Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 726
Last Island. Fashionable resort in the Gulf of Mexico that is devastated by the hurricane that kills Chita’s natural mother and leaves her adrift in the sea. Filled with well-to-do vacationers from New Orleans, the island has a hotel whose guests enjoy the beach, bathe in warm salt water, relish fine food and drink, dance to the music of well-paid orchestras, and flirt with one another pleasurably. Over pearly dawns and flaming wine-red sunsets is the comforting sky, sometimes divinely blue, often mysteriously luminous or sprinkled with stars. When the storm begins to lash the island, the wind is like a breath, then it howls with sand-filled fury. Water suddenly creeps over the polished dance floor. Lightning crackles. The sea heaves monstrously. In a flash, cottages and native dwellings, and the gorgeous hotel are scoured from the land. Trees and numberless bodies are scattered for a hundred miles along the coasts of the devouring sea.
*Gulf of Mexico
*Gulf of Mexico. Sea off the coast of Louisiana that is a combination of life and death, of beauty and horror. “If thou wouldst learn to pray, go to the sea,” readers are advised. Feliu Viosca, Chita’s foster father, says that the “world is like the sea: those who do not know how to swim in it are drowned.” Those who venture too far into the sea find its water turning colder and may be clutched and drawn in by treacherous undercurrents. However, when Feliu swims through dangerous breakers and rescues Chita, who is floating on a billiard table far from shore and still tied to her dead mother by a scarf, the ocean “lifts up its million hands, and thunders as if in acclaim.”
The gulf’s coastal environment contains both delights and horrors. As Chita grows up, she loves the sun’s splendor and the often-haloed moon, the greens and blues of the sea and the sky transparent or filled with lamplike stars, the fresh and bracing air, the shrieking sea birds, the brown bare-footed fishermen, the quietly busy women. However, the sounds of stormy seas fill her sleep with nightmares of being overwhelmed by mountainous waves. One day she wanders into a swamp behind a grove, encounters insects, weeds, crawfish, worms, and suddenly a sailor’s dilapidated makeshift grave. His grinning skull is exposed, and a huge toad puffs nearby. When Chita wonders if her deceased mother looks hideous too, Carmen reassures her that her mother remains beautiful and is in the cloudless sky with God.
Viosca’s Point. Location of the Vioscas’ home, a rude but clean and comfortable cottage. Inside and nearby is gear for fishing, at which Feliu is so expert that he has two vigorous young assistants. Carmen’s most precious possession is her shrine to the Virgin. Its central feature is a waxen image of Mother and Child—a Señora de Guadalupe figure that Feliu brought her from Mexico. In her prayer-book is an illustration, with heavenly lamp, kneeling angels, and caption beseeching protection from “las Tempestades.” Carmen often dreams of the dead daughter, Conchita, whom she has left behind in Spain. During the night of the storm she dreams that the Virgin stoops and gives her the Child; its Indian-brown face turns white, and Carmen seems to smell Spanish olive groves.
*New Orleans. Louisiana’s grand city at the mouth of the Mississippi River is crowded by walls that block Nature, ever young and beautiful, from the view of its harried citizens. These unfortunates are furious, brutal, sick, and bitter, victims of “the more or less factitious life of society.” If Chita were back there, she would have to strain “her pretty eyes, for many long hours at a time, over grimy desks in gloomy school-rooms.”
*Barcelona. Spanish city in which Feliu and Carmen’s natural daughter, Conchita, is buried. Initially, Feliu hopes that Chita’s natural father will be found and give him a large reward that will allow Carmen to go back to Barcelona to visit Conchita’s grave. However, he and Carmen eventually come to love Chita as their own. After eleven years pass, Chita’s father, a New Orleans physician, recognizes her when he goes to Viosca’s Point to tend a fever patient; however, he himself dies almost immediately in a feverish delirium.
Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 241
Bisland, Elizabeth. The Life and Letters of Lafcadio Hearn. 2 vols. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1906. Includes letters by Hearn to friends, including Bisland herself, clarifying the insights leading to Chita and his artistic intentions in writing the novel.
Colt, Jonathan. Wandering Ghost: The Odyssey of Lafcadio Hearn. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1991. Informal biographical reader, combining an affectionate account of Hearn’s career and generous selections from his works. Comments that, although Hearn depicts the characters in Chita with overdone sentimentality, his poetic prose imitates hypnotic tides and waves and conveys an impressionistic sense of the sea’s eternal mystery.
Kunst, Arthur E. Lafcadio Hearn. New York: Twayne, 1969. Solid introductory critical biography. Includes treatment of Chita in detailed summary with many quotations. Relates Hearn’s poetic prose to structural elements of music.
Stevenson, Elizabeth. Lafcadio Hearn. New York: Macmillan, 1961. Thorough, beautifully written biography. Discusses Chita as a story of solitude, the sea, and loneliness, with its three parts moving from the sea as destroyer to the sea as deceptively calm to a finale of human loss.
Turner, Arlin. Introduction to Chita: A Memory of Last Island. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1969. Relates Chita to events in Hearn’s professional life, accounts for his being influenced by Pierre Loti and Théophile Gautier, and discusses Hearn’s handling of sources for details in Chita, particularly the August, 1856, Last Island storm. Reprints two of Hearn’s stories that are preliminary studies for Chita.
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