Literature Revue

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Literature Revue

Catherine Wimberley

Year 2046:

Two women are sitting across from one another in two large over stuffed chairs. They appear to be chatting amiably, although the audience of hundred or so can't quite make out what they are saying. Suddenly a man shouts, "We're on in fifteen." The women immediately sit up a little straighter, and begin preening; making sure not a strand of hair is out of place for when the cameras begin to roll. They hear a voice in their earpiece say, "Camera two wide shot of the stage. Get ready to cue the lights and music in three... two... one... Ok Camera three start zooming in on their faces. Cue the mics in three... two... one... All right we're on, take it away Josie.

"Welcome back to Literature in Revue." Josie said with a dazzling smile. "I'm sure my next guest requires no introduction. Born not far from here in Litchfield, Connecticut, she was the seventh child of Lyman and Roxanna Foote Beecher. Lincoln once said she was the little lady who made this big war-"

Harriet began tuning Josie Lariat out. She was a sweet woman but Harriet had already heard this speech countless times before. She looked down out her dress and gave a little frown. She wished she were wearing something a little less dated. The network insisted only this would do though. She doubted very much she would be comfortable wearing a dress quite as flashy and revealing as Josie's was anyway.

"First of all Mrs. Stowe let me just thank you for being on the show." Harriet looked up quickly; Josie had obviously stopped speaking while she hadn't been paying attention. "Even today your most famous piece, Uncle Tom's Cabin, is a contentiously debated book. We're so glad that you could stop by and help us shed light on the subject."

As if she had had the choice. Three years ago the network had rematerialized her body, an idea she still didn't quite understand, but whatever the process was it had been expensive. To pay her debt she was now under contract to appear wherever the network told her to. She did not think that was strictly fair, it wasn't as if she had been clamoring to be brought back to life. Now she wasn't even her own person. Lord, She identified with Tom a little more every day. Her only consolation was that ol' Mel had been brought back too. Part of her thought it was worth it to see him try to contain his ire while some barely literate high school student told him the book he wrote about the whale was boring.

"Mrs. Stowe, I'm sure you are well aware that critics argue whether your book has done more harm than good. You advocated for the abolishment of slavery, which is of course admirable. Yet your characteristics are essentially simplistic and individuals are placed into types. The tone of your book at certain instances seems to imply that African Americans remain in a submissive role to whites. Was that your intention?

Her characteristics were simplistic? Harriet would have loved to ask Josie when the last time she wrote a best selling novel with the type of wide success she had experienced was, but managed to control the urge. She pondered the question a moment before answering. "I believe my characters are well defined, as the story develops the reader understands why each character thinks, feels and acts in the ways that they do. We have no doubt where the characters stand.

"Perhaps it is easy to place my characters into categories. I would argue, however, that this in turn makes them more complicated. Take St Clair for instance. He is not what we would call an evil man, especially when compared to Simon Legree. St. Clare doesn't believe it is his moral right to own slaves, as his wife does, and yet there he is with a plantation full of slaves. Ophelia constantly admonishes St Clair's contrary attitudes and he readily admits that, 'my forte lies on talking,' action is for others (274)."

"Then you view the typing that occurs, the binaries as something useful?"

"I wanted this book to be accessible to a wide audience. I took the basic characteristics of I had seen in acquaintances, friends, neighbors and relatives and translated them into something everyone would be able recognize. When I first wrote the novel everyone knew a Mr. Shelby or a Mr. Haley. To quote Melville I believed people were wearing masks and viewing only part of the world in a clouded manner. We all have personality traits we wished we didn't. I wanted to hold a mirror up to the reader and ask what he saw. Was there something there that caused he or she shame?"

"You wanted to change the world?"

"Just the part I was dissatisfied with."

"And do you believe you were successful?"

Harriet shrugged a shoulder, if one person was forced to re-evaluate themselves or their actions, if they then changed, I suppose my answer would be yes."

"You said you decided to create characters your readers would be able to recognize does this mean you believe you have accurately portrayed the what it was like for an African American to live in this system?"

"Robert Crossley argues that the American Slave narrative lives within fixed boundaries, 'while first person narratives about oppression and exclusion will persist as long as racism persists, slave narratives ceased to be written when the last American citizen who had lived under institutionalized slavery died.' (Introduction to Kindred, p ix). I don't know that I can say I accurately depicted the system of slavery or fully conveyed what it meant to be an African American slave because I was never one myself. I never feared I would be taken away from my loved ones, or would be beaten for not working in the fields fast enough."

"Do you consider yourself as taking advantage of the reader's emotions? Tom, Eliza, George, St Clare, Eva, Topsy, Miss Ophelia, their were difficult to read?"

"They were difficult to write..."

"But the whole novel seems to tug unrelentingly on the heart strings. Were you afraid the readers would miss the point you were trying to make?"

"Tell me what point you thought I was trying to make." Flustered and surprised she has been put on the spot Josie replies she believed the novel had been trying to allow the reader to get a sense of what slaves must have been feeling. "I didn't want the reader to have distance. Sometimes we are obsessed with remaining a neutral observer, issues like this need passion. If I had to clobber the reader over the head with the sentimentality of it all to get he or she to feel what they ought, well then... so be it."

"Do you think Uncle Tom's Cabin has value today? Why?"

"I would certainly hope so. Just because slavery has been outlawed does not mean problems of oppression, exclusion and racism have vanished. If nothing else my novel should be held as a historical piece. The stories are not ones I simply pulled out of thin air, they could have happened to anyone. The novel can still be useful in giving your generation an insight into how Americans were thinking of and discussing race. How different Americans responded to the issue of slavery."

"Right," Josie said, "the generation thing is something I would like to go back to. There is clearly a divide between our generations and most of the kids today who are reading Uncle Tom's Cabin have a hard time wrapping their around the overt religious themes of the novel. What would you say to them?"

"I don't necessarily believe it is a generational difference. Many of the characters I wrote about in the novel have a complicated relationship with religion, St Clare and Cassy are two obvious examples."

"Yes but there seems to be a clear theme in your book, if you were really a good Christian you would be against slavery, you would do everything in your power to bring about its end."

"I suppose that's true."

"Do you think it detracts from the book?"

"It wouldn't for me but then again I wrote the it. Each reader will of course be different and will as a result bring their own emotions and interpretations to the book. But I believe it is possible to read Uncle Tom's Cabin and separate the religious aspects of it. There is still enough to be gained from Tom's story to make the book worth reading."

"Well we have to cut to a commercial but before I do one final question. Out of all the characters in the book who would you least like to be?"

"Well I know everyone will probably expect me to say Legree but I would have to go with Marie St. Clare. I think Simon knows on some deep instinctual level that what he is doing is wrong. I don't think people like Marie St Clare ever do. They go through the world willfully obtuse and selfish. People like her very rarely experience any kind of change simply because they refuse to. They are quite content being ignorant."

"Well thank you Mrs. Stowe."

"Always a pleasure to work for the network."

Works cited:
Butler, Octavia E. Kindred. Boston: Beacon Press, 1979.

Stowe, Harriet Beecher. Uncle Tom's Cabin. New York: Penguin Books, 1986.

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