For most of the twentieth century, Uncle Tom’s Cabin was not considered an American literary classic. Because it is openly sentimental (that is, designed to appeal to the emotions) and lacks the formal complexity that is usually associated with literary merit, critics largely dismissed the novel as “propaganda” or “melodrama.” But reassessment from feminist scholars has changed the novel’s place in the American canon. For this reason, Uncle Tom’s Cabin is a great starting point for a discussion of literary values and the way the texts we read in college classes are selected and evaluated. In your opinion (and based on your previous experiences as a student and reader) consider what constitutes a “classic” or a “masterpiece.” What values underwrite these judgments? How and why have our standards for the canon changed over time? Use specific examples in your response.
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