Analysis of Kumau Brathwaite's "Dream Haiti"

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The short story is a literary genre of fictional, prose narrative that tends to be more concise than longer works of fiction such as novellas and novels. Short stories have their origins in oral story-telling traditions and the prose anecdote that comes rapidly to its point. Within Caribbean literature, contemporary writers are attracted to this form. According to Jeremy Poynting this is perhaps due to “an urge to tell stories that remain closer to an oral tradition of storytelling than is the case in Western cultures,” (2) since the writer is more capable to bring out his voice “in the short story than in more extended works of fiction” (2) One such author is Barbados born, L. Edward Kamau Brathwaite. Throughout his adult life he has distinguished himself as a Caribbean poet and cultural historian. His compilation Dreamstories embodies the “symbolic dramatizations of the phobias, desires and areas of trauma of Brathwaite as a straitened subject.” (Rohlehr, VII) In his collection, he explores the plunge into personal and socio-cultural history. This is particularly seen in the story “Dream Haiti” which more echoes the likes of a free verse poem than an actual short narrative. “Dream Haiti” takes the reader on a disoriented dream-voyage where the narrator, a Haitian refugee, discovers himself imprisoned by his own circumstances with no clear sight of emancipating himself. Through the voices of the narrator, the author and a distant subconscious voice, the personal history of Brathwaite and the social history of the Caribbean and its people are explored in the writer’s craft. Reference to Haitian socio-cultural history is prevalent in “Dream Haiti.” The narrator has left Haiti in the “petit martin” in order to escape from dictatorship of Duvalier as is proven by the reference to “macoute.” After surviving an attempted coup in 1958, Duvalier established the the Volontaires de la Sécurité Nationale (MVSN) more commonly known as the Tonton Macoute (or fabled bogeyman). The story also coincides during the period when there was a surge of Haitian refugees illegally entering the United States of America. Brathwaite therefore associates his 1968 visit to Haiti during the Duvalier regime with that of the 1991 coup which led to many Haitians fleeing the Caribbean island. This is made effective through the dream sequence as it lends to the blurring of time yet due to the similarity of the situations there is still coherency and fluidity in the story. There is also reference to African Americans detachment to the Haitians’ quandary. This is seen by the “drowning Haitians” who are “lobbying by with their heads up and down in the curve of the water and their arms still vainly trying to reach Miami and Judge Thomas and the Supreme court.”(111) Brathwaite brings the effects of the 1991 coup to the forefront in the story. The plights of the refugees therefore falls against deaf airs and they become unwanted and “drown” in the “grey pool.” This is the antithesis of the American Dream in which so many of the refugees believe. There are illustrations of the Haiti’s more glorious past, with the likes of Toussaint but it has lost its power in the present mind of Haiti and its people. Moreover, the politicians of the region collapse into one complex figure in Margaret T. Eugenia Azuchar. Margaret T. is derives from Margaret Thatcher who was the British Prime Minister from 1979 to 1990 and Leader of the Conservative Party from 1975 to 1990. She is the first and to date only woman to hold either post. Eugenia derives from Dominica first female Prime Minister Dame Eugenia Charles. She was the first female prime minister in the Caribbean, and the first woman elected in her own right as head of government in North America. She is Dominica's first and to date only female prime minister. The surname “Azuchar” derives from the Spanish word “azucar’ which means sugar. Since one’s surname provides us with a foundation to one’s identity the...
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