‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’ impact still endures in US film and popular culture

Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” the best-selling novel of the 19th century, continues to influence American film and popular culture, a researcher says.

In a year when the US observes the 200th anniversary of author Harriet Beecher Stowe’s birth, University of Cincinnati researcher Sharon Dean is presenting on the novel’s impact, interpretation and reinterpretation on the silver screen.

“Uncle Tom’s Cabin” by Harriet Beecher Stowe was the best-selling novel of the 19th century, and almost immediately upon its publication in 1852, it made its way to stage, vaudeville, music and minstrel shows.

Dean, who is an associate professor of English and women’s studies, points out that while more than 100 films, plays and musicals have recreated and reinterpreted the novel, many more reference its characters, plot and themes in some way.

According to Dean, The 1915 silent movie ‘The Birth of a Nation’ borrows characters and the slave-cabin setting from Stowe’s novel, while Bugs Bunny cartoons from the 1930s and ‘40s reference the novel.

The musical ‘The King and I’ also contains a subplot from Stowe’s book, and even the 2002 film ‘Gangs of New York’ contains a scene where characters are at a stage play of ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’.

Dean says that the story, its characters, stereotypes and themes continue to be the lens through which we define America’s history of slavery and our interpretation of the struggle for equal rights.

And while interpretations and reference to the book have certainly evolved, some elements have remained both consistent and intriguing,” she adds.

The study will be presented at the Stowe Bicentennial Commemorative Conference, held in Cincinnati, Ohio.

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