Literature Study GuidesBreath Eyes MemoryPart 3 Chapters 13 14 Summary

Breath, Eyes, Memory | Study Guide

Edwidge Danticat

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Breath, Eyes, Memory | Part 3, Chapters 13–14 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 13

Part 3 takes place two years after Part 2 ends. Sophie is 20 years old, married to Joseph, and living in Providence. The couple has an infant daughter named Brigitte.

As Chapter 13 opens, Sophie returns to Haiti with Brigitte for a visit. It's a hot day in August. Sophie takes a van to La Nouvelle Dame Marie and chats with the van driver as they stop at a marketplace. He compliments her Creole and she says she was born in Haiti. The driver mentions some Haitians forget their Creole after they leave the country. "I need to remember," Sophie replies.

Sophie sees Louise, the daughter of Grandmè Ifé's neighbor Man Grace, selling cola by the roadside. She's startled when Louise whispers in her ear, "I have a pig to sell you." Sophie asks Louise if she's seen Tante Atie, since Tante Atie was supposed to meet Sophie at the marketplace. She wonders if Tante Atie will recognize her.

Louise is excited to hear if New York is as large and wealthy as people say. Man Grace is dead, Louise reports, and Tante Atie constantly talks about Sophie. Louise is teaching Tante Atie to read and write. As Louise asks about Sophie's life, Sophie says she's a secretary. She is taking time off work to care for 20-week-old Brigitte. Her trip to Haiti wasn't planned. Then Louise says she's saving money to go to America by boat. The trip is dangerous, Sophie warns her, but Louise replies, "Spilled water is better than a broken jar."

Tante Atie finally arrives. She examines Sophie's face "to see the girl she had put on the plane." When Tante Atie meets Brigitte she says the baby looks more like Martine's child than Sophie's.

Chapter 14

Tante Atie and Sophie walk to Grandmè Ifé's house. Sophie reveals she and Martine haven't spoken since Sophie left home. Martine won't answer Sophie's letters or take her calls, and she's never met Brigitte. Tante Atie says this is sad, and "Martine's head is not in the best condition." The family passes Man Grace's farm. Man Grace's death was hard on Louise, Tante Atie says. The mother and daughter were close and slept in the same bed every night.

Grandmè Ifé is overjoyed to see Sophie again. When she meets Brigitte, Grandmè Ifé says she can see her entire family in the baby's face.

Analysis

Sophie is embarking on a journey similar in some ways to her Part 1 emigration. She's going somewhere she doesn't feel she belongs. This journey is especially complicated since it's both an arrival and a return.

Her return to Haiti is marked by absurdity and alienation. She's uncomfortable with the persistent flirtation of the driver. She feels guilty when the sun appears to be slapping her face in punishment. She notices the aggression of the "steaming reds, from cherry scarlet to crimson blood" on the van. She's scared by Louise's surprise greeting. And after several years in America, Sophie sees the social situation in Haiti differently. She's glad she isn't "forced to sit with the market women" in the back of the van even though these women were once her neighbors.

While Sophie remembers her Creole, she understands why some people "need to forget" their heritage to survive. The narrative suggests that forgetting is a deliberate act, but so is remembering: They are different methods of coping and reckoning with the past.

Does memory heal or harm? Although Sophie needs to remember her past, she spends the novel searching for freedom. The question "Ou libere?" or "Are you free?" refers to the market women's heavy physical loads in Chapter 13. At the end of the novel, the question returns to mark liberation from the baggage of the past. The young boy struggling to fly his kite is another recurring detail. The kite wants freedom in the sky, but it can't quite get there. Like Sophie, the kite keeps being pulled back to its roots.

Back in Haiti Sophie sees more clearly why people want to escape. The country isn't free, either. The Macoutes, the soldiers who held power during the dictatorship of corrupt Haitian leader François Duvalier, maintain a threatening presence. Louise's desire to sell the pig is a desperate bid to get the money to leave.

Louise reminds Sophie of a certain Haitian mindset she has abandoned, herself. Louise speaks in rich, colorful metaphors. She thinks in legends and myths and has a fairy-tale view of America. She suggests folk medicine traditions to give babies traits considered desirable, like lighter skin or softer hair. Despite her fear of sharks in the ocean, she doesn't mind taking a potentially deadly journey. Death is simply a part of her life.

The primal closeness of mothers and daughters continues to affect the Caco women. Louise has adopted Tante Atie as a mother figure, and Tante Atie similarly adopts Louise as a daughter figure after Sophie leaves. Through Sophie's own intimate gestures in feeding and caring for Brigitte, she experiences the maternal relationship in a new way.

Brigitte's resemblance to Martine and to other family members makes her a keeper of the family memory. This memory brings out complex emotions in the Caco women. Sophie's still having trouble picturing herself as a mother. Tante Atie remembers her relationship with her surrogate daughter Sophie. Grandmè Ifé recalls the faces of the past, using nature metaphors for the common looks and behaviors in a family. Brigitte is a reminder "the tree has not split one mite."

However, familial closeness isn't enough to fill the voids in the women's lives. It's especially not enough for Tante Atie. For her, literacy is a subversive act. The Duvalier regime persecuted supporters of written Creole because they knew the destruction of language is also a destruction of cultural memory and a loss of power. Danticat has spoken to the idea that literature and creation are dangerous, especially in places like Haiti. Tante Atie is learning to express herself as an individual independently of the family. With her voice comes the truth about her dissatisfaction.

Sophie is contending with her own needs. She's attracted to New York as "a place where you can lose yourself easily." In Haiti she sees how individuals can lose themselves in a different way and then have trouble finding themselves again.

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