November 10, 2013

Black and White Mixes in Uncle Tom’s Cabin

One of the most surprising things about Uncle Tom’s cabin for me was the way that mixed race people were described and treated. Firstly I had no idea mixes were as common as they appeared to be in the novel, and I certainly had not idea that successive generations of mixing regularly took place – even to the point where George and Eliza can pass as white when travelling.

Obviously these mixes aren’t the product of star-crossed love but rape incidents of masters raping slave girls. It was also interesting and unsettling that, as Stowe notes towards the end of the book, one of the reasons for this process of mixing was that as slave girls became increasingly mixed (when “quadroons” for example, began to appear) they became even more attractive to potential white masters (who are pretty sickeningly described as “connoisseurs” in the closing chapter.)

It’d be interesting to know how common ‘light-skinned’ slaves were, and if this affected the social dynamics of slave communities themselves (George marries the equally light skinned Eliza) and indeed if lighter skinned slaves were treated differently by white masters. Did their lighter skin afford them any privileges or did masters tend to think of them as an embarrassment, if slaves were thought of in the same terms as beasts of burden – as Legree pretty explicitly says – raping one would surely dent the reputation of an aristocratic land owner. Or perhaps being a mix is treated as irrelevant, the one-drop rule again, after all George and Eliza’s racial position isn’t specified until about half way through the book.


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