Stowe's Popularity (Ian Byrne)
Our introduction to slave narratives began with reading works by Fredrick Douglass. Douglass was a former black slave who experienced the horrors of slavery. Moving on.... Then we read Harriet Jacobs who was another former black slave who experienced the horrors of slavery as well. Their writings vividly illustrated the horrors of slavery and made us question how our country ever let that happen. After reading Douglass and Jacobs, we read excerpts from the most popular book of the 19th century: "Uncle Tom's Cabin." "Uncle Tom's Cabin" was written by Harriet Beecher Stowe, a white woman. What?
I am interested to know why a historical fiction novel written by a white woman was more influential and popular than the nonfictional accounts of slavery written by Douglass and Jacobs. I mean, yes it is good that the popularity of "Uncle Tom's Cabin" enraged abolitionists and that it is credited with starting the Civil War that did end slavery, but why is it that Stowe's fictional work takes precedence over Douglass and Jacob's nonfiction?
I think that we as humans, for some reason unknown to me, are able empathize easier with fictional characters than real people. Take for example Douglass as himself in his works, and Uncle Tom. As readers now, who do we all feel that we know better? Sadly I admit that Uncle Tom is a more memorable character than Douglass in their respective works. At the time of the Civil War, did people feel more inclined to fight for Uncle Tom than they did Douglass? I feel that it creates a very awkward question regarding race and motives.
I guess I can rephrase my thoughts in the question:
Would you rather read:
a) Slaughterhouse 5 by Kurt Vonnegut
b) Anne Frank's Diary
Maybe we read fiction in order to deny the harsh realities of life. Reading "Uncle Tom's Cabin," we as the readers know that none of these characters exist. However, reading Douglass or Jacobs we know that it happened and therefore it has a different emotion impact on us.