Creole and Acadian Identities in Literature

Creole and Acadian Identities in Literature Analysis

Historical Background (Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

Historically, Louisiana has enjoyed a rich cultural and literary heritage. Motivated by the threat of assimilation, the people of Louisiana, most notably the Creoles and Acadians, held fast to their French and Spanish roots. In so doing, they developed unique cultural, linguistic, culinary, and religious patterns that gave them strong definition in a country that was becoming increasingly homogeneous.

There has always been an impulse to group the Acadians and Creoles together, but it is necessary to distinguish between the two societies. Finding it difficult to make a productive living in France, the Acadians, an agrarian community, immigrated to what is now known as Nova Scotia, Canada, in the early seventeenth century. Primarily a peasant class, the Acadians found little comfort in their new land, as it was mercilessly cold. Geographic isolation forced this small band of French pioneers to work together in order to survive, fostering in them a strong sense of kinship. When the English (who were in constant conflict with France), suspicious of the French heritage of the Acadians, insisted they assimilate into English society, the result was a sense of Acadian national identity that outlasted the numerous assaults upon Acadian culture. After repeated skirmishes with the British, the Acadians were expelled from Nova Scotia. One literary version of the Acadian experience is American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s long narrative poem Evangeline: A Tale of Acadie (1847).

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Creole and Acadian Identities in Literature Literary Concerns (Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

One of the most important tasks in defining identity is recognizing Creoles and Acadians as distinct groups. One should avoid the temptation to consider all Louisiana francophone societies as one. Much Creole and Acadian history is contained in oral tradition, and most recently, historians and writers alike are recognizing the importance of Creole and Acadian narratives, transcribing them and publishing collections. Although there are still an enormous number of stories to hear, much work has been done already, and several good editions have emerged.

The emphasis on protecting the Acadian and Creole experiences from extinction flourished during the Civil War, for it was during this time that the Southern identity in general became most vulnerable. One of the most important writers to take up the challenge of preserving the Creole and Acadian way of life during this time was George Washington Cable. Born and reared in New Orleans, Cable realized the rich material his world presented and wrote stories reflecting the customs and language of the Creole and Acadian people. Placing emphasis on accuracy, Cable amassed a tremendous amount of historical data (and learned French), which he carefully incorporated into his literature. The beauty and seriousness of his work forced the literary community to take notice of these societies, and a new area of study was born. His works include Old Creole Days (1879), a collection of stories, and The Grandissimes (1880).

Noted Southern author Kate Chopin relied heavily on local color for her sensitive depictions of Creole and Acadian women. The popularity of her fiction, originally published in the late nineteenth century, epitomizes the interest the literary world has taken in literature by and about Creoles and Acadians. Her works featuring Creole and Acadian characters include A Night in Acadie (1897) and The Awakening (1899).

Creole and Acadian Identities in Literature Bibliography (Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

Suggested Readings

Brasseaux, Carl A. The Founding of New Acadia: The Beginnings of Acadian Life in Louisiana, 1765-1803. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1987.

Brown, Dorothy H., and Barbara C. Ewell, eds. Louisiana Women Writers: New Essays and a Comprehensive Bibliography. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1992.

Cable, George W. Creoles and Cajuns: Stories of Old Louisiana, by George W. Cable. Edited by Arlin Turner. Gloucester, Mass.: P. Smith, 1965.

Saucier, Corrine L., trans. Folk Tales from French Louisiana. New York: Exposition Press, 1962.

Turner, Arlin, ed. Critical Essays on George W. Cable. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1980.

Woods, Frances J. Marginality and Identity: A Colored Creole Family Through Ten Generations. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1972.