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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 356

One theme of this text has to do with the fact that everyone, no matter their race, has the capacity to feel and love deeply, and all should have the right to do so. George Peyton falls in love with Zoe, a young woman who is one-eighth black—she has one great-grandparent who is black (on her mother's side)—and thus, she is the "octoroon" referenced by the title. Though she is considered to be illegitimate and is not the product of a marriage, and though she is of mixed racial ancestry, she has been raised like the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Peyton, beloved by them both. Though she is legally a slave and the property of Mr. Peyton, she has not been treated as one; he tried to free her, not realizing that a legal loophole prevented it.

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Zoe falls in love with George as well, though others are shocked that the two would wish to marry (it being, of course, illegal at the time). Zoe and George are presented very sympathetically, however, as characters who are good and moral, and this seems to indicate that the author recognizes and approves of their love. The same can be said about Wahnotee's love for Paul, a young slave. The older Indian man cares so deeply about the young black boy that he will remain on the plantation as long as Paul does, and he eventually murders Paul's killer (which is made to seem very just). Again, Wahnotee and Paul are presented so sympathetically (especially Wahnotee) that it seems to confirm the author's approval of their feelings and characters.

This leads to another theme in the idea that what is legal is not always right, and what is illegal is not always wrong; the law is not necessarily just. Zoe and George are not allowed to marry by law, but this is presented as wrong by the text in the way they are described. She is considered to be property by law, but this is also presented as wrong. Just because the law forbids or permits something doesn't mean the law is morally right or just.

Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 453

Dion Boucicault’s drama was inspired by his visit to the American South and The Quadroon (1856), a novel by Thomas Mayne Reid. Ironically, The Octoroon premiered in New York four days after famed abolitionist John Brown was executed for his October 16, 1859, raid at Harpers Ferry, Virginia. Boucicault’s play, which focuses on the denial of liberty, identity, and dignity, opened during a period in American history when antislavery and pro-slavery sentiments were at near-zenith level.

The play is subtitled Life in Louisiana . Boucicault’s portrayal of antebellum life is an indictment of slavery. Thus he crafted a drama of social criticism. As an Irishman from a subjugated country, Boucicault was more sympathetic to the plight of the enslaved than many of his American contemporaries. Like Boucicault, George is an outsider who cannot fathom slavery’s complexities. His love interest, Zoe, is a young, compassionate, educated, beautiful woman who merits love and respect. George is sensitive to the way others interact with her; he cannot understand why some...

(The entire section contains 809 words.)

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Critical Essays