Youma Characters

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1890

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Psychological realism

Time of work: The 1840’s

Locale: Martinique

Characters DiscussedYouma

Youma Youma (yew-MAH), a slave in Martinique. She is a personification of loyalty. When her childhood playmate, her mistress’ daughter, asks Youma to take care of her child, Youma grants the dying woman’s request. Although she finds the child irksome at times, she steadfastly cares for the little girl, even giving up marriage to fulfill her promise. At last, in a slave riot in 1848, she refuses to save her own life when her fellow slaves will not let her save the life of the child by taking it out of a burning building.

Aimée Desrivières

Aimée Desrivières (ay-MAY day-reev-YEHR), a white girl reared with Youma. The two love each other almost as sisters. Aimée, as she lies dying, asks Youma to become her little daughter’s nurse, and the slave agrees to do what she can for the child.

Marie Desrivières

Marie Desrivières, nicknamed Mayotte. She is the little child placed in Youma’s care.


Gabriel (gah-BRYEHL), a field hand and slave. He loves Youma and wants to marry her. When Youma’s owner refuses to permit the marriage, he offers to elope with Youma and seek freedom, but Youma refuses to abandon her care of little Mayotte.

Madame Peyronette

Madame Peyronette (pay-roh-NEHT), Mme Desrivières’ mother and Youma’s owner. Although she intends to free Youma when the slave marries, she will not let Youma marry a field hand such as Gabriel.

Monsieur Desrivières

Monsieur Desrivières, the husband of Aimée Desrivières. He is Gabriel’s owner. At his wife’s death, he is happy to see Youma take over the care of his child, for he is grief-stricken.

BibliographyBisland, Elizabeth. The Life and Letters of Lafcadio Hearn. 2 vols. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1906. Contains a significant letter from Hearn to a friend vouching for the historical truth of elements in Youma, including the house, the incident of the serpent, the girl who died, and the circumstances of her self-sacrificial act.Colt, Jonathan. Wandering Ghost: The Odyssey of Lafcadio Hearn. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1991. Defines Youma as a prosaic and sentimental story and then, curiously, links the heroine’s memory of her deceased mother to Hearn’s yearning for his lost mother.Kunst, Arthur E. Lafcadio Hearn. New York: Twayne, 1969. Praises Youma as admirable in conception, balanced in development, and restrained in effect. Commends such distractions as sex symbolism, dreams, historical notes, and folktale elements.Stevenson, Elizabeth. Lafcadio Hearn. New York: Macmillan, 1961. Criticizes Youma, despite its early respectful reviews, for its slow start and digressions, insufficient passion, and lack of plot development.Yu, Beongcheon. An Ape of Gods: The Art and Thought of Lafcadio Hearn. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1964. Summarizes the plot of Youma and analyzes the two main characters as idealistically treated and yet, fortunately, not made into noble savages.
Categories: Characters