Breath, Eyes, Memory | Study Guide

Edwidge Danticat

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Breath, Eyes, Memory | Part 1, Chapters 3–4 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 3

Before Sophie leaves for New York she visits her Grandmè Ifé in the village of La Nouvelle Dame Marie. Grandmè Ifé's house has been reconstructed thanks to money from Martine, and it house stands out among the huts in the village.

Grandmè Ifé cooks for Sophie and expresses pride in her school accomplishments. She tells Sophie to remember "your mother is your first friend." When Sophie sleeps she waits for the recurring nightmare in which her mother takes her away.

Sophie and Tante Atie return home the next morning. If they stay too long Grandmè Ifé may get used to them and suffer chagrin, or distress, when they leave. Grandmè Ifé treats chagrin like a physical disease. On the way home Tante Atie explains to Sophie chagrin kills its victims slowly. "It chooses us," she adds. Tante Atie then tells a legend from Ginen, or Guinea, about the people of Creation who carry the sky on their heads. People who have great troubles in life have been chosen to carry part of the sky.

Chapter 4

The next week Tante Atie works long hours to buy Sophie gifts for her trip. Sophie sees her suitcase in the house and realizes she won't be in Haiti much longer. When Tante Atie pours tea, Sophie sees a love note from Monsieur Augustin on the bottom of the kettle. Sophie can't keep herself from crying as she drinks.

Tante Atie gives Sophie a white dress with embroidered daffodils to wear on her trip. The night before Sophie leaves she dreams her mother, dressed in yellow with daffodils in her hair, is stealing her from Tante Atie.

In the morning Tante Atie reminds Sophie that Martine will be a great mother, adding, "Crabs don't make papayas. She is my sister." Sophie reads Tante Atie the poem she wrote on her Mother's Day card. The poem compares Sophie's mother to a daffodil staying strong in the wind.

Lottery agent Chabin comes to the house and tells Tante Atie she won money. Tante Atie says Sophie's mother is already bringing them luck. Later that morning Sophie leaves in a taxi with Tante Atie. Waving goodbye to the neighbors, Sophie notices the village is quiet with no children outside and no daffodils.

Analysis

Here Sophie's introduced to the idea of her mother as a friend. How is friendship different from love? While love can be affected by a sense of obligation to a family member, a friendship is a relationship someone chooses. Martine will ask to be Sophie's friend when Sophie is an adult in Part 3, leading Sophie to consider what this friendship means. It's a different level of intimacy and requires a different kind of commitment.

Another recurring phenomenon in the Caco family is the blending of psychological trauma with physical pain. Grandmè Ifé thinks chagrin or distress always translates to a physical ailment. The soul and body are connected for Sophie, Martine, and Tante Atie, as their remembered traumas take on physical forms.

Tante Atie's resigned "it chooses us" links to the idea of the Caco women being defined by the family they're born into. Their family's pains, ones they didn't personally experience, become part of them. The concept of inherited family trauma is central to the novel, although it isn't exclusive to Haitian culture.

But the family fate can be an honor, too. Tante Atie and other characters often tell folktales to place their own experiences in a larger context. Cultures use folktales and myths to explain natural phenomena and to give humans purpose within them, and the Caco women continue this tradition. The tale of carrying the sky on your head makes a burden into a special responsibility without which the world cannot exist. Tante Atie uses this story to remind Sophie of the need for supernatural strength. The need to appear strong is another tradition Sophie learns from older female relatives. There are limits on how she can show emotion and heavy expectations about how she should behave.

Chapter 3 introduces Ginen, a word referring to the afterlife in Haitian tradition. The name, which is also spelled Guinea or Guinee, is taken from the country of Guinea in Africa. This reflects the heritage of African slaves in the Caribbean and their desire to return home.

Arrival and departure recur in the novel. These transitions are physical, emotional, and spiritual. When someone departs they aren't the same as when they arrived. Sophie's suitcase reminds her she's going through the transition of departure for the first time. The journey will change her.

As Sophie considers the new life ahead of her, Tante Atie thinks of the life she could have lived. The note from Monsieur Augustin on the bottom of the kettle is a reminder of this. Tante Atie pins her own deferred hopes on Sophie. The winning lottery numbers represent the luck she hopes Sophie will have.

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