Literature Study GuidesBreath Eyes MemoryPart 3 Chapters 15 16 Summary

Breath, Eyes, Memory | Study Guide

Edwidge Danticat

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Breath, Eyes, Memory | Part 3, Chapters 15–16 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 15

Sophie, Tante Atie, and Grandmè Ifé eat supper on Grandmè Ifé's back porch. Tante Atie wears a New York sweatshirt Sophie brought her. Sophie also brought a sweatshirt for her grandmother, forgetting Grandmè Ifé can only wear black to mourn her dead husband. The women discuss Haitian cooking and Tante Atie's reading lessons. Grandmè Ifé doesn't approve of Tante Atie leaving for lessons at night.

Before bedtime Tante Atie reads aloud from a composition book. She chooses to read the poem Sophie wrote in her Mother's Day card before leaving Haiti.

Sophie sleeps with Brigitte in Martine's old room. She remembers Joseph listening to the baby while she was pregnant and wonders if Brigitte will remember her mother taking her from her father or inherit her mother's problems. Suddenly Sophie wants to tell Brigitte a story like the magical stories Tante Atie used to tell her.

Tante Atie returns to the house drunk and giggling. When Grandmè Ifé scolds her, Tante Atie says she doesn't have to set a good example for Sophie any longer because Sophie is an adult.

Chapter 16

Sophie wakes early to watch the sunrise. She observes the sounds, sights, and smells of Haiti. She also notices the statue of the goddess Erzulie on her grandmother's dresser.

Watching her grandmother bathe, Sophie sees Grandmè Ifé's curved spine. She's reminded of Martine's surgery for breast cancer several years earlier.

Analysis

Like many cultures, Haitian culture has mourning rituals with color symbolism. As a widow, Grandmè Ifé keeps the déy, or mourning ritual, by wearing black. Her clothing signals her devotion to family.

In a different way, Tante Atie is mourning her own life. With no one to mother or "be a saint" for, her life feels directionless. She wants more than she has and doesn't know where to find it. Her restless wandering and struggles with self-image make Grandmè Ifé increasingly uncomfortable. Tante Atie's refusal to accept her life violates Grandmè Ifé's sense of order, destiny, and loyalty. When Grandmè Ifé reminds Tante Atie of her need to be a role model for Sophie, Tante Atie responds that their roles are changed because Sophie has grown up.

Sophie isn't sure if she wanted to get away from her family or return to them. She doesn't know whether her trip was a departure or an arrival. As she asks larger questions about what Brigitte will inherit, she considers the family she wants to build for her child. How much of the past will this new family contain?

As Sophie spends time with her family, she observes how life events manifest on the women's bodies. Sophie recalls the "giant goose bumps" the testing left on her skin. Her body image has been profoundly affected by pregnancy. Her mother and grandmother have their own physical traumas possibly related to emotional burdens. Martine has lost two breasts to cancer, and Grandmè Ifé has a permanently curved spine. After seeing the physical weakness and imperfection of her family members—and herself—Sophie returns to an image of the mythological perfect mother Erzulie, the Haitian goddess of love.

Chapter 15 introduces a call-and-response motif common in Haitian folklore: "Krik?" "Krak!" A person who wants to tell a story will ask, "Krik?" and those who want to listen will respond, "Krak!" Danticat titled a short story collection Krik? Krak! using this motif. In Breath, Eyes, Memory, the response includes the virtues of honor and respect, showing their significance in Haitian culture.

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