The Play

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

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, and warns M’Closky to let her walk away. M’Closky acquiesces.

As act 1 ends, M’Closky steals the paper signed by the judge proclaiming Zoe’s freedom. M’Closky knows that the paper is now invalid, since liens have been placed on the Peyton estate. Paul and Wahnotee go to the landing to get the mail from the steamboat: Mrs. Peyton...

(The entire section is 714 words.)