Rutherford Calhoun, the narrator of the novel, is an engaging and likable guide to the action despite his propensity for amoral (and sometimes immoral) behavior. For example, Rutherford leaves New Orleans solely to escape any kind of commitment to Isadora—a woman who clearly cares deeply for him—and yet he explains away his behavior humorously and with enough self-deprecation to keep the reader from judging him too harshly. The same holds true for Rutherford’s numerous questionable actions—thieving, stowing away on a ship he knows to be a slaver, informing on his shipmates, and so on. Curiously, Rutherford has received a broad and liberal education from his former owner, a minister who had Rutherford read from the classics of Western philosophy. As a narrator, Rutherford employs this learning in numerous allusions that range from the Greek philosopher Parmenides to the Christian theologian Thomas Aquinas to the English poet Lord Byron. Similarly, Rutherford draws upon a vast and unusual vocabulary; it is clear that he has not been reared as a common slave. Despite this education, Rutherford is unable to make routine moral choices, and he continues to act purely out of self-interest until he meets the Allmuseri and learns something about their distinctly non-Western philosophy. Toward the end of the narrative, Rutherford has matured significantly, though the story ends before it is certain whether these changes are profound enough to last.
(The entire section is 580 words.)