Style and Technique
With its emphasis on setting and character development, “La Belle Zoraïde” is an excellent example of American regionalism. Chopin effectively employs a lush Louisiana setting to develop and reinforce the story’s theme.
As would be expected of the women of this time and place, Manna-Loulou and Madame Delise converse in Creole French, and Chopin describes their conversation as delightful and charming. Throughout the story, she intersperses phrases written in this dialect to demonstrate as well as accentuate the beauty of the language. This enchanting dimension of the story, though, is overshadowed by the other elements of the story’s setting emphasized by Chopin. It is, for example, the oppressive atmosphere of this sultry summer night on the bayou that reminds Manna-Loulou of the story of the illicit passions of the ill-fated lovers, Zoraïde and Mézor. As Manna-Loulou begins her tale, the deep dark bayou rolls by outside Madame Delise’s bedroom window, and the dark sky and still air foreshadow the story’s unhappy ending.
Chopin’s characters in “La Belle Zoraïde” exhibt those traits often associated with the story’s locale. The white women in the story, Madame Delise and Madame Delarivière, are both depicted as beautiful and delicately cultivated. Their elegant manners and genteel background are also highlighted. Both are also attended by docile, eager-to-please female slaves. However, while these women are important to the story, it is their relationships with their slaves that is most relevant to the story’s meaning. Although Madame Delise and Madame Delarivière appear to empathize with the black women who serve them, they do not truly nor fully feel compassion for them. For their part, the slaves are portrayed rather enigmatically. Although much of their outward appearance and many of their actions reflect a desire and willingness to conform to their mistresses’ wishes, their docility masks their emotional complexity. Thus Chopin’s portrayal of these characters undermines and challenges the stereotypes so prevalent in the American fiction written at this time. In Zoraïde and Manna-Loulou, the readers are allowed to see the humanity of characters who are so often overlooked or ignored by other writers. That the story “La Belle Zoraïde” is actually told from a slave woman’s perspective further encourages readers to sympathize with both Manna-Loulou and Zoraïde and the roles they are forced to play in their society.