The characters in the novel participate in and contribute to a historical process. They are divided into two groups, one supporting European culture, the other African. Although there is no protagonist in the traditional sense, Ti Noël comes closest to fulfilling that role, if only because the novel opens and closes with his presence and spans his life. A Haitian-born slave, Ti Noël has no direct ties with mother Africa, but he learns about voodoo from Mackandal. From this perspective, the novel is not only a description of history but of Ti Noël’s development as a major rebel figure.
After Bouckman’s rebellion and the extermination of blacks, Monsieur Lenormand de Mezy rescues Ti Noël and a few other slaves and, as did many Frenchmen in history, escapes to Cuba. While the exiled Frenchmen preserve and promote their own European culture, Ti Noël realizes that voodoo has a common ground with African religions in Cuba. Eventually, he buys his freedom and returns to Haiti, only to discover that the former master chef, Christophe, who had joined the colonial forces, is now the ruler of the Plain du Nord. Christophe lives like a white ruler, constructing the palace of Sans Souci, modeled after Versailles, and the fortress of the Citadel, which Ti Noël and others are forced to build.
Unlike Mackandal, Bouckman, and Ti Noël, Christophe and Soliman abandon their African origin and accept European culture. They uphold values best represented by the sensual Pauline Bonaparte; Soliman, who becomes Pauline Bonaparte’s masseur and religious adviser, serves as a link between Pauline and Christophe. When the plague claims Leclerc’s life, Pauline survives her husband by accepting voodoo. Once Pauline returns to France, however, Soliman, who has been contaminated by white culture, works for Christophe, and upon the ruler’s death, Soliman accompanies Christophe’s wife and daughters to Rome, claiming to be his nephew. The African gods punish both Christophe and Soliman for rejecting their religion and destiny; both meet with tragic deaths.