In Catherine Carmier, the arrival in a small rural community in southern Louisiana of two outsiders—two natives who have been away—threatens the tentative equilibrium that has been established within the community. Whether that equilibrium can ever be reestablished, and whether it should be, are questions that the novel explores.
Jackson Bradley has come home after being graduated from college in California. His aunt, Charlotte, believes he has come home to stay, that he will settle down to teaching in the community, and that he will probably marry Mary Louise, whose love for him has never faltered during his absence. Although he is not sure where he does belong, Jackson realizes that this backwater community can no longer satisfy his needs. As far as he is concerned, he has returned for a visit of only a few weeks.
Lillian Carmier arrives on the same day as Jackson. She is welcomed by her sister, Catherine. When Catherine and Jackson encounter each other, it is clear to Lillian that there is something between these two.
The Carmiers’ skin is so light that they could easily pass for white, and Lillian, who has been reared by relatives of her father in New Orleans and who therefore has no strong ties either to the community or to her parents, has decided to do just that, a long way from Louisiana. Catherine has no such intention, and she tries to encourage a greater closeness between Lillian and Della, their mother. Their father Raoul’s insistence that they have nothing to do with dark-skinned men, however, has left Catherine in a position of emotional isolation.
Her father cannot so easily dictate Catherine’s feelings. In fact, she has had a son, but Raoul drove the dark-skinned father away before he could marry her. She has also loved Jackson, whose skin color makes him just as unacceptable....
(The entire section is 759 words.)