During the nineteenth century, both black women and white women were at the mercy of the white patriarchy, albeit at differing degrees to and natures in which they experienced bondage, marginality, and empowerment. In Minnie's Sacrifice, Frances E. W. Harper addresses the roles these women played in confronting and defeating the patriarchy.
We first encounter Camilla Le Croix, the daughter of a white slave owner. Her actions parallel and reflect the evolving role of the nineteenth-century female in America: Camilla moves from the domestic sphere into the public sphere, becoming the author of a new moral code. Bernard Le Croix, Camilla's father, tries to silence Camilla's voice when she pleads to place the young orphaned slave, Louis, in their home, but Camilla prevails. Because of her involvement in their world, she witnesses the slaves' survival techniques. Drawing strength from her experiences, Camilla creates a new world for herself and her two slaves, Miriam and her grandson Louis, who is actually Camilla's step-brother. Camilla and Miriam unite to forge a new society.
While Louis is being groomed by these two women for entrance into the public sphere, his future wife, Minnie, is being prepared for the same by her mother, Ellen, "the beautiful quadroon." Ellen begins her bid for empowerment when she presents her mulatto daughter, fathered by her master to visiting Northern guests. Fully aware of the physical similarities between Minnie and the slave owner's other daughter, Marie, Ellen places Minnie in a prominent position dressed so as to reveal the girls' likenesses. When the slave mistress demands that Minnie be sold, Ellen prevails in her appeals to the master. She gains freedom for Minnie, who is sent North to live as a white child, only to be reunited much later with her mother, at which time, Minnie sacrifices her rights as a white woman and embraces her black heritage. She later marries Louis, who has gained his freedom and rightful inheritance. Together, they represent a new order, one won by the works of two women, one white, one black.