Kamouraska explores the institution of marriage, women’s limited opportunities, and questions of personal responsibility in nineteenth-century Canada. The main female character, Elisabeth, is a convicted killer. However, the reader also considers the complexities of Elisabeth’s situation and the reasons she came to believe that killing her husband, Antoine Tassy, was the only way to escape an abusive marriage.
Elisabeth manipulates not only Aurélie, her maid, but also a respected physician to help her carry out the plan, but it is ultimately the doctor, George Nelson, who shoots and kills Tassy. George, who is American, escapes prosecution by fleeing to the United States. Elisabeth and her maid are tried and convicted for their roles in the murder, but evidence about Tassy’s abuse sways public opinion toward leniency, and Elisabeth serves only two months.
A completely different side of marriage is shown in Elisabeth’s life after she is released. She marries Jérôme Rolland, and together they have eight children. Jérôme’s goodness helps provide a stable marriage and offers a marked contrast to Tassy’s abuses. Nevertheless, Elisabeth continues to wonder what life would have been like with Nelson, the only man she truly loved, had he not prioritized self-preservation and abandoned her. Her reflections offer a contrast between security, which she learned was possible in marriage, and passion.