Zoe is a fascinating figure to weave into our tapestry of placeless figures, further nuancing the developing concepts of identity and place. Interestingly, Zoe is the first racially liminal body to be a focal point in our texts. Douglass and Gulliver, though inbetweens in their own respect, both fit more or less squarely into established racial categories. Zoe further complicates these identities by socially and and physically conflating black and white. As Brooks points out with more overt forms of minstrelsy, the simultaneous performance of these two, ostensibly very disparate identities, forces the interactions of these identities in a way that minstrelsy’s perpetrators didn’t anticipate. The Octoroon lands squarely on this narrative, forcing audience members to confront what happens when black and white aren’t distinct and yet still tragically irreconcilable. It is this social Catch-22 that pulls Zoe’s character out of the shadow of pure minstrelsy, embodying instead the transatlantic existence.
It is interesting to think about the activation of the word liminal in the context of these bodies. Liminality or the liminal space is used in the context of rites of passage as the time after separation, when the individual goes off on their own to undergo the ritualistic change and before reincorporation or integration into society — it is the time of transition. In a sense Zoe’s change over the course of the play can be read as a failed rite of passage. Her body tells the story of the generational rape of the back female. As she is forced to share her shameful secret at being “the octoroon,” she begins the process of separation from her known white identity and community. The ritual of the slave auction is the culmination of this stripping of her identity, attempting to place her instead back within the narrative of black females. However, rather than completing the change and reincorporating into society as another black woman to become a possession, Zoe remains liminal, rejecting the description of either identity and taking her fate instead into her own hands and allowing her identity to be read fluidly rather than concretely. She won’t be defined or confined, but the cycle of violence will end with her.