Monday, May 23, 2011

Research Paper on Harriet Beecher Stowe

Research Paper on Harriet Beecher Stowe

Harriet Beecher Stowe became one of the most famous writers, reformers, and abolitionist women of the 1800's in large part due to her best selling fictional book, Uncle Tom's Cabin. Stowe became most recognized for Uncle Tom's Cabin, written in 1852, which aroused considerable anti-slavery feelings before the Civil War began. In her writings about the evils of slavery, Harriet used her knowledge of the abolitionist movement and her vivid imagination, stirring many emotions and controversy on a nationwide level. As an avid writer, Harriet also contributed to periodicals and local publications in addition to her poetry, children's books, and novels. She lived much of her life near slaves and did not believe in the institution of slavery; hence, inspiring her to become a voice for anti-slavery both in her writings and personal values and beliefs.

She was born, Harriet Elizabeth Beecher, the seventh child born to Lyman and Roxana Beecher on June 14, 1811 in Litchfield, Connecticut. Harriet was one of thirteenth children; her two sisters, Esabella and Catherine were from Mr. Lyman's first marriage. There were seven brothers and they all became ministers and reformers, just like their father. Reverend Lyman was a well-known Congregational Revivalist, and persuasive speaker. Harriet and her siblings were raised with strong moral principals and strict religious beliefs, which stayed with them all throughout their lives. In 1816, Harriet suffered a great loss at the very young age of five. Her mother, Roxana, died of tuberculosis.


From that point on in her life, Harriet became very attached to her eldest sister, Catherine. Although Reverend Lyman remarried, Harriet never created much of a bond with his second wife. Harriet, after attending Litchfield Academy, was sent to Hartford Female Seminary, which was founded by her sister, Catherine. Catherine, who became respected for her teaching methods, was like a mother to Harriet and became one of her greatest influencers and mentors throughout her life and writing career. Two other very prominent relatives in Harriet's life were her Uncle Samuel and Aunt Harriet Foote. Not only did her aunt and uncle influence her culturally, they also encouraged her to write as they had witnessed hr gift for writing early on.

In 1832, Harriet's father was invited to Cincinnati, Ohio, where he was to become the president of Lane Theological seminary. Harriet, along with her sister Catherine, made the move to Cincinnati with him. Harriet was influenced to make this move with her father by her sister, Catherine and their Uncle Samuel and Aunt Harriet Foote. They knew that if she followed her father and sister, she would continue to be inspired to pursue her writing talent. Shortly after their move, Catherine and Harriet established a school together, The Western Female Institute, in which Harriet became one of the teachers. The move for Harriet was an eye-opening experience, where she witnessed for the first time, the brutality of slavery and cruelty of slave auctions. Harriet's first account of this cruelty was when she observed a black family being separated and sold-off one by one. This outraged, saddened, and frustrated her, but she had not decided to write about it at that time. In 1836, at the age of 24, Harriet met and fell in love with the man that became her husband, Calvin Stowe, age 33. Calvin Stowe was a clergyman at her father's seminary, as well as an educator, and staunch abolitionist. He also shared Harriet's disbelief in slavery. Calvin and Harriet had seven children together within a 15-year time span.

In 1834, Stowe began her literary career. She entered a prize contest writing a children's geography book with her sister Catherine. Soon after she began contributing to the magazine, The Western Monthly, which featured many of her stories and essays. Her first book, The Mayflower, a short fictional story written in 1843, was also known as, Sketches of Scenes and Characters of the Descendants of the Pilgrims. Stowe's second published work was The Two Altars, also known as, The Two Pictures in One, in 1851. This book was written in response to the Fugitive Slave Law, which outlawed people to assist slaves in escaping, passed in 1850. It was published in two installments in the New York Evangelist, June 12 and June 19, 1851.

Her most famous novel, Uncle Tom's Cabin, written in 1852, was inspired by a vision Harriet had at church one day. When the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 passed, Harriet was furious and extremely disturbed, and wrote to one of her sisters expressing her frustration. Her sister wrote back saying, Hattie, if I could use a pen as you can, I would write something that would make this whole nation feel what an accursed thing slavery is.

Harriet did just that, thus the birth of Uncle Tom's Cabin. And behold the tears of such as are oppressed; and on the side of their oppressors there was power. Whereof I, praised, the dead that are already dead more than the living that are yet alive.

The response to Uncle Tom's Cabin was mixed, regionally, and consequently Harriet felt the need to further educate and inform people. As a result, she wrote a follow-up novel in defense of Uncle Tom's Cabin, to critics who argued it was inauthentic. This novel written in 1853 was titled A Key to Uncle Tom's Cabin.

From 1856 - 1878, Harriet published numerous novels, studies of social life essays, and small volume religious poems. She also wrote several shorter works, some of which were published in the Atlantic Monthly and Christian Union. Most of those writings were focused on the New England community way of life. Several of her older novels, such as Old Town Folks (1869) and Poganuc People (1878), was partly based on her husband's childhood reminisces.

Stowe's best-known work, Uncle Tom's Cabin, was first published in the anti-slavery newspaper The National Era, from June 1851 to April 1852. The National Era compelled the American public, to, for the first time, realize that slavery was not just a national problem, but slaver were also people with aspirations and hopes just like their own. The fictional novel was finally published in book format in 1852, outsold all other books of the century, and received quite a bit of positive Northern reaction. By 1857, Uncle Tom's Cabin had sold over half a million copies in the Unites States and was translated into 37 languages.

Eliza made her desperate retrest across the river just in the dusk of twilight. The gray mist of the evening, rising slowly from the river, enveloped her as she disappeared up the bank, and the swollen current and floundering masses of ice presented a hopeless barrier between her and her pursuer.

Stowe once stated, "I could not control the story, the Lord himself wrote it, I was but an instrument in His hands and to Him should be given all the praise."

Southerner's on the other hand, did not react positively to Uncle Tom's Cabin. In Uncle Tom's Cabin, Stowe stirred up emotions in the South, through her vivid characterizations. She used stereotypical descriptions, illustrating exactly what slaves, slavery, and southerners were all about. She did this with little personal knowledge, but rather from her imagination and information from the abolitionist movement. Southerner's felt that her intentions were an indictment and an attack on their way of life, when in reality was against the institution of slavery.

Consequently, Uncle Tom's Cabin became ammunition in the arguments between the North and South. Stowe did not intend to anger the Southerner's, but rather to educate the nation. Harriet, quite distressed that her work was misunderstood, published in 1853, an explanation of the book, titled, A Key to Uncle Tom's Cabin. As per the Southerner's, this follow-up account, fell on deaf ears. Southerner's at that point felt that her second book was unworthy of serious consideration.

Several additional, less successful novels followed. In 1856, Stowe wrote her next novel, Dred: A Tale of the Great Dismal Swamp, where she states:

There is no study in human nature more interesting than the aspects of the same subject in the points of view than different characters.

The Minister's Wooing, written in 1859, was a novel depicting Newport, Rhode Island, analyzes New England characters in a profound way. The book focuses on its characters, Samuel Hopkins, Congregationalist minister of Newport and Mary Scudder, daughter of Hopkin's widowed landlady. My Wife and I, written in 1871, is the story of a man, Harry Henderson, and his wife. In this novel, Harry's wife is struggling for the opportunity to study medicine. The novel speaks to the views on women's rights and on the education of marriage for Harry.

In 1857, Harriet suffered a horrible personal loss once again in her life. Her son, Harry, a Dartmouth student, died in a drowning accident. Although in much pain, Harriet had a very strong outlook on life; this outlook revealed in her statement with regard to hard time:

When you get into a tight place and everything goes against you, till it seems as though you could not hang on a minute longer, never give up then, for that is just the place and time that the tide will turn. (Creative quotations from Harriet Beecher Stowe, Quote #1)

In 1870, Stowe lost another son, but this time it was to alcoholism. Her son Fred disappeared in San Francisco, California, never to be seen or heard from again. Soon thereafter, Harriet's husband, Calvin, decided to retire. Following Calvin's retirement, the family moved to Hartford and spent their winters in Northern Florida. Calvin's retirement did not, however, in any way signify the retirement of Harriet's writing career.

Throughout the later part of her career, Harriet traveled and met famous people, including President Abraham Lincoln. It is said, but never confirmed, that upon meeting President Lincoln, at the White House, he said to her:

So this is the little lady who made this big war. (Ellis Robert, 3095)

In 1869, Harriet sent a copy of her sixth novel, Oldtown Folks, to a much younger, less famous writer, Elliot George. She did so out of respect for George, as a writer, and to receive perspective from a realist. Harriet continued throughout the rest of her days to correspond with Elliot professionally and personally. In the early 1870's, Harriet became part of a sensational post Civil War scandal. Harriet had written an imprudent and detailed account of the poet, Lord Byron's sins. These sins were revealed to her years earlier by Byron's deceased widow, Lady Byron. This book turned many people against Harriet, although her other books continued to sell successfully throughout the 1870's, regardless.

In 1888, Harriet's mind began to wonder and become weaker, but she continued to write lucid letters to friends and family. In 1889, her son Charles Edward Stowe wrote a biography, The Life of Harriet Beecher Stowe. Contained in the biography are some of Stowe's frequently long and "chatty" letters. Hundred's of Stowe's letters still remain unpublished today, and are scattered among various archives. On July 1, 1896, Harriet Beecher Stowe died in Hartford, Connecticut after fighting off illnesses for two years prior.

My impressions of Harriet Beecher Stowe, both on a personal level as well as professionally, are of great respect, admiration and courage. Contained within the work that I read, Harriet seemed shy and understandably, somewhat depressed as a child with the death of her mother. Nonetheless, even with such a tragic event so young, Harriet seemed to use her writing as perhaps an outlet for her emotions. She was very fortunate to have had the opportunity to attend very well regarded schools such as Litchfield Academy and Hartford Female Seminary, in addition to having influential people like her sister Catherine, which I believe allowed her to truly recognize her ability to express herself through her writing.

As a mother, Harriet seemed to raise her seven children with the same strictness as her mother, father and sister, Catherine, believed in and raised her. Though she seemed stern, she seemed to idealize motherhood while maintaining her religious, righteous beliefs. Given her faith and religious convictions, I got the sense that she managed to be career driven and well balanced when it came to her literary career, while still a nurturing, kind mother.

As a writer, Harriet Beecher Stowe is one of the most well-known abolitionist women of her time. Harriet's bravery and honesty as a woman writer in relation to her beliefs towards the slavery movement, had a strong influence on altering how many others, especially in the North, thought about slavery, and became largely noticeable in her most recognized work, Uncle Tom's Cabin. Although some of work in her later years contained the same moral fiber as Uncle Tom's Cabin, the timing of the novel was key!

As a writer, Harriet's valor and passion concerning the evils of slavery reformed a nation during a very tumultuous period of time and allowed her to be a significantly celebrated author through her novel, Uncle Tom's Cabin.
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