Besides race, what are some representations of slaves and slavery that are not complicity with the dominant ideology of this time? Is this text commenting on social conditions rather than racial...

Besides race, what are some representations of slaves and slavery that are not complicity with the dominant ideology of this time? Is this text commenting on social conditions rather than racial ones? 

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Jamie Wheeler | College Teacher | eNotes Employee

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Although most people have now never heard of Dion Boucicault's play, in its time it was extremely popular and well known, second only to Harriet Beecher Stowe's antebellum novel Uncle Tom's Cabin

One of the centers of attention of this play that is not directly related to race is the attention given to the role theater plays in shaping politics. Additionally, another avenue of inquiry not directly racially-related are the tenets of Romanticism, especially in the way Romanticism valued intense emotion. The intense feelings here, of course, are those of horror and terror, emotions equally aesthetically important to Romanticism as the gentler emotions of awe and wonder. 

It's impossible to find any evidence from this play that is completely divorced from its overarching themes of race and/or slavery. The foundation, of course, is the ridiculous prejudices against anyone who has even "one drop" of African blood (a "quadroon" was a term for a person who is a quarter black; a octoroon goes even farther back genetically, "octoroon" means one-eighth black). Zoe grows up on the plantation Terrebonne (French for "Good Earth") believing herself to be white. However, when the plantation owner, Judge Peyton dies, his wife is forced to sell the land and its slaves. It is then Zoe learns the truth: although she is the daughter of the judge and one of his slaves, she is not a free woman, as she had thought, but legally a slave. 

This dilemma, of course, is political. But even more so is what happens when a white man, George (Mrs. Peyton's nephew) falls in love with Zoe. Although she appears to be white, because she has even "one drop" of black blood, legally they are not allowed to marry. George wants to take Zoe to another country; he know that the prejudice against miscegenation that exists in the United States is absent in Europe. Zoe, however, refuses to leave. 

Politics mesh with the Romantic horror aesthetic when the play's villain, Jacob McClosky, wants Zoe for himself. McClosky is responsible for the plantation's money woes, and he plans to sell the land and slaves, but intends to buy Zoe for himself. A series of horrific events eventually result in McClosky murdering a slave boy. And although George tries to outbid the evil McClosky, he fails. In a final act of tragedy, Zoe swallows poison and dies rather than submitting to a life with McClosky. 

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