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Literature Study GuidesBreath Eyes MemoryPart 3 Chapters 21 22 Summary

Breath, Eyes, Memory | Study Guide

Edwidge Danticat

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Breath, Eyes, Memory | Part 3, Chapters 21–22 | Summary



Chapter 21

After dinner Tante Atie reads a poem Louise helped her paraphrase from a book. Grandmè Ifé listens to the rest of Martine's message. Martine says her nightmares continue. At night Sophie and Tante Atie stand outside and talk. Sophie wants to name the pig; Tante Atie doesn't see the point. Tante Atie is unhappy. She feels her life "is nothing" and the village has nothing for her, but she's obligated to stay with her mother as the oldest daughter and the one who will lead the funeral procession. Sophie wishes she'd never left Tante Atie, but Tante Atie says it's useless to "rearrange your life." Haitian girls are trained to find husbands and keep their virginity, Tante Atie says. Their mothers make them burn their fingers cooking. "Then still you have nothing," she concludes.

The pig, tied to a post outside, whines all night. Grandmè Ifé complains that Louise is trouble and threatens to kill the pig. The next morning Louise runs to the house in tears. She reports the Macoutes killed Dessalines the coal seller. Louise knows she needs to leave Haiti or the Macoutes might kill her next. Grandmè Ifé warns Sophie to keep Brigitte inside until Dessalines's spirit is in the ground. His death has made Sophie reflect on these disturbing memories.

Sophie describes the fairy-tale version of the Macoutes, bogeymen used to frighten disobedient children. In the real world, Macoutes roam the streets of Haiti with guns, entering houses and raping the women inside. Sophie suspects her father, the man who raped her mother while hiding his face, was a Macoute. After the rape, Martine had nightmares the man would return and murder her. She tried to kill herself when Sophie was a baby. Grandmè Ifé sent Martine to work for a wealthy "mulatto" or mixed-race family who helped Martine apply for a visa. Tante Atie kept Sophie in Haiti so Sophie could attend school. Once Sophie left, Tante Atie moved in with Grandmè Ifé to take care of her. She overhears Tante Atie describe how sad she feels looking at Sophie's face. Grandmè Ifé and Tante Atie exchange sharp words.

Later Sophie and Tante Atie talk alone. Sophie asks if Tante Atie ever visits Monsieur Augustin. Tante Atie says he's disappeared from her life. She says Grandmè Ifé plans to tell Martine that Sophie is in Haiti. Martine will come back, Tante Atie continues, because she promised to arrange Grandmè Ifé's funeral. Sophie, however, doubts her mother cares where she is. The next morning Sophie hears Grandmè Ifé recording a cassette for Martine. Grandmè Ifé discusses Dessalines's murder and Tante Atie's ongoing sadness. She tells Martine not to worry about Sophie and hints that she is in Haiti. When Grandmè Ifé asks Sophie if she wants to talk to her mother, Sophie refuses. Tante Atie gets drunk and leaves the house. Louise escorts her home in the early hours of the following morning.

Chapter 22

Sophie watches a swarm of butterflies the next morning while Grandmè Ifé leaves for the cemetery to pay her respects to Dessalines. Tante Atie goes to spend the day with Louise.

Grandmè Ifé returns home and cuts coconuts with Sophie on the front porch. They see a traveling lantern as night falls. The lantern belongs to a midwife, Grandmè Ifé says. A baby is being born nearby. If the baby is a boy, the father "will stay awake all night" with the light on. If the baby is a girl, the midwife will take the lantern with her, leaving the mother to hold her baby in darkness. In an hour the light goes out. Sophie knows a girl was born.


The poem Tante Atie reads includes images already present in the novel that recall love and violence. The color red shows up in the blood and the cardinal bird. The "broken bottles, whistling snakes" suggest a primal brutality. Meanwhile, the pig's incessant crying reminds the Caco women of their own pain. Reminders of Martine's nightmares bring Sophie's own nightmares into focus.

Tante Atie is processing her own trauma. In her monologue beginning "They train you to find a husband," the word "they" refers to Haitian women as a whole—mothers, grandmothers, aunts, and the other powerful keepers of tradition. These women pass down a cultural image of womanhood and its responsibilities. Often these responsibilities come with a legacy of physical pain, such as fingers that get burned when a woman is learning to cook. Tante Atie feels that despite all the learning and training, she has nothing to show for her life except exhaustion. Her place in the family doesn't comfort her; it constrains her.

Still, Tante Atie accepts things are the way they are, even if they're miserable. The younger women process events differently. Sophie voices her regrets about the past, while Louise sees threats to her own life in the present.

Dessalines's death is a reminder of the horrors the Macoutes are still capable of. The story behind the nickname of a mythological bogeyman shows how Haitians use folklore to understand and process evil. The real-life Macoutes breach the boundaries of the family home—no place is safe.

As Sophie reveals, the Macoutes may be connected to her birth. She knows the history of her mother's trauma is key to dealing with her own. Martine associates pregnancy with sexual violence and being "half insane." The novel hints Martine's nightmares and struggles with mental illness may not have begun with her rape but were exacerbated by it.

Tension escalates as the Caco women prepare for Martine's return. Tante Atie's drinking increases; so does her fighting with Grandmè Ifé. Sophie resents the idea of forced reconciliation. Though strong on the outside, the women are secretly unraveling.

Chapter 22 mixes death and departure with birth and arrival. Louise's departure affects Tante Atie physically as if her own skin is gone. As Grandmè Ifé pays her respects to Dessalines, she considers her own coming journey to the cemetery in death.

The birth of the girl in the village reminds the Caco women of the extra troubles girls face. The ritual is more sorrowful than celebratory, as a mother and daughter are left alone in the darkness to face their troubles together. Grandmè Ifé's story suggests this is a timeless ritual applicable to generations of women, uniting them.

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