Breath, Eyes, Memory

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*Original Work - Amina Alam *

The separated Marassas

The artistry of story telling in Edwidge Danticat’s Breath, Eyes, Memory enables the women of the Caco clan to communicate and pass on cultural traditions and specific moral instructions. The stories and folklore allow Sophie Caco to eventually understand her mother’s motives and reveal a deep understanding between the women of the Caco family. The immigration from the mothers’ homeland and assimilation in America has caused rifts between mother-daughter relationships and sparked conflicts which cause psychological and physical damage within the family. The women in the Caco family use stories to exemplify cultural values and moral expectancies upon their daughters. The illustrative stories enrich the daughter’s lives and allow them to come to terms with their true identity. Although at first the stories are seen as bedtime stories, over time Sophie recognizes that the narratives actually provide direction, guidance and advice from her mother, Martine. Through story telling the fragmented mother-daughter relationship is rekindled allowing the daughter to realize that the ambiguous themes and principles in the tales convey her mother’s wisdom and dreams. Passing down stories and secrets through oral tradition is a custom used to record and pass on ideas when thoughts could not be recorded or written down. Sophie Caco is raised by her illiterate Tante Atie in the village of Croix des Rosets. Tantie Atie receives money and cassettes from Sophie’s mother who lives and works in New York. The novel depicts the troubles of separation in mother-daughter relationships, the consequences and affects of assimilation and immigration, and the power of story-telling. Stories shape the lives of the Caco clan. Tante Atie provides Sophie with a sheltered childhood. Tante Atie cared and comforted Sophie with fairy tales when she could not sleep: “Tante Atie would stay up with me. The two of us would sit by the window and Tantie Atie would tell me stories about our lives, about the way things had been in the family, even before I was born.” (Danticat, 47) Sophie learns about her mother and her Grandmothers’ Ife through stories. Sophie asks Tantie Atie about her child hood saying “I was born with a mother and no father” (Danticat, 47). Atie replies with “the story of a little girl who was born out of petals of roses, water from the stream, and a chunk of the sky. That little girl, she said was me.” (Danticat, 47) The stories provided answers to questions that Tantie Atie, Martine and Grandma Ife did not want to answer directly. The stories portrayed and exemplified thoughts that the women were not taught how to deal with. The stories sheltered the women and allowed them to hold on to their disappearing cultural traditions and religious anecdotes with which they were raised. These stories served as a coping mechanism for the women of the Caco clan. Social instructions including parental guidance were learned through stories and folklore of the Haitian and African religions. The Haitian communities in the novel do not directly deal with the social dilemmas of the nation. The issues of alcoholism, poverty and sexual harassment are ignored while the nation’s economic and political situation disintegrates. The people of Haiti are left powerless and unable to change their current situation. The tales provide hope and allow the people who hear the stories to hear stories of a better time. The Tonton Macoute aggressively police and attack the Haitian subjects and implement the harsh rules of the dictatorship. The rape of Martine is not investigated and Ife does not seem capable of soothing her daughter’s frail state of mind after her traumatic ordeal. It is very unclear how Martine ends up in New York but it is suggested that perhaps Martine left Haiti for a better future. Martine left so that she would never have to face her rapist. After Martine’s rape her mental stability diminished...
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