Throughout the book, the question being addressed is that of different identities and cultures that come across each other and are compelled to live with each other. There is the religious identity of the natives, the Mexicans, and the conventional Christian identity that stand face to face demanding mutual correlation and redefinition. Also, there is the conflict between being a Mexican under the French rule and an being an American. This is reflected in the words of the Mexican youth in the novel (Cather, 19). The boy says, “ they say at Albuquerque that now we are all Americans….I will never be an American. They are infidels.”
The author uses the image of goats as a metaphor to show the flexible and humanitarian mindset of bishop Latour (Cather, 26). When the bishop sees a fleet of goats passing by, he thinks, “the goat had always been the symbol of pagan lewdness…(but)…their fleece had warmed many a good Christian, and their rich milk nourished sickly children” (Cather, 26). The logical and practical soundness of his mind when it comes to other belief systems is reflected in this statement. In his letter to his brother, bishop expresses his feeling that “church can do more than the Fort to make these poor Mexicans ‘good Americans’” (Cather, 33). The situation the bishop had to face was not as simple as he had stated in the above sentence. The human resource he had to work with was the cowboys who drank and also got the natives drunk and created an atmosphere of chaos, with lots of rifle shots banging here and there (Cather, 43). It was with these kind of people that he had to build his new apostolate. The ideology of ‘manifest destiny’ was in its formative years, and the hero of this novel had a role to play in order to enhance this concept.
Cather has given bishop Latour, a character in which he personifies the rich congruence of European culture which was flexible enough to accept new environments. And there was this church