Literature Study GuidesBreath Eyes MemoryPart 4 Chapters 30 31 Summary

Breath, Eyes, Memory | Study Guide

Edwidge Danticat

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Breath, Eyes, Memory | Part 4, Chapters 30–31 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 30

Sophie and Brigitte return to Providence, where Joseph greets them. Joseph is glad to see Sophie but angry with her for leaving. She says her grandmother is preparing for her funeral, remarking on the importance of death "at home." Joseph is surprised to hear Sophie call Haiti home. She's always called her mother's house home before.

In her house, Sophie feels overwhelmed by her responsibilities as a mother and wife. Joseph asks if the two of them can work through their problems. Sophie doesn't have an answer. She tells him she needs understanding.

Before bed Sophie calls to check on her mother. Joseph is pleased to learn Sophie will finally have a sibling.

The next day Sophie takes Brigitte to see her pediatrician, Karen. Though Karen says Brigitte is fine, she warns Sophie not to take her back to Haiti.

Sophie calls Martine again the following night. Martine is still unsure she wants to carry the pregnancy to term. She sees her rapist everywhere. Sophie says she and Joseph will visit on the weekend.

As Joseph becomes intimate with her, Sophie thinks of the doubling process in Haitian legend and of the Marasas, or twins. She feels distant from her body. Sophie imagines herself visiting her mother at night and reassuring her. Martine wants to be her friend, Sophie thinks, but now the two women are even closer as "twins, in spirit." After Joseph falls asleep Sophie goes to the kitchen, eats the leftovers from dinner, and vomits them back up.

Chapter 31

Sophie attends a sexual phobia group led by her therapist, Rena. Two other women attend with her. Buki, an Ethiopian woman, survived female circumcision. Davina, a woman of Mexican descent, was raped by a family member.

The women bring keepsakes and Sophie brings the statue of the Haitian goddess Erzulie. They recite encouraging mantras and read letters to their abusers. Finally the women write the names of their abusers on paper and burn them. Sophie feels her hurt is connected to her mother's pain like "links in a long chain." She feels responsible for making sure her daughter never has nightmares.

When Sophie comes home Joseph shows her how Brigitte can say "Dada." Sophie secretly hopes Brigitte will say "Mama" as well. Martine calls Sophie and says Grandmè Ifé has prepared for her own funeral. Though Martine claims she's feeling better, Sophie isn't convinced.

Later Sophie sits to write Tante Atie a letter. Since Tante Atie can now read, Sophie wants to send her a message only she can see.

Analysis

As an immigrant Sophie frequently journeys from one home to another. She's unsure if "home" is Haiti, her mother's house, or her new house in Providence. Now she's calling Haiti home for the first time. She also accepts the Haitian idea that "death is journey" and that Grandmè Ifé is preparing for death the same way she'd prepare for travel anywhere else.

In addition to cultural transitions, Sophie's experiencing the common anxiety of starting a new life as a young adult. She has a realization about her home—"I was surrounded by my own life, my own four walls." She knows the life she's built comes with responsibility, and she constantly worries this new life is fragile. She keeps Joseph at a cool distance, afraid he'll abandon her for another woman. She's concerned the trip to Haiti may have harmed Brigitte's health. And she's reminded her own mother isn't invincible and can't always protect her.

The mother and daughter roles reverse for Sophie and Martine in Chapter 30. Sophie calms her mother and talks her through her options. Silently she pledges to care for her mother the way a mother might promise to care for a child. Although she "doubled" to escape her mother's abuse as an adolescent, she's now "doubling" to become close to her mother.

In Chapter 31 Sophie reckons with the harm the testing did to her. She treats it as sexual abuse, though she's reluctant to use the term, and as a breach of physical boundaries. Like Buki, the Ethiopian group member who survived female genital mutilation, Sophie's trauma is rooted in cultural practice. She and Buki were both harmed by women in their families who were following a tradition. The reasons are complex, including cultural ideas about female sexuality, fear of male violence, and concern for protecting reputation. Buki's letter resembles what Sophie might say to her own mother. Sophie can hate the testing and hate what it's done to her self-image, but she can't bring herself to hate her mother once she sees her mother as a victim as well.

Sophie describes the testing practice and its effects as "a long chain" linking her to her mother and going back for generations. When she sees her pain as inherited trauma, she can see how her mother inherited it too. In this way Sophie sees herself as a Haitian; the past is always with her. But she seizes the American idea of choosing her future regardless of her past. She decides to break the chain and treat Brigitte differently.

Realizing how trauma connects them all, Sophie has a desire to reconnect to Tante Atie, who was a mother to her in a different way. She imagines befriending Tante Atie like she's befriending her mother and discussing their memories of Haiti.

How can Sophie heal? The color symbolism of white and green in the sexual phobia group suggests life, growth, and a clean, blank slate. It won't be easy, but the group represents a starting point.

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