The Power of the Pen

American Literature

Miranda Alexander

C.S. Lewis once said: “You can make anything by writing”.  This is a sentiment that has compelled countless authors to carry on and complete their stories for ages.  We write to draw readers into our world, with the ever blazing hope that they may see things in a different light.  We pour our pains and passions onto paper, for we know the power of the pen is  unrivaled. 

Some of us use this potent power to construct castles and far away kingdoms, where magic is limitless.  Others feel an unshakable need to open the reader’s eyes to some abysmal truth; a grave issue that gnaws at our conscience.  So, with a heavy heart, we wield an iron pen and prepare for battle.   Harriet Beecher Stowe must have felt this very need when she crafted her prominent novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin.  Outraged by the passing of the Fugitive Slave Laws in 1850,  which prohibited any acts of protection toward runaway slaves; Stowe refused to keep silent.

With every stroke of her pen, she shattered the preposterous notion that seemed to govern the thoughts of many: ‘no need to be concerned with slavery’.  Provoked by distressing accounts of just how poorly slaves were treated by their masters, Stowe allowed rage to fuel her inspiration.  Uncle Tom’s Cabin introduces the reader to the cruel nature of slavery and the  detrimental impact it has on families. 

Though the novel is indeed a work of fiction, it is a far cry from unrealistic.  It was influenced by the prejudice and violence that scarred America in the 19th century.  Stowe not only created realistic circumstances in her novel, she also created fairly pragmatic characters as well.  As humans, we all have our own personal flaws engraved within us.  By giving her characters certain imperfect qualities, we are able to form various opinions about them.  As readers, we soon begin to connect with them on a deeper level.  We sympathize with a character’s suffering and are utterly destroyed when they are ripped away from the plot in a brutal manner.  

This is no accident, Stowe intended for readers to be overcome with anger and grief.  For if the tragic death of a fictional character moves us, we obviously cared for the fate of individual.  This is desired reaction Stowe had in mind when she put pen to paper.  She wanted to stir the emotions of many, in hopes that their shock would invoke a major change of thinking. Stowe’s story succeeded in rattling the nation’s view on slavery and served as a catalyst for the bloodiest American war; which resulted in the freeing of several slaves.  


  • I agree that Stowe does a good job of creating complex characters that have flaws as well as virtues. Why do you think Stowe made Eva with no flaws though? Is it so the reader feels the emotion more deeply at her death? Is it so there is a comparison for the rest of the characters?
    I love the picture you paint by talking about wielding the pen for the battle, and that you point out that what seems like just a regular old novel had the impact of bringing about a war that changed America and history. It is amazing to think about the impact words can have.

  • I agree with you that Stowe did a marvelous job of evoking a spirit of anger into the heart of the reader. Or, at least, that’s what she attempted to do. As we know, there were many people who opposed her work, to the point of writing their own works to “prove” how she was wrong. I guess that goes to show that no matter how hard you try or how much you use pathos, there will always be those Negative Nancys who try to prove you wrong, bring you down, or invalidate your work.

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