Themes and Meanings

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

“Murderous love. Treacherous love. Deadly love. Love. Love. The only living thing in the world. The madness of love.” In the first pages, Elisabeth states one of the overriding themes of her life, as her search for a sentimentality found in girlish stories and sexual gratification can only be destructive to her and to George and Antoine. Despite an unblemished, though loveless, second marriage, she realizes the dark truths at the center of her story: Blighted love is a form of bondage, death provides a terrible freedom, and murder injures the survivors and culprit as well as the victim.

Kamouraska also points out the tragic aspects of one woman’s rebellion against her traditionally subjugated role in society and her victimization in a harsh land. Dissatisfied with the standards of behavior imposed by her widowed mother and maiden aunts, unable to compete against men, and yet questing for an identity and a virtue that would affirm her presence in the world, she can only use her beauty and virginity as bartering chips in her struggle between the subterranean world of her femininity and the world of daily existence.

In addition, fate in its various representations is another ruling force that afffects the central characters, female and male. They believe that they are haunted by an ancient curse; they think that they have inherited from Adam a nature so sinful that there is no hope for them. Elisabeth is driven by a sexual frenzy she cannot control; the self-destructive Tassy, a product of his physical and family environment, must find rest in death, either by suicide or murder; George is a cursed alien who is forever destined to remain an outsider.

A mostly unchanging nature testifies further to this sense of fatalism; the impersonal, perhaps infernal, power of the natural world adds to the depiction of doomed relationships as well. In the end, for Hébert, the protagonists’ haunting sense of guilt, unrelieved by expiation, sullies and destroys them.