Uncle Tom

Last updated: 10/23/2020 | 204 views | Report error

Meaning


What does Uncle Tom mean?

The term Uncle Tom – sometimes shortened to just a Tom comes from the 1852 novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, written by the famous American author Harriet Beecher Stowe.

In the novel the title character is Uncle Tom, who was seen as a ground-breaking humanistic portrayal of a slave at the time, one who represents nonresistance and gives his life to protect many other slaves who managed to escape.

The novel led to the use of “Uncle Tom” as a derogatory term for a person who is extremely subservient.

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Origin of the term

As a derogatory epithet, it was only recorded in 1920-25. Even though the novel became a revolutionary novel by 1853, the term as it is known now, was firstly used in the 1920s.

A specific inspiration for the novel was the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, which stated that if people refuse to return people who escaped from slavery, will face heavy fines.

Another great and well-known example for one of Stowe’s inspirations was the autobiography of an ex-slave, Josiah Henson.

Spread of the term

The novel was and still is a very influential work of art and commercially successful. It was published as a serial from 1851 to 1852 and as a book from 1852 onward.

An estimated 500,000 copies were sold internationally by 1853, including the unauthorized reprints of the novel.

The term has additionally been implemented in psychology within side the form “Uncle Tom syndrome”, a term for the usage of subservience, appeasement and passivity to deal with intimidation and threats.

Further information/sources

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