How did the Acadians themselves use Longfellow's poem to construct an identity?
Even though the poem was not completely historically accurate (in terms of New England's role in the expulsion, in the romanticized, utopian depiction of the community) it was adopted by Acadians themselves as a sort of "embodiment of their own myths," as scholar Naomi Griffiths writes. Copies of the poem were distributed among the Acadian people and were printed in newspapers. Many felt that this poem captured something that had been missing in their culture. It was a useful tool in "constructing an Acadian identity" when their fortunes were low. Specific differences, such as the role of Christianity in the poem and its actual role in Acadia were somewhat glossed over. It did not seem to matter that it was not entirely accurate because its vast popularity raised the reputation of the Acadians amongst themselves and others.
How does Longfellow depict Native Americans?
Longfellow had always been interested in Native Americans but, as scholars Manning Hawthorne and Henry Wadsworth Dana point out, "the nobler traits of the Indians were not yet as highly developed by Longfellow as they were a few years later in The Song of Hiawatha." Indeed, Longfellow's lines are thus: "Over them wander the scattered tribes of Ishmael’s children, / Staining the desert with blood; and above their terrible war-trails. / Circles and sails aloft, on pinions majestic, the vulture, / Like the implacable soul of a chieftain slaughtered in battle, / By invisible stairs ascending and scaling the heavens. / Here and there rise smokes from the camps of these savage marauders" (lines 1095-1100). In general, his depiction is stereotypical and dramatic, rather than nuanced and sensitive.
Are the characters believable, and does that matter?
It is difficult to recognize the characters as fully fleshed out human beings. Rather than psychologically complex individuals, they appear as broadly representative types. Basil and Benedict are impossibly prosperous yet generous, proud yet benevolent. Gabriel is the type of a romantic lover, brooding and waiting for Evangeline in an unrealistic manner. Evangeline is the most unrealistic character of all, however. She is saintly, cherubic, beautiful, loving, kind, patient, thoughtful, hopeful, feminine, graceful, hardy, faithful, and virtuous. She never does a single sinful or hurtful thing, never wavers in her love for Gabriel even though it means she grows old and gray bereft of a family and a home and stability. But nuance and psychological depth are not Longfellow's goals. This is an epic poem and what matters are the grand and moving themes, grand human traits embodied in broadly representative types. Evangeline is a vessel for the message, a symbol of faith and perseverance during terrible suffering. That is why readers care about her, not because she is particularly complex or well-developed individual.
What role does religion play in the text?
Catholicism is a prominent part of the text. Priests play an important role in the Acadian community, and Father Felician in particular is Evangeline's friend, confidante, and confessor. The Jesuits in the West offer solace and shelter, while the Quakers in Pennsylvania give the wandering Evangeline a peaceful home. Christian virtues are present in Evangeline and are celebrated; it is her faith, her virtue, her chastity, her altruism, and ultimately her trust in God and His plan that are to be lauded. The Acadians are supposed to understand that even though it seems like they are being tossed about by the winds of fate, God has a plan for them.