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Book Review: The Theme of Forbidden Love in "My Contraband" by Louisa Alcott

Updated on December 24, 2013


In the story of My contraband also referred as the brothers (1863), Louisa May Alcott perceives that human bondage is an aspect that has caused more misery and suffering to the human soul in comparison to other atrocities which man had encountered. In essence, the story is concerned on one of the American’s Civil war with a focus on an attack on Fort Wagner. During the course of the civil war, two siblings, one who is half-black and the other a white meet in a healthy facility. The half-black guy tries to murder the other brother due to the previous grudge which they had held against each other. The half-black person is the one who is referred as the contraband and is the main character in this story, identified as Robert (Reuscher, 2013, 15).

There are various instances in this piece concerning opposing and conflicting views about racism. The narrator, a nurse during the civil war and who is identified as Miss Diane, sympathizes and eventually gets in love with Robert, the half-black guy who had been recently freed from slavery. According to this nurse, slavery is the “hell” where Robert had escaped from and this sets the basis for her sympathy and affection towards him.

In particular, Alcott is drawing from personal experiences to show various aspects on humanity in this work. She is also utilizing the aspect of naturalism in her condemnation of racism in the American African community. This is more depicted when the author recognizes the contribution of the black race on the civil war on Fort Wegner. The writing in Alcott’s Contraband piece is a reflection of the conflicting views concerning gender and race. This piece is also reflecting the advocacy for feminist’s objectives and abolitionists. Her language also reveals the sexist and racial stereotypes. This paper reviews the Theme of Forbidden Love in My Contraband.

Theme of Forbidden Love

In this story, Miss Diane decides to lock Robert, the half-black guy he met in hospital in his room, then goes back to her own room and opens the window for ventilation. As she completes her work at morning hours, she is perplexed to hear the doctor, whom she has told Robert’s story enter his room. This makes her to become restless in her room to an extent of being unable to sleep just thinking about Robert. Although she tries to hear the conversations going on in Robert’s room, she does not hear anything beyond murmurs and the heavy soaps of Robert. The doctor then comes to her room to inform her that Robert need to be taken to Massachusetts (Bayum, 2011, 1736).

She however, continues to perform her work hoping to meet Robert once again. “I tried to rest,” she explains, claiming that the “thought of poor Lucy was really stressing my heart”. This is ultimately a lie and her true feelings are indicated in her next expressions. “I was immediately back at my work designation again, hoping nervously that my contraband had not lost hope.” In this case, she is now referring to Robert as she has come to develop affection for him. Her several reference of him as the contraband is also a reflection of her affection on him ( Bayum, 2011, 1744).

Miss Dane offers Robert some financial assistance in going to another place (Massachusetts) while informing him that they will be able to enjoy a better place when they meet in Massachusetts than the current place they are. It becomes curious when she does not mention Lucy in their parting shorts, although she had referred earlier on about her. A part from money, this nurse also gives him a small bible, illustrated on the cover with images of Jesus and her mother Mary of which he shows his grievances of losing his child with Lucy to slave traders. This makes Miss Dane to be overcome with emotions and grief as she is filled with tears. The immense tears make her vision to be blurred to an extent of not seeing Robert go. However, as she narrates, she is able to use her other senses, “I could hear the sound of passing feet and the touch of lips on my hand and I certainly knew that my contraband was leaving me” she reveals (Bayum, 2011, 1738-40).

The obvious affection of Miss Dane to Robert is however, underrated by the negative featuring of the “black” blood as an outsider in this community. It should be noted that although the term, “my contraband” portrays Dane as sympathizer of interracial relationship, they could also be used to indicate the ideas of the superiority of the white populace. The love theme in this story is however further revealed when Diana’s initial sympathy and concern is transformed into an affection and falling in love with a half-black guy. Although her sexual yearnings had been hidden in the beginning, they are more of revealed in the proceeding tension that succeeds the story (Bayum, 2011, 1745).

The statement of Robert concerning his baby with Lucy appears to cause restlessness on Miss Dane and her Romantic reverie towards him. This is the reason why she goes out looking for Ned to inform her on the whereabouts of Lucy so that she can confront her and tell him to leave his contraband. Unfortunately or fortunately for Dane, Ned reveals that Lucy had killed herself the moment she realized that Robert was sold as a slave. This bad news is then sent to Robert, who through a letter replies that he is glad of this revelation, as Lucy is now not experiencing pain, which he had feared of. Robert then reveals to Dane about his commitment to fight for her until he meets his death. This is why he joins the Massachusetts regiment and the civil battle at Fort Wagner in Carolina (Bayum, 2011, 1748).

Robert encounters with Ned at the Fort Wagner Battle. Here, he finds that Ned has fully recovered from his injuries and is now fighting with the confederacy. Ned however turns to Robert and brutally wounds him, making him to be returned to the hospital where they once again meet with his lover Miss Dane. It is in this situation where Faith gets to discover that Robert had taken his last name, Dane to be his own (1749).By taking her name to be his, Robert had hoped for what can be termed as interracial marriage between him and Faith.


In this narrative, the author has typically portrayed the black as a sign of erotic fascination. She has indicated her desire in portraying a positive interracial correlation in the entire story of the contraband. Although her attempts at illustrating the humanity in African Americans are at times appearing problematic, she should be lauded for her exploration of the racial discourses in her fiction

Works Cited

Bayum, Nina, “The Norton Anthology of American Literature”, ISBN 978-0-393-91309-5, 2011. Reuscher, Cornellia, “Alcott's "My Contraband", GRIN Verla, ISB: 978-3640859092, 2013


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    • MG Singh profile image

      MG Singh 

      4 years ago from Singapore

      Wonderful review,has tempted me to read the book


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