstrom 2010

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  • Michael Borgstrom

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