News from Uncle Tom's Cabin

By Mindy Dai and Jae You


Cultural interactions in the 1850's were haunted by a pervasive specter of racism, exemplified by the characters and events in the novel "Uncle Tom's Cabin", in which whites were seen as intellectually and spiritually superior than blacks, who were generally depicted in the context of being inferior human beings and reduced to slaves.

Spiritually Inferior

Intellectually Weak


While the prevailing theme of racism and white superiority is most evident in these pictures, more subtle themes such as depicting blacks as slow and not even "fully human" are shown. Since they are less human and less intelligent, that suggests that blacks are deserving of slavery and worthy of being treated less than white. Even more subtly, there is a deep economic dimension to the majority of the pictures- the black girl with strange eyes is shown as wearing raggedy clothing with numerous holes, the black children are shown as wearing much plainer clothing than the white man, and finally the image of auction shows the white men adorned in symbols of wealth while the black slaves are wearing rags of poverty. Perhaps what is most surprising about these images of white power, is the myriad different ways they could have been viewed in the 1850s, depending on where your original stance on slavery was. For the slave-owners, these pictures reaffirm their power and right over and to slaves but for abolitionists such as Frederick Douglass, they would have instead been images of white tyranny and black suffering rebuking the tradition of slavery. It is endlessly fascinating how the same source materials can be used as propaganda for two radically different sides.

Questions: Jae You

The images relating to Uncle Tom's Cabin symbolize the condescending manner that the whites exhibited to the blacks during the 1850s. However, the images also showed the strong bond between the African American society, as some images showed fleeing blacks being accepted into a shelter by black refuges in spite of all the hardships experienced by black slaves at the time. Through all of these pictures, one picture stood out to me the most: a picture of a black man named Uncle Tom with a white girl looking towards the sky longingly. This picture represents the need for freedom that goes as far as the sky, but it also subtly shows that blacks AND whites can both coexist in the land of America as shown by the girl talking to the guy as if he was a common friend and not a threat to society.