Date of Award




Document Type

Master's Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


Department of English

Content Description

1 online resource (iii, 55 pages)

Dissertation/Thesis Chair

Richard Barney

Committee Members

Erica Fretwell


Abolitionism, Colonialism, Idealism, Liberalism, Materialism, Sentimentalism, Slavery in literature, Sentimentalism in literature

Subject Categories

Aesthetics | American Literature | English Language and Literature


Sentimentalism was a popular aesthetic, moral, political, and literary movement in the 18th and 19th centuries in the United States and England, and both Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852) and John Thelwall’s The Daughter of Adoption (1801) use sentimentalism in their attempts to advocate for the abolition of slavery. Scholars such as Lauren Berlant critique sentimentalism, specifically Stowe’s use of sentimentalism, for its potential to make structural problems appear as if they can be assuaged by personal change, and I situate this understanding of sentimentalism within an idealist framework, or a framework that primarily emphasizes subjectivity’s role in abolition. I contrast the idealism of Stowe’s sentimentalism with the materialism of Thelwall’s sentimentalism, which primarily emphasizes the need to dismantle or, at the very least, to reform the structures that produce and maintain the institution of slavery. However, neither novel functions in an exclusively idealist or materialist framework, and, in this thesis, I explore what possibilities each combination of idealism and materialism both opens up and forecloses.