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Literature Study GuidesBreath Eyes MemoryPart 4 Chapters 34 35 Summary

Breath, Eyes, Memory | Study Guide

Edwidge Danticat

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Breath, Eyes, Memory | Part 4, Chapters 34–35 | Summary



Chapter 34

During her next session with Rena, Sophie says she's worried about her mother. Martine has always held herself together on the outside while falling apart on the inside. Rena recommends Martine have an exorcism or "release ritual," advising her trauma has to be made real before it can fade. Sophie responds the trauma has always been real for Martine. All Sophie wants is for her mother to be okay. Rena urges Sophie to convince her mother to seek help, but Sophie says Martine can't be convinced.

Sophie stops by Davina's house where the sexual phobia group meets. The statue of Erzulie appears to be crying. The balloon Buki released in a ritual got stuck in a tree. The group members had imagined the balloon floating into the clouds.

Chapter 35

When Sophie gets a call from Marc at home, she worries there's been a complication with Martine's pregnancy. Marc tells her Martine is dead. She stabbed herself in the stomach in the bathroom to get the baby out and died from blood loss. Sophie screams at Marc and blames him for Martine's death. Marc accuses Sophie of abandoning her mother.

Sophie goes to Brooklyn while Joseph stays with Brigitte. Marc explains he's arranged for Martine's body to be shipped to a funeral home in Grandmè Ifé's village. Sophie is furious with Marc for notifying Grandmè Ifé by telegram. She calls Joseph and tells him she must make the trip to Haiti alone. At night, as Sophie sleeps in her mother's bed, she blames herself for Martine's death.

The next morning Sophie picks a crimson suit for her mother's burial outfit. Haitians consider red too loud and bright for burial, but Sophie wants her mother to look powerful. Marc protests the color and says Martine won't be allowed into heaven in red. Sophie retorts Martine will go to Ginen or become a star, a butterfly, or a lark—she'll be free.

As Sophie and Marc fly to Haiti, Sophie notices how Marc observes changes in the country. He hasn't returned to Haiti in years.

The village residents in the market smile and greet Sophie. Grandmè Ifé, waiting at home, knew about Martine's death before she was told. Tante Atie, Grandmè Ifé, and Sophie play cards, drink tea, and sing a funeral song. Sophie contemplates how "the mother-and-daughter motifs" of Haitian stories and songs come from the country itself. Singers and storytellers decided they "were all daughters of this land." Sophie sleeps alone in her mother's bed.

The next day the women claim Martine's body and go to her burial site where the crowd sings a funeral song. Grandmè Ifé, Tante Atie, and Sophie all throw a handful of dirt onto the coffin, and Sophie adds a handful for Brigitte.

Sophie, however, can't watch her mother's body being covered in dirt. She runs into the sugarcane fields and beats a cane stalk until she bleeds. Grandmè Ifé and Tante Atie call to her "Ou libere?" or "Are you free?"

Sophie wants to tell her mother how brave she was and how similar they are, but she can't get out the words. She thinks of how Haiti is a country where mothers pass stories and nightmares down to children and "where breath, eyes, and memory are one."

Grandmè Ifé finds Sophie and tells her to listen closely. She'll be able to hear her mother telling a story and asking the question, "Are you free?" Now, Grandmè Ifé says, Sophie will know how to answer.


As Sophie gets closer to a true understanding of her mother, she sees Martine has been doing her own "doubling." Martine, happy on the outside and struggling on the inside, is pretending to be two people. Sophie knows why her mother needs to "double" to survive. She even understands why Martine wants to terminate the pregnancy, though she wants her mother to strive for healing. However, Martine can't imagine herself willingly conceiving and mothering a child.

Sophie's own increasing maturity leads her to realize the limits of what she can do for her mother. She can't save Martine or convince her to seek help. By now Sophie sees neither she nor her mother will have a simple healing process. Like the balloon released by the trauma group, she can't truly transcend her past; she's stuck near the ground. The image of Martine's death parallels the scene of Sophie breaking her own hymen in Part 2. Both women are covered in blood; both injured themselves to find freedom.

Sophie doesn't want to cover up the violence in her mother's life, so she dresses Martine in red, a strong and dangerous color. To Sophie the red is unabashedly sexual. She compares her mother to Jezebel, a biblical character associated with female sexuality and promiscuity. Sophie wants Martine's burial outfit to give her mother power over the men who used to have power over her.

She also champions a Haitian view of the afterlife where her mother's spirit lives on. When she pictures her mother after death she uses images from folklore that recur in the novel: stars, butterflies, and larks.

Martine's death makes Sophie take on a new role in her family. She's protective of Tante Atie and Grandmè Ifé, aware Marc's impersonal telegram may add to their grief. She travels to Haiti on a journey set up to bookend her Part 1 trip to America. Though she left as a child, she arrives as an adult. Louise's empty shack in Haiti reminds Sophie that everything is temporary. Change will always drive her life forward.

Signaling her journey to maturity, Sophie's voice as narrator changes in Chapter 35. For the first time she addresses the reader directly by saying, "Remember, all of us have the gift of the unseen." She speaks in proverbs like a storyteller, using a saying about salt in the sun to express mothers' constant worry for their children.

In Part 3 Grandmè Ifé described how she felt her soul linked to the soul of a girl. Here she shows she has an even stronger connection to her own daughter—she felt Martine's death before she got the message. Sophie realizes she has a similar permanent bond to her heritage. The link between mothers and daughters is revealed to be an important part of Haitian culture, a link that extends beyond nuclear family to bond all Haitians, particularly women, to the country. In English, the phrase "motherland" or "mother country" signifies that the relationship between mothers and homelands is cross-cultural. A country, like a parent, raises people and remains part of them after they leave.

Martine's funeral shows how the Haitian village mourns collectively. The funeral procession gathers more and more people, and her death is a loss to everyone. Even though Martine had been living in the United States for years, she's still a daughter of Haiti.

When Sophie expresses her grief in the cane stalks, she shows her own connection to the land. The cane stalks have been present in the background throughout the novel's Haitian scenes. In Chapter 32 Rena encouraged Sophie to return to the spot where Martine was raped in the cane fields and confront her father. Sophie's actions in the final scene are a version of this confrontation, but, instead, she is dealing with her mother.

The final few pages consider whether Sophie and Martine have released themselves from their burdens. Was Martine's death an attempt to escape and be free? Did Sophie forgive her mother? Does Sophie now feel liberated from Martine or is their interdependence stronger than ever? The questions remain unanswered, but Grandmè Ifé's final statement to Sophie suggests Sophie has new wisdom and knowledge after her mother's death. She can progress toward healing and freedom.

The paragraph beginning "There is always a place" starts a poetic section revealing what Haiti means both to Sophie and to Danticat as the author. The narrative voice changes, and Sophie the narrator becomes a storyteller, bringing readers into another world. The women of Haiti become characters in the story. Grandmè Ifé's voice joins in to continue the story, suggesting it's a tale all Haitian women know.

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