Literature Study GuidesBreath Eyes MemoryPart 4 Chapters 28 29 Summary

Breath, Eyes, Memory | Study Guide

Edwidge Danticat

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Breath, Eyes, Memory | Part 4, Chapters 28–29 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 28

Part 4 takes place immediately after Part 3 in Haiti, New York City, and Providence.

As the van drives through Haiti's capital city, Port-au-Prince, Martine excitedly points out stores she used to visit. On the plane Martine reveals she's uncomfortable being in Haiti. Sophie discloses she has bulimia, an eating disorder defined by bingeing and purging. Martine is surprised to hear Sophie is wasting food because it is rare in Haiti. When Sophie accuses Martine of blaming her, Martine says, "You have become very American." She tells Sophie it took her time to get used to the abundance of food in America.

The women return to Martine's Brooklyn home. Sophie's things are gone from her old bedroom, and Martine confesses she burned Sophie's old clothes in a fit of anger when Sophie left home. Sophie understands and agrees to eat whatever Martine makes for dinner. Martine prepares spaghetti, saying she could only make simple meals after Sophie left. Haitian food reminded her of her daughter.

After dinner Martine leaves to see Marc. Sophie calls Joseph, who's concerned and wants to discuss their problems together. He promises to wait "as long as it takes" until Sophie works through her discomfort with sex. He asks Sophie to thank Martine for finding her, and Sophie replies, "I wasn't lost." She says she'll return to Providence the next day. When Martine returns she mentions she had to tell Marc some news.

Chapter 29

For breakfast Martine prepares rich food, which Sophie avoids out of guilt. Martine discloses her news—she's pregnant with Marc's child, and she isn't sure what to do. Sophie suggests Martine and Marc raise the baby, but Martine says she doesn't want to repeat the mistakes she made with Sophie. She is also afraid her cancer will come back.

When Sophie recommends Martine see a psychiatrist, Martine resists. She fears a psychiatrist will bring up the memory of her rape or put her in a mental hospital. The baby is already making the nightmares return. Without the nightmares Martine might be able to raise the child. Martine confesses she tried to terminate her pregnancy with Sophie, but Sophie wanted to live.

Out of concern Sophie offers to stay. Martine says Marc will stay with her, but Martine doesn't want to marry Marc—marriage won't help her escape the nightmares.

As Sophie leaves for Providence, she reflects on how her mother's nightmares have become hers, too. She had suicidal thoughts for the first year of her marriage. Brigitte sleeps well, however, and Sophie hopes she hasn't inherited the nightmares herself.

Analysis

The Caco women reckon with changes in their lives throughout the novel. These changes produce different versions of themselves. Martine's experience riding through Port-au-Prince resembles Tante Atie's excitement at the city in Part 1. Both women feel the city connects them to the girls they used to be and the dreams they once had.

Sophie spends Chapter 28 reconciling her American self with her Haitian self. After a trip to her past, she has trouble reentering her life in America. Part of her struggle is that after she married, Sophie's relationship with food changed. She considers food an enemy, trying not to eat too much and purging when she does eat. Food has become a weapon she can use against herself.

Martine also has a difficult relationship with food. She still fears scarcity and describes eating more food than she needed out of fear it would disappear, otherwise. Both women eat for reasons other than hunger. Food becomes more than nourishment—it represents cultural background, fears, concerns, and sorrow. Martine tries to feed Sophie to cure her bulimia, and her pain at eating Haitian dishes is tied to the loss of her daughter.

Going to her mother's house in Brooklyn is a different kind of return to the past for Sophie. She notices what remains of her years there and what her mother has cleared out. Sophie can't connect to any version of her former self. She feels alienated hearing her own voice on the Providence answering machine. She seems to belong nowhere.

Joseph's concern signals to Sophie that she can't keep up her constant arrivals and departures. Leaving won't solve her problems. Though Joseph can't fully understand what Sophie is going through, he knows fixing her body and soul will be complicated. His eagerness to hear about Brigitte hints at the future family Sophie's trying to build as a new parent—a place for her to stay.

Chapter 29 shows Martine's fears and anxieties are more complex than Sophie imagined. Like Sophie, Martine has disdain for her own body and physical appearance. Martine is critical of her weight, skin color, and physique after cancer surgery. The Caco women's internal traumas often show up externally on their bodies.

To Martine, pregnancy is another form of trauma. Her pregnancy will bring up guilt over her treatment of Sophie and genuine fear the baby will be a boy. Any man represents a threat to her. The pregnancy also introduces moral questions. Should Martine sacrifice her well-being for her child? Will the child inherit the family nightmares? Will the child be similar to Sophie, a constant reminder of Martine's rape but a saving presence during her night terrors? The novel describes the incredible power of family to nurture, heal, and destroy. A child could retraumatize Martine or give her a pathway to a new family with Marc.

Meanwhile Sophie begins to see just how much she and her mother share. They have severe sexual anxiety. Their past traumas continue to affect them. They fight for the lives and freedoms they want. They're afraid it might be too late for them to heal. But while Sophie is tentatively trying to start over, Martine feels she can't escape her fate.

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