The New Direction in the Humanities Journal Collection offers an annual award for newly published research or thinking that has been recognized to be outstanding by members of the New Direction in the Humanities Research Network.
Next to the Bible, Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” is considered to be one of the best-selling books of all time. The appeal of enslaved men and women trying to free themselves from bondage has universal appeal. One harrowing scene is the slave Eliza’s escape to freedom. Learning that her son will be sold to another master, she takes him to the free state of Ohio, for which she must cross over a river with its dangerous ice flows. Eliza’s flight has historic, religious, and contemporary parallels, reflecting the Holy Family’s flight into Egypt, Harriet Tubman’s efforts to bring fugitive slaves to freedom, and twenty-first-century examples of undocumented immigrants crossing over the Arizona desert for a life free from the violence and poverty of their homelands. While scenes depicting Eliza’s escape have dramatic power in their own right, they also have a “meta-literary” connection that continues to this day, giving Stowe’s nineteenth-century novel a contemporary presence beyond personal readership or academic study.
Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin is one of those novels we all seem to know about but probably have not read. Even if we have read it, many of us have probably done so from the perspective that it is more of a historical document. Slavery ended in this country more than a century ago, making Uncle Tom’s Cabin a book that will never transcend Antebellum America.
But Uncle Tom’s Cabin is more than just a text of its time. The scene where the slave Eliza feels across the ice-clogged Ohio River with her son Harry (who is slated to be sold to another master) is the archetype of the refugee crossing borders that will mean freedom for them. Eliza’s flight can be traced back to the flight of Holy Family in the New Testament; where Mary, Joseph, and the Infant Jesus fled Israel after King Herod issued an edict to kill newborns in an attempt to eradicate the prophetic threat that Jesus posed to him. The archetype is alive and well today in mothers fleeing with their children from the violence of Guatemala or Honduras, and by crossing the Mexican border into the United States, they hope that their children will also be safe. Eliza and her son Harry are very real people today. The question is: do we welcome them or not after they cross our border?
Fred Mensch, The International Journal of the Humanities: Annual Review, Volume 13, Issue 1, pp.1–15
Li Qingben, The International Journal of the Humanities: Annual Review, Volume 11, Issue 1, pp.113–122
Tama Weisman, The International Journal of the Humanities: Annual Review, Volume 10, Issue 1, pp.1–13