The story’s central figure is Father Laforgue, who is chosen to replace an ailing priest heading a mission in a remote Indian village.
Laforgue sets forth on a river journey in the company of an Algonkin tribe traveling to its winter hunting grounds.
His assistant, Daniel, is young French boy who has volunteered to accompany the priest in order to remain near Annuka, the Indian girl he secretly loves.
Unbeknown to Laforgue, Daniel plans to leave the priest and remain among the Indians when the two part company.
This shifting perspective extends to the characters themselves, permitting glimpses into the thoughts and feelings of several of the novel’s major figures as well as insights into their perceptions of one another.
If the book is, on its surface, the story of a physical trek--one that will encompass deprivation, torture, courage, betrayal, and death before its close--it is also a spiritual journey as well.The vulgarity of their language, their easy, open sexuality, and their seemingly barbaric habits all horrify the ascetic Laforgue, particularly when he sees the French fur trappers in the colony adopting the Savages’ dress and customs.Laforgue sets out on his journey firm in his devotion to God and unrelenting in his view of the Savages (Moore’s terminology—borrowed from the French—throughout the book) as little more than potential souls to be saved.As a dismayed Laforgue sees his young change rapidly adopting the customs of the Algonkin, his own safety is threatened when the tribal chief dreams that the priest’s presence is a danger to his people.Although Laforgue and his journey provide the central thread for the novel’s narrative structure, Moore balances its point of view between the Jesuits, who refer to the Indians as “the Savages,” a term that accurately describes the French view of tribal life, and the Algonkin themselves, who regard the Jesuits, or “Black-robes,” as unnatural witches, ignorant of the powerful spirits which the Indians see at work in the natural world.This device allows Moore to balance his portrayals of the two cultures, as well as revealing the thoughts and feelings of several of the novel’s primary and secondary characters.Although the story offers multiple points of view, the principal figure in Moore’s tale is Father Paul Laforgue, a French Jesuit who is chosen to travel to the remote Huron village of Ihonatiria, where one of the two resident priests is rumored to be ill or dead.In the first chapter alone, Moore incorporates four points of view, including that of the famed French explorer, Samuel de Champlain, who heads the Quebec settlement.Later chapters are told from the viewpoint of several of the Indians, thus presenting their own interpretations of the Jesuits’ actions and their tribal beliefs in spirits of the natural world.Moore's powerful story shows both a cultural and physical conquest in embryo, so to speak, at this early stage of contact between Europeans and indigenous Americans.BLACK ROBE was inspired by actual accounts of Jesuit priests working among the North American Indians in the 1600’s.