Literature Study GuidesBreath Eyes MemoryPart 3 Chapters 19 20 Summary

Breath, Eyes, Memory | Study Guide

Edwidge Danticat

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Breath, Eyes, Memory | Part 3, Chapters 19–20 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 19

The next morning Tante Atie prepares to go with Louise into the city. Louise plans to have her name added to the archives of residents in their valley, and Tante Atie wants to add her name as well. Grandmè Ifé is skeptical. She believes a woman worth remembering doesn't need her name on a piece of paper.

Sophie takes pictures of Grandmè Ifé and Brigitte in the afternoon. Grandmè Ifé confesses the camera scares her, but Sophie wants Brigitte to have memories of her relatives and see how she resembles them.

Later Sophie looks at photographs of Brigitte's birth and her brief courthouse wedding to Joseph. She had needed stitches after breaking her own hymen as an 18-year-old. Joseph didn't understand why she'd done it. Sophie feels the act "was like breaking manacles, an act of freedom."

Sex with Joseph was painful but Sophie felt it was her duty. Their first night of painful intercourse led to Brigitte's conception.

Sophie watches a young village boy named Eliab fly a kite. When another kite, fitted with razors, knocks into his, Eliab loses his kite and can't bring it back.

Chapter 20

In the evening Louise comes for supper, bringing a pig as a gift. Tante Atie brings a cassette she received in the mail from Martine in New York City.

On the cassette Martine discusses the money she's sending Grandmè Ifé, whom she calls Manman. She also mentions Joseph has been calling her. Joseph is on tour and can't reach Sophie at their home in Providence, and he thinks Sophie may be with her mother. As the women listen to the cassette, the pig whimpers and wails.

Sophie stops the tape, and Tante Atie tells her it's time to reconcile with her mother.

Analysis

The Caco women's claim to their land becomes a sign of family unity and legacy. At the end of the novel Sophie will realize Haiti's maternal hold on all of its women, who remain connected to the land itself.

Now that Tante Atie's learning to read she realizes the importance of written words as a way to leave a permanent impact. She wants her name written in the archives so it will last. Grandmè Ifé is more attached to an oral storytelling tradition in which memories keep the best records.

The Caco women are considering the larger issue of what makes a woman worth remembering. What will be their legacy after they die? How will their children remember them? Sophie, for instance, uses photographs to remember milestones in her and Brigitte's lives. She wants Brigitte to have a physical, permanent reminder of her family. Sophie also hopes Brigitte can use the family resemblance as a way to understand herself, a reminder Sophie has lacked because she doesn't look like anyone in her family.

Eliab's broken kite parallels Sophie's inability to completely free herself from her past. The reminder remains on her body. She is physically tied to her family no matter what. She's emotionally tied as well by a sense of obligation. What does she owe her family? What does she owe her mother?

The reader learns a surprising fact about Sophie's disappearance: she didn't tell Joseph where she went. In a sense Sophie is testing the boundaries of her obligations to family. Brigitte is the only member she feels duty-bound to care for.

But Martine may need Sophie's care too. On the cassette Martine hints that she's worried about her own mental state. Sophie begins to wonder what a reconciliation might cost both of them and whether it will be worth it.

The pig's escalating cries provide a contrast to the women's silent agitation. It is much more vocal about its pain than the women are.

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