Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 457
Brian Moore's novel is an examination of the culture clash between the French and the Native Americans in Canada in the early 1600s. The plot concerns a mission to transport the Jesuit priest Father Laforgue upriver to a Huron village as a replacement for an ailing priest already resident there. Among the French, the Jesuits have as their sole purpose the conversion of the Native Americans to Christianity.
The French, including the priests, view the Native Americans as "savages," and this is the term used for them throughout the narrative. Though the Algonquin are allies of the French, the manner in which they live is shocking to Laforgue—the communal habitations in which they sleep crowded together along with their dogs, the undisciplined way the children are allowed to act, the sexual freedom of the adults, and so on. The Algonquin, on the other hand, think the Europeans inferior both physically and mentally. The white man's inability to see that the animals and trees have intelligence and can communicate with humans is an example of this defect as the Native Americans view it.
The question is posed why many Europeans seem quite willing to adopt the ways of the indigenous people once they live among them. Laforgue's young assistant Daniel is in love with one of the Algonquin girls and comes to live with her, to Laforgue's dismay.
As the story develops, the central point seems to be the inability of each side to understand the other's way of life and belief systems. Just as the whites see the Native Americans' belief in a spirit world in nature as a childish superstition, the indigenous people view Christianity as nonsense. The baptismal rite and the prayers they hear the priests saying are a form of sorcery to them. But when a devastating illness has struck the Huron village, the Indian leaders have no way of knowing if the priest's ceremonies will help them or harm them. When the Huron decide in favor of baptism, Father Laforgue finds even as he begins carrying it out that his faith in his own religion has been shaken. The culture clash at the heart of the story has left him in a perpetual state of doubt, though he continues going through the motions of his religion.
Though we are not told what the specific epidemic is that affects the Hurons, it is well known that the indigenous people had no resistance to smallpox and other diseases the Europeans carried, and that this, even more than weapons, was what wiped out much of the Native American population. Moore's powerful story shows both a cultural and physical conquest in embryo, so to speak, at this early stage of contact between Europeans and indigenous Americans.
Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 393
BLACK ROBE was inspired by actual accounts of Jesuit priests working among the North American Indians in the 1600’s. The story’s central figure is Father Laforgue, who is chosen to replace an ailing priest heading a mission in a remote Indian village. Laforgue sets forth on a river journey in the company of an Algonkin tribe traveling to its winter hunting grounds. His assistant, Daniel, is young French boy who has volunteered to accompany the priest in order to remain near Annuka, the Indian girl he secretly loves. Unbeknown to Laforgue, Daniel plans to leave the priest and remain among the Indians when the two part company. As a dismayed Laforgue sees his young change rapidly adopting the customs of the Algonkin, his own safety is threatened when the tribal chief dreams that the priest’s presence is a danger to his people.
Although Laforgue and his journey provide the central thread for the novel’s narrative structure, Moore balances its point of view between the Jesuits, who refer to the Indians as “the Savages,” a term that...
(The entire section contains 3252 words.)
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