Black Robe: Text

In this section, I use the six categories to briefly outline some of the ways Black Robe (BR) compares with the other novels (I put this comparative aspect in italics) and then to explore the text of BR itself. In referring to specific pages of text I use these abbreviations: t = top of page; m = middle; b = bottom; cf. = compare with.

In the sections called "Text & Argument" I suggest specific passages from the text that should be helpful in making lines of argument. Remember that in your essay you must make one big line of argument (defined in your thesis statement) and this argument must be supported by smaller, supporting lines of argument (defined in your topic sentences -- see Essay Structure). In the mid-term commentaries you must make several smaller lines of argument, which can be unified into a larger argument or can be left separate (see Commentaries, Essays, & Outlines). In all cases, the smaller lines of arguments must be backed up with specific references to the text.



All the novels we'll look at this term feature a journey into hostile and dangerous foreign settings -- 17th Century Québec in BR, 1955 Vietnam in QA, 1965 Indonesia in YD, and WW II  Germany in SHF.  


From France to Québec

25 b--26 t "But Mercier" -- "God or France or anything" 

29 m--31 t "Two years ago" -- "my beginning"

What roles do France, French culture, and French Catholicism play in the novel? Compare what Laforgue finds in Québec to what he experienced in France.

Above: Joan of Arc, 15th century miniature; Right: Rouen,  Rue de l'Épicerie  (Camille Pissarro, 1898) -- from Wikipedia

Above: Joan of Arc, 15th century miniature; Right: Rouen, Rue de l'Épicerie (Camille Pissarro, 1898) -- from Wikipedia



separation vs. integration

31 b--32 b  "The boy shook his head" -- "hares and quail"

39 m  "At that moment" -- "Te Deum of happiness"

How does Laforgue set himself apart from the Natives? What are the gaps between the setting and his thinking? Does he bridge these gaps? What is the role of Latin, the scriptural language Laforgue is reading?

What happens to his spirituality during the course of his journey? How is it affected by distance from, or proximity to, the Natives? How is it affected by the rigours and dangers of the journey? How different are Native and European views of nature?

A Northern Lake , by Tom Thomson, 1911/21 (Wikimedia Commons)

A Northern Lake, by Tom Thomson, 1911/21 (Wikimedia Commons)



All novels feature historical contexts including conflict, violence, and war: colonial first contact in BR; the Cold War in QA and YD; World War II and the Vietnam War in SHF. 

Written by the Irish novelist Brian Moore in 1985, BR is set in the 17th Century -- much earlier than the other novels, which are set from 1952 to 1968.

             BR          QA           YD         SHF  

Set in 17th C.    1952       1965      1945/68

         Quebec  Vietnam  Indonesia  Germany/US

during European colonialism & the Cold War  

Novel   1985      1955       1978        1969

Author Moore  Greene      Koch     Vonnegut

             Irish     English   Australian  American 

Film    1991       2002       1982        1972

BR  How do the Europeans use their understanding of time at the beginning of the novel (the clock) and at the end of the novel (the eclipse)? What's the difference between Native and European views on death and the afterlife? How does the linear chronology of the novel create momentum? Are there breaks in this momentum? What are Laforgue' views on martyrdom, baptism, conversion, and the ideal of a mission at the start of his journey? What are they at the end? Imagine reading this novel from the perspective of someone living in 17th century France. What would you take for granted that we don't today? How does Moore's narrative strategy urge us to understand how French and Native peoples might have seen things back then?



All novels feature a mental and emotional struggle for meaning and/or belief; all feature the question of psychological engagement with -- or detachment from -- external conflicts. 

BR  What are the religious sensibilities of Laforgue and Daniel? How does Laforgue oscillate between the physical and spiritual in the first four chapters? Is he possessed? Does Laforgue change? Does he make compromises? How would you gauge his humanity? Is he manic or obsessive? What effect does his ruthless examination of his motives have on his actions and character development?

The following pages refer to the internal psychological conflict Laforgue has between ideals and realities in the first 67 pages of the novel. These are particularly acute in regard to chastity and lust. Remember that priests are celibate and that Jesuits have a deep commitment to three things: 1) chastity, 2) poverty, and 3) service to the pope.

5 t:  Champlain sees Father Bourque as a school boy

7 b  Laforgue is "trained in the rule of obedience"; while Jesuits are trained to think for themselves in examining their own consciences rigorously (as we see in the first paragraph in the novel), their order also has a hierarchy and discipline that borders on the military; the founder Ignatius of Loyola was once a soldier, and Jesuits -- also called 'The Company of Jesus' -- are often referred to as 'soldiers of Christ'

10 t  Laforgue sees the Natives as "filthy" yet "slender ... more handsome"

19 m  Many of the the young Frenchmen want to "get away from the life the priests would have us live up there" 

20 m - 21m23 t  Laforgue sees Annuka as "tall and slender [...] wearing only a short kilt"

---- **cf 141 b  "That slender body which had aroused his lust now filled him with an infinite pity as her shoulders and narrow loins were kicked"** 

24 b  "his face hot with anger at the sight of the trader's shame"

25 t  "It was a sight the devil sent, and Laforgue would have none of it. With a strength that surprised him" 

25 b  ironic condescension: sees Daniel as a boy: "What would a boy like that know of such lewd debauchery?" - 26 m Daniel "is still a child. It is my duty to protect him." ---- cf. 80 m: "Why did he speak to this boy as to a pupil in a schoolroom?" 

35 b--36 t  involuntarily aroused, attempts to pray, prays in earnest

text & argument

The temptation of a jesuit

48 b--50 b  "He stared at" -- "prayers of shame."  

53 b - 56 "It is my duty" -- "he fell asleep." Look closely at the following passages: 54 m "The girl's long black hair" -- "bitter berries"; 55 m "Laforgue turned away" -- "call his name"; 56, from "He lay, his mind shipwrecked"

How do these pages show us the character of Laforgue? 

images of Temptation

Whose temptation of Saint Anthony (251-356 AD) gets closest to Laforgue's predicament -- the one by Rops or Corinth?

What are the meanings of the objects, figures, characters, symbols, icons, etc. in the paintings? How are these meanings explored in the novel? For instance, what does the snake mean in Rops' painting? Where is the snake in the novel? 

Félicien Rops (1878) and Lovis Corinth (1897) --  The Temptation of Saint Anthony , from Wikimedia Commons 

Félicien Rops (1878) and Lovis Corinth (1897) -- The Temptation of Saint Anthony, from Wikimedia Commons 

sa Félicien_Rops_-_La_tentation_de_Saint_Antoine-1.jpg

narrative structure

61 t - 67 b  "You are not Nicanis" -- "the village where he was born."

In this scene Mestigoit drives Laforgue into the forest, after which he's saved by Natives and returns to their camp. Why is this scene a turning point for 1) the psychological problem of a priest's temptation, and 2) the sociological/religious problem of Laforgue's separation from the Natives?



All novels feature tensions within and between groups; a struggle between universal humanitarianism and the demands of specific cultures, religions, and political systems.  

BR  What are the key conflicts between Native and French? When and why do individuals conflict with their own group? How do the following divide Jesuit from Native? - furs - wooden boats - privacy - celibacy - appearance -- baptism - prayer, communion - views of death. To what degree is the divide between European and Native less extreme for Annuka and Daniel, and for traders such as Mercier and Casson? What roles does the love story play in the novel?

FL's isolation vs. community. How does Laforgue change in his feelings towards the Natives? In what ways is Laforgue affected by the Iroquois attack and torture, and by the character and arguments of Chomina? How does Laforgue lose his sense of superiority and what does this say about his spirituality? Laforgue's conflict and bond with the Natives is deeply linked to Moore's treatment of the theme of religion in the text; see "Dogma vs. love" below in "5) Theme" for a continuation of Laforgue's transformation.

Shifts in perspective can be seen in terms of structure or narrative strategy (category 6), yet their function is to let readers appreciate the sharp differences (and the resulting conflicts) in cultural perspective. Moore magnifies the effect of these shifts by using the narrative strategy of defamiliarization -- that is, by using descriptions that make readers see normal things in radically different ways. For instance, Daniel's explanation of Laforgue's reading is taken literally by Annuka on 102 b: "[Daniel] said the Blackrobe heard men speak when he looked at the black signs on the bark." Moore's readers, on the other hand, are so familiar with the process of reading that they don't think of it as actual hearing, like Annuka does. 

Text & Argument

Annuka & Daniel

68 b--76 t  "She saw the sorcerer" -- "Where will you go?"  

129 b--132 b  "She watched Iwanchou" -- "in the days ahead"

169 m--71 "He saw the glitter of anger in her eyes" -- "We will go in one canoe" 

207 b--208 m  "He had already" -- "Now you belong to me"

How does Moore use defamiliarization to show us Annuka's way of thinking? How does the larger cultural conflict work in Annuka's relation with Daniel?

Versions of Pocahontas

How is Annuka similar to, or different from, Disney's version of Pocahontas? (You may remember that I use the animated film in my introduction to the six categories)  

poco not iroquois.jpg

For instance, how does the well-known song "The Colours of the Wind" bring out some of the concerns of the novel? What is Pocahontas' view of nature in the song? How are specific things in the song treated in the novel -- such as the use of the word "savage," the "many places" Europeans have been, "the sweet berries of the earth," and the eagles (in the video)?

You think I'm an ignorant savage
And you've been so many places
I guess it must be so / But still I cannot see
If the savage one is me
How can there be so much that you don't know?

You think you own whatever land you land on
The Earth is just a dead thing you can claim
But I know every rock and tree and creature
Has a life, has a spirit, has a name

You think the only people who are people
Are the people who look and think like you
But if you walk the footsteps of a stranger
You'll learn things you never knew, you never knew

Have you ever heard the wolf cry to the blue corn moon?
Or asked the grinning bobcat why he grinned?
Can you sing with all the voices of the mountains?
Can you paint with all the colors of the wind?

Come run the hidden pine trails of the forest
Come taste the sun sweet berries of the Earth
Come roll in all the riches all around you
And for once, never wonder what they're worth

The rainstorm and the river are my brothers
The heron and the otter are my friends
And we are all connected to each other
In a circle, in a hoop that never ends

How high will the sycamore grow
If you cut it down, then you'll never know
And you'll never hear the wolf cry to the blue corn moon
For whether we are white or copper skinned
We need to sing with all the voices of the mountains
We need to paint with all the colors of the wind

You can own the Earth and still
All you'll own is Earth until
You can paint with all the colors of the wind

Daniel & Laforgue

89 b--92 t  "Woman is the devil's instrument" -- "hell for all eternity"

How is Laforgue affected by Daniel (himself influenced by Annuka)?

neehatin & chomina

92 b--96 b  "Neehatin woke" -- "hard to kill"

109 t--113 m  "who is the fish?" -- "Obey the dream"

127--129  "Neehatin watched Chomina" -- "No one spoke"

How do Neehatin and Chomina see politics, culture, and religion? How close are their perspectives? What is the role of dreams? How do we see some of their concerns in the Iroquois council (150) and in Taretandé (196, 201

Laforgue & Chomina

145 m--147 m  "'No,' Chomina said" -- "Be quiet, Father."

156 t--157b  "I told you" -- "We are still dead men"

159 m--160 m  "Before lying down" -- "devil and all his kind?"

163 b--166 t  "'God will provide'" -- "'great warrior'"

How is Laforgue affected by Chomina?



All novels feature the themes of survival, meaning, religion, and love. 

BR  How does the novel deal with the danger of losing your conscience or soul? Is Moore arguing for or against religion?  Is he making a statement about human nature? How do Laforgue’s views of martyrdom change? What are Laforgue’s final views on mercy, miracles, means and ends, ritual, and love?

Dogma vs. love 

Laforgue's thinking: 3 questions himself - rejects "sophistry" - 31 b--32 b reads while Natives work; 39 m starts to see his spirituality in terms of his surroundings in nature - 137 t sacrifices himself for others during the Iroquois attack; 141 b sees Annuka in spiritual terms - 206 rejects Jerome’s "sophistic" thinking

Laforgue & dogma: 147 m distinguishes (to Chomina) European greed from Christian God - 159 m--160 religious paraphernalia lost - mercy denied - 161 b “this dreadful journey” - 185 m - 193 m194 m198 t199 sees horror of a martyr’s death - questions his mission and worth - 197 b feels no sense of miracle after eclipse - 202 m--206 t; 210 b contrast with dogmatic Jerome and his use of the eclipse; questions Jerome's use of fear and ends-oriented rationale

Laforgue & Natives: 203 b207 m214 b Native concern for cultural survival - 213 m214 t - Laforgue questions the Jesuit fanaticism for baptism, and even questions God’s mercy, being especially bothered by the question, Why does He give mercy to Jerome but not Chomina? - 217-218 sees statuette as having empty eyes - difficulty of Natives to understand what the priests want - attempt for clarity in question: ‘Do you love us?’ - love beyond dogma and “the blank eyes of the statuette”?



All novels feature stylistic shifts in time and space, as well as questions relating to biography, autobiography, and the fictionalization of history. All deal with the problems inherent in writing a truthful account of human experience. In BR the gaps created by different languages, communication styles, and concepts are evident at every turn; for instance, while the Natives don't read, their impact on Laforgue makes him question the relevance of his European reading. In QA Fowler is very close to the author himself (the work hovers between autobiography and fiction), and both of them are skeptical about claims made in the press, in books, and even in their own accounts. In YD the narrator (Cookie) is skeptical that he can piece together a coherent picture of events, while the protagonist (Hamilton desperately) struggles to see the truth that lies hidden behind the press accounts and the 'screen' of Indonesian politics. In SHF Vonnegut uses a technical, distancing style of language; he also conflates history, autobiography, fiction and science fiction in order to question traditional perceptions of war, the world, and the afterlife. 

BR  Why is the novel structured along the lines of a quest or journey? Where does Moore shift points of view? In what way does he defamiliarize readers -- that is, make them see things from a completely different, even alienating point of view? What do we learn about Annuka’s way of thinking through this technique of defamiliarization? What functions do foreign terms, miscommunication, and swearing serve?