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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 394

Dionysius Lardner Boursiquot's play The Octoroon concerns the residents of a plantation in Louisiana called Terrebonne, including the slaves that work on it. The play therefore contributed to the major debate of its time: the abolition of slavery.

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George Peyton, the owner of the plantation, falls in love with his uncle's daughter, Zoe, whose mother is a slave. Zoe is, obviously, biracial, and the title "The Octoroon" therefore refers to her. An octoroon is defined as somebody who is 1/8th black. Although Zoe is technically a freed woman, interracial marriage was still taboo at the time, and she and George face a lot of obstacles to their romance.

Throughout the play, Zoe is treated by most other characters as if she isn't human enough to deserve agency or to have individuality attributed to her. George's scorned lover, Dora Sunnyside, tries to get Zoe to help her prospects with George, not even entertaining the possibility that George might be interested in Zoe instead. Jacob McClosky, the main antagonist, desires Zoe himself and threatens to sell her like a literal object if she refuses his propositioning. He would then buy her himself and make her his mistress. Zoe is therefore treated as though she has no mind of her own and no right to make her own decisions.

However, although she is denied her agency, that does not mean that Zoe does not inherently possess it. She turns down George's proposal at first, albeit because interracial marriage was illegal at the time. Even when George offers to marry her in a different country with different laws, she insists on staying in on in Terrebonne in order to help however she can with its grim future, as it had fallen into financial ruin.

Interestingly, the play has two different endings. In the British version, the lovers are able to be together, and even get married. In the American version, however, after Zoe is almost sold into slavery, she kills herself by drinking poison and dies in George's arms. This was done in order to prevent portraying an interracial marriage in American theaters.

After Zoe has been treated as a possession throughout the play, even being referred to as merely "The Octoroon" in the title as though her race defines her, her fate is ultimately dependent upon the racial conditions of the place it is being enacted in.

The Play

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 714

The Octoroon is a drama of plantation life and miscegenation in antebellum America, written by an Irishman who visited the South. As act 1 begins, the selling of Terrebonne Plantation, the Peyton estate, is imminent. Various liens have been placed on the property, and the most substantial is the one held by Jacob M’Closky, Terrebonne’s former overseer. He tricked the late Judge Peyton into mortgaging one thousand acres, the plantation’s richest half, to him. After the judge’s death, Salem Scudder, who replaced M’Closky as overseer, plummeted Terrebonne into further debt as a result of bad “inventions and improvements” on the estate. Two years have elapsed since the judge’s death, and George Peyton, the judge’s nephew and heir of Terrebonne, has recently arrived from Paris. Although Dora Sunnyside falls in love with George, he loves Zoe, the beautiful daughter of Judge Peyton and one of his slaves. The judge’s widow also loves Zoe; the widow treats her as if she were her daughter and worries what will happen to Zoe, who has not been raised as a slave, after her death. M’Closky intends to own the plantation and make Zoe his concubine. When he reveals his intentions to Zoe, she wants nothing to do with him. M’Closky stops her from leaving his presence until Scudder, who is also in love with Zoe and regrets his role in Terrebonne’s demise, intervenes, draws his knife,...

(The entire section contains 1542 words.)

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