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Literature Study GuidesBreath Eyes MemoryPart 4 Chapters 32 33 Summary

Breath, Eyes, Memory | Study Guide

Edwidge Danticat

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Breath, Eyes, Memory | Part 4, Chapters 32–33 | Summary



Chapter 32

Sophie tells her therapist, Rena, about her eventful trip to Haiti. Rena asks if Sophie reclaimed her mother line. "My mother line was always with me," Sophie says. Though Rena wants Sophie to deal with the conflicts with her mother, Sophie wants to forgive Martine and start fresh. Since Sophie "grew up believing that people could be in two places at once," she finds it easy to imagine her mother as someone new.

Sophie reveals she can't be angry at her grandmother for doing what she felt she had to do to be a good parent. She's not even angry at Martine for sleeping with a man out of wedlock, the same thing she didn't want Sophie to do. The baby, Sophie says, has made many of Martine's old emotions return.

Rena says Sophie will have to address the question of her father. Since Martine never dealt with her memories of Sophie's father, he remained "a shadow" who could control her, Rena explains. Rena further asks Sophie to imagine how her mother might face similar problems with sexual intimacy. Sophie says she's afraid Joseph will abandon her. Brigitte is the only person in the world she doesn't fear will leave her. Rena suggests Martine also felt Sophie was the only one in the world who would never leave her.

Finally Rena recommends Sophie and Martine return to the spot where Martine was raped. They can have a final confrontation with "the spot where it happened" and be free of ghosts.

Chapter 33

Sophie, Joseph, and Brigitte visit Martine and Marc for dinner in Brooklyn. They discuss Joseph's career and the conversation turns to music. Martine mentions she's made a decision but doesn't tell Sophie what it is.

Martine and Joseph have a shared love for African American spirituals. Joseph explains spirituals were often ways for slaves to sing about freedom. Martine sings her favorite spiritual with the lyric "Sometimes I feel like a motherless child."

When Sophie returns home, she and Martine talk on the phone: Martine has decided to terminate the pregnancy. Sophie protests that the child is Marc's, too, but Martine, who believes the baby will be a boy, claims the baby's voice insults her. She asks Sophie to pray for her.


Is it possible for Sophie to meet her mother for the first time without the baggage of the past? Sophie uses the doubling concept in Haitian voodoo mythology to process her feelings about being her mother's friend. She grew up believing in doubling and thinks imagining her mother as a new person should be easy.

Something else has changed in the last two years: Sophie is a mother, herself. Now she can connect on an intuitive level to the desire to do what's best for a child and to the fear of making a costly mistake. Martine feared Sophie would abandon her for a man, but her own actions nearly cost her the daughter she wanted to keep.

The feeling of responsibility to family lingers in Sophie's thinking. Martine tested her out of duty. Tante Atie stays with Grandmè Ifé out of duty. And Sophie wants to be sexually available to Joseph out of duty, fearing he'll leave her otherwise. In each case the begrudging sense of responsibility is connected to fear of abandonment. Not fulfilling a duty might mean losing a family member, and this loss will mean losing a part of oneself.

Rena's perspective shows an outsider's understanding of the family. On one level, Rena can't completely grasp what Sophie is struggling with. On another level, she provides a rare insight. She's the first one in the novel to call Martine's rapist Sophie's father and name him as a crucial part of Sophie's sexual trauma.

Rena also points out a shadow can control someone more easily than a face can. The unseen and unexpected, like the Tonton Macoutes operating during the night in Haiti, will always be menacing. The Caco women often compare their past traumas to ghosts, emphasizing the power of the dead and unseen to affect the living.

Martine's inner depths emerge in Chapter 33. After tentatively reconciling with Sophie, Martine is trying not to lose her family. She knows accepting Sophie means accepting her husband. She also connects to the loss and longing for freedom in African American spirituals. The spirituals' references to heaven resemble the Haitian concept of meeting in Guinea. Death represents a certain freedom and release.

In a way Martine is already preparing for death. She chooses to sing a spiritual about a motherless child away from home. The song compares the loss of a mother to the loss of a homeland. Family and homeland are tied to the self, so these losses also represent a loss of self. Sophie's struggles with the concepts of home and motherhood have loomed large in the novel and the song throws both into focus.

For Martine, the possible extension of her family threatens to embody her worst nightmares. The child is still faceless, like her rapist. She becomes convinced the unknown and unseen represents a threat. Even though Marc will be the baby's father, Martine worries the baby will have her rapist's face. She fears pregnancy and new life.

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