Uncle Tom's Cabin

Reflections of Race and American Culture in the 'Tom Show'

In Martin Scorsese’s 2002 film Gangs of New York, the two main characters—Amsterdam Vallon (played by Leonardo DiCaprio) and Bill “the Butcher” Cutting (played by Daniel Day-Lewis)—attend a ‘Tom’ show (a stage adaptation of Uncle Tom’s Cabin) in New York City. In this scene, which depicts the end of the ‘Tom’ show, the deus ex machina in the form of Abraham Lincoln descends from the rafters to console the African-American characters (played by white actors in blackface). Lincoln’s presence is met with derision from the nativist audience members, who throw vegetables at the actor playing Lincoln and shout, “Down with the Union!” By staging this scene in a 2002 blockbuster film, Scorsese demonstrated that the ‘Tom’ show was a nearly universal experience in Civil War-era American life, pervading its culture and its politics during and even long after the Civil War. In addition, Scorsese visualized the multiple ways in which Stowe’s novel was adapted and appropriated for the stage, ultimately reflecting the racial, cultural and political tensions of the times.

It is first important to note that Stowe had mixed feelings about adaptations of her novel for the stage. Although she would eventually withdraw her objections, as an...

Join Now to View Premium Content

GradeSaver provides access to 741 study guide PDFs and quizzes, 4438 literature essays, 1449 sample college application essays, 183 lesson plans, and ad-free surfing in this premium content, “Members Only” section of the site! Membership includes a 10% discount on all editing orders.

Join Now

Already a member? Log in