Deeper into Jeopardy! III: What a literary character! – $200

Well, we’ve covered one category of military history and another of modern presidential politics, both “important men” categories. That’s not all of history, nor all of politics, nor all of what Jeopardy! asks about, so this week we’ll be looking at a more literary category. In the coming weeks we’ll work on some science, some pop culture, some art, some geography, and more, so stay tuned.

Jeopardy! category: WHAT A LITERARY CHARACTER! (27-01-2014)

$200 clue: Simon LeGree is a brutal slave driver in this 19th century work

Correct response (highlight to see): UNCLE TOM’S CABIN

The gist: Uncle Tom’s Cabin (highlight to see that, too) mightbe the most-asked about work that I know next to nothing about. Something about slavery, right? Right. Anyway, let’s change that, shall we? Harriet Beecher Stowe’s 1852 abolitionist novel was an instant best-seller, moving over a million copies worldwide within a year of its publication (in 1852, a huge deal). Although it’s often seen as an encapsulation of paternalistic racism in the modern day, it had an enormous impact on the antebellum United States, the abolitionist movement, and attitudes toward slavery in general.* Much more than just “something about slavery” as I sardonically put it, though, the book also explores the themes of liberty, loyalty, Christianity and spirituality, feminism, compassion, forgiveness, and many others.

Simon LeGree was the titular Tom’s third owner in the course of the novel, after being sold by the Shelbys in Kentucky and purchased by the St. Clares of New Orleans. Marie St. Clare breaks her dead husband’s promise to not sell Tom (Tom had saved their daughter Eva  from drowning before he was purchased, but Eva had subsequently died). Both the Shelbys and St. Clares had treated Tom well, but LeGree was well-known as a cruel slavedriver. His treatment continually tests Tom’s deep-held faith in God; he is beaten mercilessly when he refuses to whip a fellow slave, and LeGree, a Satan figure if there ever was one, resolves to break his faith, and nearly succeeds in doing so before Tom experiences two visions, one of Jesus and one of Eva, the Shelby’s daughter whom he had saved and befriended, that restore his resolve. He helps Cassy and Emmeline, whom LeGree had kept as sex slaves, escape to Canada, and LeGree beats Tom to death when he refuses to say where they had gone. George Shelby, Tom’s first owner, tragically arrives too late to save Tom by purchasing him back – we may be meant to take solace in the fact that Tom had stayed in God’s grace, and his Passion-like quiet defiance in the face of destruction is a symbol for the unshakeable Christian love that Stowe believed was a precursor to the abolition of slavery. LeGree may not meet a satisfying fate by the end of the novel, but Tom’s death has symbolically destroyed the institution that LeGree stands for.

LeGree with his hounds searching for the runaways Cassy and Emmeline on the cover of a comic book adaptation of the novel

The clue: Several of hints in this one, although LeGree is well-known enough that many players probably don’t need any more than his name. Of course, as we discussed, Uncle Tom’s Cabin is probably the most important and influential novel involving brutal slave drivers of all time, let alone of the 19th century, so that’s a good guess. Definitely not a clue that’s out to trick you – the only pitfall I can think of (although there are probably more) would be The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, which is also from the 19th century (1884), but if the show asks about Huck and slavery it nearly always also mentions Jim, that book’s escaped slave character.

In Jeopardy!: A search of “Uncle Tom,” either as the character or as part of the novel’s title, returns 76 regular clues and five Final Jeopardy! clues, with 70 and two having to do with the book itself, respectively (two of them have to do with a different literary Tom, Henry Fielding’s 1749 The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling, whose founder turns out to be his uncle). Those are big numbers, befitting such an important (and American) book. Most often the correct response is either “Harriett Beecher Stowe” or “Uncle Tom’s Cabin;” a few relate to Stowe’s biography and some connect the novel to other books. LeGree shows up in 19 regular clues himself, more often that not without mention of the book. He often shows up along with words like “slavemaster”or “slave owner,” often with Stowe (or looking for Stowe as the response), and often with a year between 1851 (when Stowe began writing the novel) and 1854 (when it was published in full, after two years of serialization). The novel is definitely one of the more important ones for Jeopardy!, and LeGree is a relatively important character to be able to identify as well.

* But beware of those quoting Lincoln as having said of Stowe, “So, this is the little lady who started this great war.” That quote is almost certainly apocryphal.

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