Hybridity and Ethics in Chateaubriand's Atala

Abstract: 

Chateaubriand's Atala asks: what kind of human being is best prepared to represent an ethical attitude toward cultural difference? In raising this issue, Atala challenges the emerging Romantic view, popularized by Jean Jacques-Rousseau, that Western and native American cultures are ethical opposites. While beginning Atala with the familiar contrast between savage nature and European culture, by the end of the novel Chateaubriand transforms this polarity into a more complex model of hybrid cultural identity. The hybrid being, Chateaubriand illustrates, is formed by means of a double dialectical narrative process. The allegorical figures of Atala and Chactas incorporate and reject elements of two so-called opposite cultures – the Spanish and the American Indian – which they value equally. This essay argues the Chactas's and Atala's simultaneously critical and empathetic perspectives towards Spanish and American Indian societies enables them to negotiate cultural differences without lapsing into moral relativism. (CM) 

Author: 
Moscovici, Claudia.
Release Year:
Project MUSE: 
Volume: 
2001 Spring-Summer; 29(3-4): 197-216.