Reading the Apostrophe’s Absence: On Uncle Tom’s Cabin’s meetins

In UTC, the dialect form of meeting (sometimes plural meetings) is meetin’ (with apostrophe to signal dropped g in pronunciation) or meetin (with neither g nor apostrophe). What might the presence or absence of the apostrophe mean?

’t was as good as a meetin, now, really, to hear that critter pray; (Jewett 14-15)

we ’s goin’ to have the meetin’.”
Mose and Pete:
We wants to sit up to meetin’,—meetin’s is so curis.
(Jewett 48)

O, Lor, if it warn’t as good as a meetin’, now, to see him a dancin’ and kickin’ and swarin’ at us. (Jewett 77)

I know there ‘s differences in religion. Some kinds is mis’rable: there ‘s your meetin pious; there ‘s your singin, roarin pious; them ar an’t no account, in black or white; (Jewett 218)

Before we examine the Era, let us make a provisional observation on the basis of the Jewett text. Unlike for the African American slaves (Sam, Chloe, and Chloe’s children Mose and Pete), Stowe for Haley omits the final g in his speech without noting its absence with an apostrophe. The written signs for Haley’s spoken words mark his ignorance that a terminal g could be present in written form. Now, the Era:

’twas as good as a meetin now, really, to hear that crittur pray; (Era 89)

for we’s goin to have the meetin.” (Era 97)
Mose and Peet [sic]:
We wants to sit up to meetin—meetins is so curis. (Era 97)

Oh, Lor, if it warn’t as good as a meetin, now, to see him a dancin and kicken and swaring at us. (Era 105)

I know there’s differences in religion. Some kinds is mis’rable; there’s your meetin pious—there’s your singin, roarin pious—them ar aint no account, in black or white, (Era 145)

The newspaper text presents complications. Haley, like the African American slaves, elides the g. No printed sign (an apostrophe) marks the absence. Note also that during the preparation of the Jewett edition, it seems that the apostrophe as a sign of the dropped g was added to Sam’s verbs (dancin’ and kickin’ and swarin’) (77) but not added to Haley’s adjectives (singin, roarin). (218).

While reading the early installments of Stowe’s work in the Era I had the definite but vague impression that the distinction between dialects was more marked on a class basis than a racial basis. That is, the dialect that distinguishes upper and lower classes of characters is more marked than the dialect that distinguishes characters by their racial identification as Black and White.

Many readers have observed that Uncle Tom speaks a whole range of dialects. I think that his rise in class began with Stowe the author, over the course of the novel’s composition. When one contrasts Stowe’s newspaper version to the Jewett version, note that Tom in the book version has a Bible instead of the newspaper version’s half-Bible, the New Testament. Said another way, in the revised book text, Tom’s initial economic class membership to a higher than the more lowly class that he inhabits in the newspaper text. In both book and periodical version, Haley is marked by his language as less proper in language than even African American slaves.

So a question to consider is whether Tom’s biblical citations are limited to the New Testament before he arrives in the St. Clare household. Looks like it will be necessary to tag every scriptural quote.

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