Uncle Tom: That Enduring Old Image…

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True classics never die. But sometimes second-rate works also acquire unique longevity. Take Uncle Tom’s Cabin , born in 1852. Its best-selling appeal lay in its stereotypes, such as little Eva’s childish purity, Tom’s stalwart virtue, and Simon Legree’s unalloyed villainy. These oversimplified the issues of race and slavery but gave the novel an emotional power that survived transplantation to the stage, where it remained a smash hit until almost yesterday. [See “Uncle Tom, the Theater and Mrs. Stowe,” A MERICAN H ERITAGE , October, 1955.] Though in grease paint the characters sagged into caricature, generations raptly watched the footlit struggle betwixt good and evil long after the work’s original antislavery theme had been forgotten. And cartoonists, always eager for symbols evoking instant public recognition, seized and frequently distorted the familiar dramatis personae for years after the play’s effective lifetime. Thus does popular culture preserve, but change, what it uses. Herewith we present a portfolio of such cartoons.