In 1952 publisher Dodd, Mead and Company invited African American writer and intellectual Langston Hughes to create an introduction, select illustrations, and prepare discursive captions for a new edition of Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin. The mid-twentieth century was a complex moment in the cultural reception of the novel, characterized both by public demand for new incarnations of the story and by protests against the book and the performances it inspired. Hughes, who had a long-standing relationship with the story, accepted the invitation and produced an unusual project that reflects the story's ambivalent cultural status, celebrating the novel even while unraveling its narrative threads. While Hughes's introduction to the 1952 edition is often cited by scholars, there has been little sustained consideration of the multiple layers of critical interpretation evident throughout the rest of the book. In fact, while Hughes takes Stowe's novel as a point of departure, the work done by his choice of images, their captions, and their placement in the text is the real story. This essay elucidates some of the deeply complex strategies Hughes employed in order to elicit multiple, sometimes contradictory, stories from Stowe's text and analyzes the effects they create for readers. The essay argues that Hughes used critical and creative tools in ways unique to this project to strategically disrupt readers' suspension of disbelief and thereby provoke a more critical, more culturally and historically inflected understanding of the story.
Rebecca Peabody; Strategies of Visual Intervention: Langston Hughes and Uncle Tom's Cabin. Comparative Literature 1 June 2012; 64 (2): 169–191. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00104124-1590128
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