Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

The major theme of the novel is the contrast and conflict of the otherworldly and abstract culture of the Black Robes to the earthbound and immediate world of the Indians. One can see the differences in the attitude of Father Laforgue to martyrdom and the emphasis given to the Christian afterlife of paradise with Chomina’s description of his world: “Look around you. The sun, the forest, the animals. This is all we have.... The world is a cruel place but it is the sunlight. And I grieve now, for I am leaving it.” The gulf is absolute. One view speaks of the joys of the afterlife while the other celebrates this world in all of its sensory detail.

The second theme is a historical one. There are many references to the extinction or subjugation of the Indians, so their fate takes on an aura of inevitability. In addition, the curious method of colonization of Canada by the French is contrasted with that of the British and Dutch. It is as if the future of Canada is being enacted for the reader, and the Indians and the French are doomed to play the role of minorities in the country they once shared.