Themes

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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 253

George Washington Cable's historical novel is a critique of French Creole society after the Louisiana Purchase. The character of Joseph Frowenfeld, who is from Germany, is an abolitionist who provides an outsider's views of the stratified French Creole society in which one drop of African blood separates people who are closely related (see the source from Literary New Orleans below). By giving Honoré Grandissime, a wealthy French Creole, the same name as his biracial half-brother, the author emphasizes their close connections and the irony of the racial caste system that keeps them apart. The author makes the biracial characters as polite and well mannered as the white characters, again creating a sense of irony that these characters are treated differently than whites. The characters with African blood are every bit as cultured and well mannered, if not more so, than the white characters, so the system that degrades them is clearly flawed and hypocritical (see the source below).

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The author also creates racist characters, such as Agricola Fusilier, who defend Creole customs. This character is not portrayed as gallant or charming, as southern gentlemen often were in literature of this time, but instead as evil. He is unwilling to relinquish slave-holding, which he believes has allowed his caste to dominate. At the end of the novel, he helps to capture and lynch the escaping slave Bras Coupé, and the author portrays the bloodthirstiness of the French Creole aristocracy. Wedded to tradition, they are unwilling to progress or acknowledge the hypocrisy of their class.

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