Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 391
Black Robe is a story of the clash between the culture of Europeans and that of Native Americans. The insight of the characters on both sides of the conflict increases as the story moves on. The indigenous people, though at this early point in the 1600's still independent and in fact contemptuous of the whites, recognize the weaknesses that are being imposed upon them, in the following discussion between two of the Algonkin leaders:
"I see that you are afraid of these wooden islanders," Neehatin said, smiling to negate the insult.
"I am not afraid," Chomina said. "But we have begun to need their trade. That is our undoing, and it will be our ending."
A main point throughout the novel is the irreconcilability of the religion of the whites with the beliefs of the Native peoples. Laforgue, the Jesuit priest, attempts to explain that to a Christian, earthly life is a world of "night" while the afterlife, heaven, is the opposite. Chomina replies:
".....Look around you. The sun, the forest, the animals. This is all we have. It is because you Normans are deaf and blind that you think this world is a world of darkness and the world of the dead is a world of light."
Toward the end of the story Laforgue has begun to doubt his own faith:
Is this the martyrdom, the glorious end I desired with all my heart and all my soul? Why have I ceased to pray? What error has come upon me so that, today, that eclipse of the sun seemed to me a phenomenon which, were I to believe in it as the hand of God, would leave me in the same murk of superstition as the Savages themselves?
The incomprehension of each group, whites and indigenous people, of the other's religion is a central theme. Yet for Laforgue and the other Jesuits, if they begin to lose their faith, there is no longer any rationale for the attempt to erase the Native culture or even for the contact with it that is Laforgue's mission. The above quote is a turning point in which Laforgue realizes or at least suspects that all the trials he has passed through could be for nothing, and that he and his countrymen have committed an enormous error in coming to America in the first place.