The novel At Fault, published in 1890, brought its author, Kate Chopin, a great deal of attention and appreciation from critics, especially for the impressive realism with which she built her characters. Some were extremely powerful and bold, too bold for that time, like the protagonist, and others were very straightforward, uniquely American, like the half-black half-Native American, half-black Joçint.
The mythical and historical association of Native Americans to nature is livelier than ever in Chopin's character, who has no desire of following the path set for him by his father and is drawn to the woods. He resists the white's social expectations, and his tragic fate serves as a warning regarding the effects of industrialization.
For some critics, Joçint is just another version of the black beast, a stereotype that allows the author to reinforce the white violence, the lynching (Gunning, 120-121), he is the representative of the blacks who reject the Old South order (Russel, 8-25). His English is rough, instinctive, dominated by his lack of education and by the influence of the French language spoken by his father and by his mixed origins. However, it is important to acknowledge the strong association between the character and nature, which highlights the violence lurking in the background of the entire novel. The importance of the African American heritage is also underlined by the white murderer and by the murder itself, construed as the historical, racial lynching of the plantation blacks. Nevertheless, the author differentiates her character's death from the typical group violence lynching, holding the perpetrator responsible for his race-motivated crime and distinguishing Joçint as an outsider of the black community in the novel.
Minimizing the character's Native American heritage represents a misappropriation of the author's attempt in terms of thematic. His mixed Indian – African lineage is vital to the unraveling of the plot that depends, initially, on dichotomous associations: the South vs. the North, the mill vs. the woods, industry vs. nature.
Joçint‘s life symbolizes the struggle of the typical American. He faces constant challenges and threats. He has to ignore his love for the woods and his rebellious instincts in favor of working at the mill. He has to listen to a father who does not appreciate him and with whose priorities he does not agree, and he has to work for a woman who undertakes manly responsibilities and is responsible (in his opinion) for the industrialization process taking over their region.
Joçint is the eternal American rebel, and the author does not fail to emphasize this on several occasions. For example, the owner of the mill catches him as he lets the logs roll off the carriage, intentionally. The post war fusion between the predominantly agricultural South and the predominantly Northern commercialism inspires so much repulsion in him that he sets the mill on fire right on the Halloween night. He is killed by Grègoire Santien, Thérèse‘s nephew.
Joçint is the half-blood stereotype, but he is also the embodiment of the American nation, one that rose on the Indians and Africans' love for nature and freedom, threatened by the social norms and the industrialization brought about by the whites. His premature death makes him a victim of the merging between the Northern and Southern economic ideals. He is the symbol of America before the industrialization, and he has no place in a world where forests are seen as a mere commodity. Also, let us not forget that the economical and political union of the South and the North following the Civil War preceded the military offensive against the Native Americans from the West.
Joçint‘s death gives birth to considerable pathos, it portrays the author's own concerns and warnings about industrialization and its effects. This dark event disrupts the natural order of things. The half-blood represents the harmony between man and nature, and, when this harmony is spoiled, other disruptive, negative events follow, like the Pine Woods destruction. In At Fault, Chopin inverts the Indian-forest connection Jewett established in The White Rose Road. If Jewett's character gains strength as the tress grow taller and stronger, Chopin's character dies as the trees begin to die.
Most of the half-breed characters in the literature of the time are negative characters, like Injun Joe, the murderer in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (Mark Twain, 1876). He is a simplistic figure, with no mixed motives, with a brute language, considered unredeemable by Harry Brown (14), who condemns his petty vengeance quest and villainous upbringing.
As Per Seyersted (79) argues, the burning of the lumber mill is Joçint's way of opposing industrialization, of avenging his beloved woods, and not some cheap vengeance against the mill's owners. He is simply protecting what he knows and loves, from everything he hates and fears. One day, upon returning from work, and devouring his father's dinner, he justifies his actions by complaining that the long hours spent working at the mill were the reason why he had no chance " fu‘ go fine nuttin in de ‘ood" (Chopin, 22). His work at the mill stands in his path again, when Thérèse visits the cabin and invites him to her home for food, and he complains that he got no chance  fu‘ go to de ‘ouse neider‖(Chopin, 23).
Although Joçint appears to refer to the time restrictions he faces due to his job at the mill, this conversation could be a metaphor for his status as an outsider. The industrialization prevents him from being himself, from enjoying his Native American legacy, and he cannot find his place among the black or the white on the plantation. He represents the American spirit, its very essence, as he does not love land for the wealth it could provide him, he loves it for its beauty and wilderness, with an honest, innocent love that no other character in the literature of those times is capable of. He is no oppressed black, no Indian struggling to preserve his traditions and no white struggling to get rich on the American land. Yet, he is a combination of all three and more, the result of several powerful influences, just like America itself is the home of so many peoples and yet a nation, a civilization struggling to define its essence, its values.
Joçint's death ends any glimpse of harmony, any chance at peace and coexistence. Robert Arner (152) describes the scene as "little short of apocalyptic", emphasizing the violent clash merging of Southern and Northern ideals, the main cause of the character's distress, of his tragic condition as an outsider, an outcast. In his last moments, Joçint becomes one with nature, being dehumanized and animalized by Chopin, who presents him as creeping through the forest like "a stealthy beast on the way to his final crime" and makes him strangle his dog without remorse (94-95).
But the death scene is maybe the most full of significance in the entire novel. The white young Grègoire is the only one present. The crowd drawn by the fire attempts to get Joçint's body out of the flames, but the killer does not let them. Everyone was hypnotized by the fire, by the spectacle: "(a)ll eyes were fastened" (Chopin, 99). The body is already burning when the elder Morico arrives at the scene and begins pushing people away from his son, including Grégoire and David Hosmer. Finally, the latter, proprietor of the St. Louis mill, simply stands back and watches everything in awe: everything ends where it began, in the woods. The old man trying to save his son's body from the flames collapses and dies, as well, clinging to his greatest treasure, now lost (Chopin, 99). Joçint becomes one with the red fire, one of the four elements forming the essence of the world, of existence.
Of course, the servants generally agree that Joçint received "w‘at he done ben lookin‘ fu‘ dis long time‘" (Chopin, 100). However, while they let themselves exploited, Joçint fights for his ideal, for defending what he loves and dies, partly as a hero, unleashing a chain of deaths necessary in order to restore the balance, the natural order of things.
Grègoire's death is the indirect result of the crime he committed, and Morico dies as well, offering his son the support he had denied him while he was still alive. The gap between Grègoire on one side, and Joçint and his father on the other, closes upon the former's death, when the Texas colonel calls him "Frenchy" (Chopin, 130) – remember that Joçint's father only spoke French.
Joçint, with his impressive Native American heritage, is none other than the author's own voice, lamenting the industrialization process that is slowly but surely taking control of the South. The death of the character symbolizes the author's acceptance of the inevitable, but also serves to underline the emerging responsibilities for the American women, who need to take over manly duties. If they refuse to listen to tradition, to assess the implication of their actions, like Therese did, they are "at fault".
It is amazing to see how the black beast, the brute everyone was expecting to find in Joçint, turns into the symbol, the embodiment of the untainted American spirit. He is wild, he is one with nature, he gains his freedom and dies to show the faults of his contemporaries. Just as the Indians lost their battle with the white colonists, he loses his battle with the mill proprietor, with the white, with the world that did not understand and did not care about his love for the woods, for everything that is wild, untouched by industrialization. However, his death purifies him, washes away his sins, allowing Kate Chopin to give life to her own ideas, to warn her readers about what it coming, to show the Louisiana at the end of the 19th century in a new light, one that took everyone by surprise.
Arner, Robert D. "Landscape Symbolism in Kate Chopin's 'at Fault'", Louisiana Studies 9 (Fall 1970): 142-153. Print.
Brown, Harry John. Injun Joe‟s Ghost: The Indian Mixed-Blood in American Writing. Columbia: U of Missouri P, 2004. Print.
Chopin, Kate. "At Fault". 1890. Kate Chopin: Complete Novels and Stories. Ed. Sandra M.
Gilbert. New York: Library of America, 2002. 5-159. Print.
Gunning, Sandra. Race, Rape, And Lynching. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996. Print.
Russell, David. ―"A Vision of Reunion: Kate Chopin‘s 'At Fault'". Southern Quarterly: A Journal of the Arts in the South 46.1 (Fall 2008): 8-25. Print.
Seyersted, Per. Kate Chopin: A Critical Biography. 1969. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State UP,