When it was first published in 1852, Uncle Tom’s Cabin reached an array of audiences differently quite differently. Although only 1.5% of the non-slave population read the book, its influence was much further reaching. Reactions varied considerably, ranging from ridiculing the book for its inaccurate depiction of slavery to praising it for its message that was quite unpopular for the time. Especially considering that most slaves were illiterate, it took decades before Uncle Tom’s Cabin moved from its place in low or pop culture to the high culture it is treated as in the classroom now.
Part of the reason the book might not have been as accepted during the time it was written is that it resonated positively with a small subset of the audience. As Hagood discusses, Stowe would have been able to reach a larger audience if she sympathized more with the plight of women. While this would have reached a wider audience and potentially received a more positive appraisal in the mid 19th century, it would have taken away from the purpose of Stowe’s writing. Humans construct their reality through storytelling, and although Stowe’s depiction of slavery illustrated “colors that make up the picture but not the world of ours,” it contributed to its overall reception, especially in the long-term. Stowe clearly did not want to accurately depict slavery because people already knew what it was like – they lived through it at the time. By exaggerating and focusing on the worst aspects, Uncle Tom’s Cabin was able to resonate more deeply with its readers, whether positively or negatively.
The book struck the emotions of the nation. Some were outraged and some were moved to improve the world, but overall, there was a strong set of reactions, which Stowe was probably looking for. Any publicity is good publicity and Uncle Tom’s Cabin started a conversation that never ended and perhaps even influenced Abraham Lincoln’s movement towards abolition. Because of Stowe, I am even writing about her work today, nearly 150 years later. In my mind, that is a success and proves that the most influential works don’t have to be the most accurate. Digging into the purpose of a creation may take time to get the point across, but if you go deep enough, the answer lies within.