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Sender: Mark Twain Forum <[log in to unmask]>
Subject: Re: P.S.
From: Larry Howe <[log in to unmask]>
Date: Fri, 25 Mar 2005 11:04:03 -0600
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Reply-To: Mark Twain Forum <[log in to unmask]>
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I think the _Harper's_ essay you're referring to was by Jane Smiley, in
which she argued that _Uncle Tom's Cabin_ was the book we should
embrace over _HF_ because it showed greater humanity in its
representation of slavery.

In this estimation, Smiley is missing the historical point, ignoring
when these two texts were written and what their motivating concerns
were.  Twain's novel was written in 1885 and thus is not primarily
concerned with slavery, by then a moot point by virtue of the 13th,
14th, and 15th amendments in the aftermath of the Civil War.  But the
failure of Reconstruction encompasses the period of _HF_'s composition
from 1876-1884, and that tragedy--so deliciously ironized in the Phelps
farm sequence of _HF_ --is arguably the main political point of Twain's
novel, and of _PW_ as well.

Nonetheless, Smiley's essay is instructive because, in addition to
showing how ahistorical reading can mislead us, her interpretation
exemplifies the persistent pull of sentimentalism and the difficulty of
detecting irony even in our post-modern age.

Larry Howe