Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 546
On a warm and humid summer evening on the Bayou St. John in Louisiana, Manna-Loulou, a slave of Madame Delise, recalls the refrain of a Creole love song. The song reminds Manna-Loulou of the story of Zoraïde, and she decides that instead of making up a bedtime story for her mistress this evening, she will instead tell her this true tragic tale. Manna-Loulou then recounts the story of beautiful Zoraïde to her mistress in Creole patois.
Manna-Loulou’s story beings with a description of the lovely Zoraïde, who is a Creole beauty with light skin and a slim graceful figure. She is the slave and goddaughter of Madame Delarivière. It is Madame Delarivière’s desire that Zoraïde marry a mulatto, Monsieur Ambroise, who belongs to Dr. Langlè. Dr. Langlè is a friend and admirer of Madame Delarivière. However, Zoraïde despises the ugly Monsieur Ambroise, whom she describes as cruel and false. She cleverly contrives to avoid this match so often suggested by her mistress by claiming she is not yet ready to marry anyone. Madame Delarivière accepts this excuse because she does not really want to part with her dear Zoraïde, despite her insistence that this marriage take place.
Zoraïde eventually does fall in love but not with Monsieur Ambroise. Instead she loses her heart to Mézor. The first time she sees Mézor, he is dancing the Bamboula, a sensual Creole dance. The captivating dark-skinned Mézor is a field hand who also belongs to Dr. Langlè. When Madame Delarivière learns Zoraïde is in love with and intends to marry Mézor, she becomes distraught. She thinks Mézor is an unworthy match for her beloved goddaughter, so she demands that Zoraïde never speak to Mézor again. Zoraïde and Mézor, however, continue to see each other, and soon Zoraïde becomes pregnant. When she confesses this to Madame Delarivière, the white woman becomes very angry and persuades Dr. Langlè to sell Mézor to a plantation far away.
Devastated to be separated from her beloved Mézor, Zoraïde is comforted somewhat by knowing that she will soon have a baby to love and cherish. However, after Zoraïde gives birth, Madame Delarivière arranges for the baby to be sent away. When Zoraïde asks for her baby, she is told the child is dead.
Zoraïde never recovers from this cruel blow, and after a few years of continual anguish, she lapses into madness. She begins to clutch and carry with her a bundle of rags, the size and shape of a baby, convinced that this is her child. None of Madame Delarivière’s attempts to persuade Zoraïde to part with this rag bundle is successful. Finally, desperate to restore her favored goddaughter to sanity, Madame Delarivière sends for Zoraïde’s child, who is by now a toddler. Fearing a trick, Zoraïde rejects the child and lives the rest of her long life devoted to the rag bundle and forever tormented by her loss.
When Manna-Loulou finishes her story, Madame Delise makes only one comment. She says, rather sleepily, that she feels most sorry for Zoraïde’s child.
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