The novel is divided into two parts and it starts with the chapter entitled "The Mistress of Place-du-Bois’’. The narrator mentions the death of a land owner named Lafirme; this was an event which sparked great interest in their community because the deceased had no children and so everything he owned became the property of his Creole wife named Therese. Her life changed drastically after her husband’s death and the appearance of railroads in the area and so Therese found herself in the position to leave the home she knew all her life and move away.
This introduction shows just how many people were opposed to change, be it accept new technological advancements or a change in perspective regarding slavery. The introductory passage also shows how women lived in those times. If a woman was married to a rich land owner, she was not expected to do anything around the house. This made women be incapable of thinking for themselves and capable of taking decisions. When their husbands died, more than often these women were incapable of taking over the responsibilities their husband had and make a living for themselves.
Mrs. Lafirme had to learn how to take care of her estate and despite having been a woman married to a good business man, she quickly learned to take the time to think before acting in a rash manner. This becomes obvious when a man named David Hosmer comes to Mrs. Lafirme to ask for permission to cut trees from her property, she asks for some time to think about the proposition.
The next chapter is entitled ‘’At the Mill’’ and focuses on Hosmer and the mill he owned. The action takes place a year after the actions in the first chapter and the relationship between Hosmer and Mrs. Lafirme became easier, the two becoming close. The relationship between the two became so close that Mrs. Lafirme felt comfortable telling Hosmer she feels he works too much.
The second chapter also presents another important detail, namely how Mrs. Lafirme was no longer scared of the new industries coming into the area. In fact, she was more than happy to accept them. This also produced a new change in the people in the area who now blamed Mrs. Lafirme for the way their way of life was changing.
The third chapter compares Hosmer to his sister, Melicent, who was also in Lousiana at her brother’s request. She was different from her brother in the sense that she was carefree, without any responsibilities and any wish to have them. She was always happy to experience new things and the idea of doing something new was more important to her than the dangers the experience may involve.
Melicent was together with Grégoire, a man around her age, riding in a pirogue. While her brother and Mrs. Lafirme openly admitted they would never do something like that, Melicent was more than happy to do it.
Grégoire tries to woo Melicent by telling her beautiful she is but the young woman was more interested in finding more about the place she was in.
In the fourth chapter, Melicent tries to find some servants willing to work for her but she soon finds that no one will do it. Melicent tries to understand why and Mrs. Lafirme tells her that is may be because she is from the North and the black servants fear her. This chapter thud shows that not only the land owners were afraid of change, but the slaves as well. Many slaves were afraid from the people from the North not because they were cruel, but because they behaved in a way they considered as being strange.
In the fifth chapter, Mrs. Lafirme goes to visit Joçint and his father. Mrs. Lafirme used to send Joçint’s father and other things she did not need around the house but Joçint refused to take care of his father for some reason and the idea transmitted is that he even resented him.
While Mrs. Lafirme was returning home, she meet with Hosmer who told her about the things Joçint was doing and made him want to let him go. During that ride, Hosmer also implies that he likes Mrs. Lafirme but she is not quick to accept him.
In the seventh chapter Hosmer tells Mrs. Lafirme he loves her but she gets no choice to accept or deny his feelings. It is uncertain how Mrs. Lafirme would have reacted because just moments later she found that Hosmer was married once and that he divorced his wife.
In those times, divorce was something not widely practiced. When a person of a certain age was single, the general idea was that the spouse died. The reason why this detail makes Mrs. Lafirme reluctant to accept Hosmer is because of the stigma attached to divorce.
The eight chapter presents how Mrs. Lafirme was affected by the knowledge of Hosmer’s divorce and the religious upbringing Mrs. Lafirme had was blamed in part for her reluctance to accept divorce.
When Hosmer comes the next day, he tells Mrs. Lafirme how he married 10 years ago with a woman he barely knew. After getting married, he realized his wife liked to spend money and party. One day, when he came home, he found her drunk and he decided in that moment to divorce her. After hearing his story, Mrs. Lafirme criticizes Hosmer, not considering his reason for divorcing his wife as being good enough.
This presents another important element, namely how those who were married were expected to stay together, no matter what. For them, marriage was something not to be considered, no matter the circumstances and so when someone chose to get out of a destructive marriage, they were criticized instead of understood. In some cases, as it is in the book as well, those who divorced were even called cowards for not standing by their partners when they needed them the most.
It is unsure what happened next and how the two came to a consensus but the next chapter presented the as talking and spending time together. Then, one day, Hosmer decides to return to the town where he lived with his wife and leave his sister behind.
Hosmer returned to the house where his former wife was living and convinced her he was going to take care of her. Fanny, the former wife, tried to make Hosmer understand she will not change but he decided he was going to help her and marry her again.
The two made the arrangements necessary to get married but Hosmer felt nothing but hatred both towards his wife and the woman he loved until then. The reason why Hosmer hated Mrs. Lafirme is because she robbed him of his happiness, that is because she refused to be with him and pushed him to go back to his old wife.
The first part of the book ends when Hosmer and Fanny prepare to go to Louisiana. When Fanny heard about Louisiana, she was not happy because that meant severing ties with her friends. But just as Hosmer made sacrificed to be with Fanny, she made sacrifices as well to give their relationship another chance.
As the two approached the place where Hosmer was living in Louisiana, the atmosphere in the carriage changed drastically. While Hosmer was happy to be home, even stopping to chat with one person or another, Fanny was panicking because she realized she was in a place where she knew no one. At the house, she started crying and even claiming she will never be able to bear that kind of life.
Hosmer also has to deal with his sister, who is unable to understand why her brother would go and marry the woman he divorced again. Hosmer blames Mrs. Lafirme and religion, claiming someone who is Catholic would never marry him.
Fanny adapted slowly to her new life and the attention of the narrator turned to Melicent who was clearly not in live with her suitor. Despite this, she continued to lead him on, enjoying the power she had over him.
Fanny and Mrs. Lafirme also become close in time and Fanny confides in Mrs. Lafirme, talking with her about Hosmer and his decision to get back with her. Fanny is unsure about her future with her husband but Mrs. Lafirme urges her to do everything she can to make him happy and stay with him.
From this chapter, it is implied that maybe Fanny did not wanted to get back with her former husband either. But, because of the times, she may have felt pressured into doing so. As a result, two people were trapped in a loveless marriage, feeling as if it was their duty to stay together no matter what. It is also implied that Fanny becomes aware from this moment that there may be some feelings between her husband and Mrs. Lafirme but she decides not to say anything about it.
Despite pushing Hosmer and Fanny back together, Mrs. Lafirme can’t stop thinking about what her life could have looked like should she had married Hosmer. Mrs. Lafirme knew that her actions would have been criticized by almost everyone but in that moment she liked to think about the happiness marrying him would have brought her.
This proves that despite her initial attitude towards Hosmer, she still had feelings for him and would have wanted to have him for herself.
The life of the characters changes drastically when in a fit of rage, Joçint burns down the mill owned by Hosmer. While the mill is burning, Joçint gets into a fight with Gregoire and is killed. This scene is important mainly because of the fire consuming the mill. In many literary pieces, fire is a symbol for cleansing and offers the other characters a chance to start over. In this case however, the fire is used as a symbol of destruction as the lives of the characters goes spiraling down from that moment.
Gregoire is the first to suffer when Melicent leaves town after hearing what he has done. Unsure what to do, Gregoire leaves town as well and ends up being killed. Fanny and Hosmer also get into an argument and during this argument Hosmer threatens to kill her. Scared, Fanny runs out into the rain, falls into a river and dies.
Melicent realizes that she loved Gregoire soon after he died and the realization makes her change her perspective on men. The death of Fanny also leaved Hosmer free to marry, without fearing society will criticize him so he and Mrs. Lafirme get married a year later.
The fire thus set in motion a chain of events which prompted the two main characters to find happiness. There were however collateral damage and in this sense the story has both a tragic ending and a happy one.