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Following the Civil War, various versions of Uncle Tom’s Cabin cast black actors in the role of Uncle Tom or employed them as extras in the “double mammoth” productions that took to the highways and byways of rural America. Closely resembling their lowbrow siblings the circus and the revival meeting—including a lavish parade that heralded their arrival in town and big-top tent settings during the summer months—the traveling Tom show trafficked in the evermore outsized and over-produced; African American actors and musicians built up the ranks of these traveling troupes—dozens in the parade marching bands and sometimes hundreds in the production numbers that enlivened each outdoor scene in the play. Ironically, this mass inclusion of African American performers into American theater history came at the expense of whatever historical accuracy and political integrity the original dramatizations once sought after: even the play’s most lugubrious moments, including the sale of Tom at auction and his arrival at the plantation of dreadful Simon Legree, were kicked off with rousing song-and-dance routines by a large body of more or less choreographed black actors. The play’s more and more prominent backdrop of happy slaves conflicted disorientingly with the tragic violence that remained an emotional staple at other points in the production; only during the death of Little Eva, when distraught slaves crowded the stage behind her deathbed in reverent silence, did the mood coincide with the business at hand, though again it perpetuated the notion—embodied always most forcefully by Tom himself—that white lives and deaths mattered more to nineteenth-century African Americans than their own ever could.
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———. Margaret Fleming. 1890. Nineteenth Century American Plays: Seven Plays Including The Black Crook. Ed. Myron Matlaw. New York: Applause, 1967, 2001. 455–510.
Ibsen, Henrik. A Doll’s House. 1879. The Works of Henrik Ibsen, Vol. 2. Trans. William Archer. Boston: Scribner’s/Jefferson Press, 1911. 22–191.
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