Friday, May 25, 2007

The gothic and the ghost story

At the end of Uncle Tom's Cabin, Stowe attempts to politicize Poe's achievements. Critics have rightly focused on her adroit mixing of popular antebellum genres to account for the success of her novel--drawing everything from the novel of sentiment to the slave narrative, Stowe attempts to make her readers feel the evils and injustices of slavery, not just understand them conceptually. I haven't read enough Stowe criticism to see if scholars have been paying attention to her use of the gothic and the ghost story, but it is crucial to her novel's mediation of Enlightenment and Christian attacks on slavery--her linking of appeals to violations of rights to life, liberty, and property to the notions that slavery is a sin and that true Christians can neither hold slaves nor tolerate the existence of slavery.
When Cassy and Emmeline conspire to manipulate Simon Legree into believing the garret in his mansion is haunted by the spirit of a slave woman he tortured, raped, and killed, they are participating in one of the classic conventions of the explained Gothic--but instead of the vulnerable protagonist being tormented by a conspiracy out to make her believe she is being haunted, here the vulnerable female slaves are the ones who are protecting themselves by making the garret the safest place for them to hide from the slave catchers trying to hunt them down after they are seen trying to escape the plantation.
Stowe takes us behind the scenes to see how Cassy stages all the supposedly supernatural events that heighten Legree's guilt, horror, and fear--this is the explained Gothic with a vengeance--and asserts that it is Legree's atheism that makes him particularly susceptible to her manipulations. In so doing, she echoes Poe's language--and provides some imagery that Dickinson may well be responding to in her Civil War-era poem #670 (the revolver that is no protection against spirits, the locked door that is no protection against your own internal haunting)--in a way that mixes their philosophical and psychological emphases with her own social and political projects.
Cassy's staging of an "authentic ghost story," as one late chapter title proclaims it to be, enables her and Emmeline to escape the fate of the tortured and murdered slave woman--and the martyrdom of Uncle Tom by Legree that is framed by the narrative of their escape--even as it shows the consequences on Legree of his own actions. Stowe's hauntings emphasize the horrors of slavery and install the metaphor of the slaveholder haunted by his sins and the nation haunted by the peculiar institution... The Constructivist : 5:57 AM


  1. Not a good idea to plagiarize a post that ends with mention of my younger daughter. Please take this down or properly attribute it. Thanks.

  2. Thanks for visiting. Hope, the amendments would satisfy you.

  3. You're welcome. Thanks for the changes.