Study Guide

Black Robe

by Brian Moore

Black Robe Summary

Summary (Masterpieces of American Literature)

In a radical departure from earlier fictions, Moore situated this novel in the Quebec province of Canada in 1635, yet the novel features another portrait of a character struggling with a lonely passion. The novel centers on Father Laforgue, a young French Jesuit, who approaches missionary work among the “Savages” (the European name for the native inhabitants) of North America with overwhelming zeal.

As in the case of each of Moore’s historical novels, Laforgue is modeled after an actual figure, Father Noel Chabanel, though Laforgue becomes a vehicle for Moore to explore long-standing themes and concerns. Perhaps the most crucial of these is the theme of faith. In Laforgue, Moore paints a portrait of man whose life, his very being, is informed by a deep, ravishing faith in something beyond himself. In many of his novels, Moore examined the loss of faith, the sense of vacuousness that comes without any sense of deep and abiding belief. Laforgue is, in fact, so dedicated and convinced of his beliefs that he longs for martyrdom and the opportunity for self-sacrifice. Thus, the location of action in the seventeenth century allows for a revealing counterpoint to the contemporary period in which lives are largely lived without any larger system of belief.

This is not to suggest, however, that Moore’s dissatisfaction with the Catholic Church has suddenly vanished. Father Laforgue is so convinced of his spiritual rectitude that he stands in...

(The entire section is 466 words.)

Black Robe Summary (Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Brian Moore’s Black Robe is a historical novel that focuses not only on the Jesuits of the title but also on the Indians that they attempted to convert in the North America of the seventeenth century. Moore emphasizes the conflicts between these two very different cultures. As he states in the “Author’s Note”: “This novel is an attempt to show that each of these beliefs inspired in the other fear, hostility, and despair, which later would result in the destruction and abandonment of the Jesuit missions, and the conquest of the Huron people by the Iroquois, their deadliest enemy.” The novel, however, begins with the arrangements for Father Laforgue to set out on an arduous and dangerous journey to a remote Huron village to provide relief or aid to the sick or dead Jesuits there. Father Laforgue is inexperienced but eager to prove himself; he even looks forward to martyrdom on the journey. There is no doubt about his courage or his dedication; he is completely out of his element in the world of the Algonkin and Huron, however, and this dislocation challenges his most fervent beliefs and attitudes.

The picture the reader receives of the “Savages” on this journey is compelling. In contrast to the Jesuits, they are perfectly adapted to their environment. They see the land as alive, are guided by dreams, and live a communal life in which everything is shared. They despise the French, who hoard their goods rather than share them and have no respect for the land. The Indians also have a rich and bawdy language that contrasts sharply with the abstractions of the Jesuits. Father Laforgue is repelled by the Indian way of life, but his helper, Daniel Davost, is attracted to it and to a young Indian girl, Annuka. This attraction creates the first conflict of the novel. Laforgue sees him with the girl and fears for his soul, while the Algonkin believe that Daniel can never really be one of their group. Daniel must make a choice when the Algonkin decide to abandon Father Laforgue at the rapids, and he chooses the Algonkin over the Jesuits; this, however, complicates the problem the Algonkin have. If Daniel joins them, word will get out that they have abandoned the Jesuit. Thus, Chomina, their elder, argues for a compromise; he, his family, and Daniel will guide Laforgue to the...

(The entire section is 942 words.)