Comparisons of Sula and Breath, Eyes, Memory

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The Most Complex Relationship

In Breathe, Eyes, Memory, Tante Atie usually tells about the chunk of the sky and flower petals story to explain from where Sophie was born, but of course, Sophie is not an exception of nature. Like billions of girls all over the world, she was linked to her mother’s body by the placenta, and lived in the womb for nine months before being greeted by the world. When the placenta is removed – a girl and her mother do not share the same body any more, however, she does not develop into a woman independent of her mother. It’s not simply a matter of genes or inheritance, but a complicated relationship between mother and daughter. How does a mother positively or negatively influence her growing up daughter? What is the meaning of a daughter to her mother? How do a daughter’s personality form under her mother’s influence? These questions are answered in both novels Breathe, Eyes, Memory by Edwidge Danticat and Sula by Toni Morrison with some from similar views, and some from different views. For ages, a mother’s love is always mentioned as the symbol for pure and selfless love. Digging deep in the complex maternal love, nevertheless, both Morrison and Danticat draw an unexpected conclusion that daughters are somewhat detestable to their mothers. Perhaps the biggest impression that Hannah, Sula’s mother, gives readers is her seemingly unfathomable love for her daughter. One day, when Sula passes by, some women are talking about problems of child rearing, and Hannah says that she does not like her daughter: “You love her, like I love Sula. I just don’t like her. That’s the difference” (Morrison 57). Along with Eva’s murder of Plum, Hannah’s words raise a question about the ambivalence of a mother’s love, which is not a simple definition of romantic understanding. Instead, it can be an emotion tightly sticking to heavy responsibility, or even a burden of taking care of children. Perhaps deep in Hannah’s soul, she does not like Sula’s own self, but as a mother, she needs, or even has, to love Sula. Overhearing her mother’s word, Sula takes her first step into the convoluted world of adulthood where emotions are ambiguous and intricate rather than simple and straight in her own childish definitions: her mother will never stop loving her, but it’s not an unconditional love as she has long believed – it’s a love of responsibility. Through Hannah’s comment, Morrison affirms that loving and liking are not the same thing, as well as maternal love is not pure love of devotion and sacrifice, but may associate with obligatory duties of a mother. In Breath, Eyes, Memory, although Martine has never said she does not like Sophie, it’s not difficult to realize Sophie is, or at least used to be, part of Martine’s life of which she wants to get rid. Sophie is the result of a sexual assault, a baby that the rapist pounds into Martine. Sophie has a distinctive face looking like no one in her family, but rather echoing the unknown rapist’s. Martine admits that she once tried any possible ways to abort Sophie, because Sophie is the witness to the horror Martine suffers, and part of tragic memory Martine wants to completely forget (Danticat 190). Just as Sula knows Hannah loves her, as it’s the duty of a mother, Sophie also realizes that she is a relic of Martine’s dreadful past. When having dinner with Marc and Martine, Sophie notices them eyeing each other as if there are things they cannot say because of her: “I tried to stuff myself and keep quiet, pretending that I couldn’t even see them. My mother now had two lives: Marc belonged to the present life, I was a living memory from the past” (Danticat 56). Marc is a well-dressed, relatively affluent lawyer – part of Martine’s present life in America, while Sophie is an innocent little girl from the impoverished Croix-des-Rosets – part of Martine’s past life in Haiti. As Martine goes to America and has not returned to Haiti for years to...
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