Youma: The Story of a West-Indian Slave portrays slave life on the Caribbean island of Martinique in the 1840’s. In 1848, when the Republican government took power in France, rumors of emancipation and liberty for French colonial slaves swept across the island, creating fear and uncertainty among slave owners and desperate hope among the French slaves. Youma, a beautiful privileged young household slave, is caught in the fierce conflict when slaves and slave owners confront the issue.
Youma has grown up in the luxurious townhome of a wealthy merchant’s family. She has been the trusted childhood companion to Aimee, her owner’s daughter. In this position Youma is almost a daughter of the house, but also is clearly a slave. Her serious, intelligent mind, integrity of character, and beauty set her apart from other slaves but do not earn for her her freedom. She is compared in beauty, grace, and wisdom to the Queen of Sheba. When Aimee marries a wealthy plantation owner, Youma is sent to her young mistress as a nursemaid.
Upon Aimee’s sudden death, Youma promises to care for her young mistress’ infant daughter, Mayotte. As the substitute mother of Mayotte, Youma is admired by the household staff and earns the respectful title Manzell, or Miss. Life at the sugarcane plantation where Youma and Mayotte live is described as ideal, surrounded by the natural, lush beauty of the island coast. The air is full of the music of...
(The entire section is 452 words.)