Breath, Eyes, Memory | Study Guide

Edwidge Danticat

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Breath, Eyes, Memory | Plot Summary

See Plot Diagram


Part 1

Sophie, age 12, lives with her aunt, whom she calls Tante Atie, in a small Haitian village. Sophie's upset when she learns Tante Atie plans to send her to live with her mother, Martine, in New York City. Sophie hasn't seen her mother in years. When Sophie makes Tante Atie a Mother's Day card, Tante Atie tells her to give it to her real mother. She also encourages Sophie to get along with her mother and focus on her education.

In New York Martine is eager to see Sophie. Though the two have trouble connecting, Sophie is able to soothe her mother through one of Martine's regular nightmares. Sophie meets Martine's boyfriend, Marc, a Haitian American lawyer.

Before school starts, Sophie accompanies Martine to her job caring for an elderly woman. One night Martine asks if Sophie has any interest in boys. Martine says her mother frequently tested her virginity by feeling inside her for an unbroken hymen. She also reveals Sophie was conceived when Martine was raped by a strange man in Haiti. It took Sophie years to learn the rest of her mother's story.

Part 2

Sophie, now 18, still lives with her mother in New York City. The summer before she starts college Sophie falls in love with Joseph, an older African American musician who lives next door. She keeps the relationship secret from her mother. Martine doesn't want Sophie dating at all, never mind a much older man.

Joseph and Sophie's relationship becomes more serious and he proposes marriage. Meanwhile Martine learns Sophie's seeing someone and starts testing Sophie's virginity. Martine urges Sophie not to leave her mother for a man she's just met. Traumatized by the tests, Sophie stops seeing Joseph. Finally she takes her mother's mortar and pestle and breaks her own hymen in a painful process.

When Sophie fails the next test, her mother kicks her out of the house. Sophie goes to Joseph's house and says they need to get married immediately. She's excited to start a new life with him in Providence, Rhode Island, where he has a home.

Part 3

Sophie is now 20 and married to Joseph. They have a six-month-old daughter named Brigitte. Sophie and Martine haven't spoken in two years. Sophie and Joseph have trouble connecting sexually because Sophie finds intercourse painful. Increased stress in her marriage leads Sophie to take Brigitte to Haiti for a visit without telling Joseph.

In Haiti Sophie reunites with Tante Atie, who's now living with her own mother, Sophie's Grandmè Ifé. Tante Atie is finally learning to read after refusing to learn for years, but she's unhappy with her life and drinks frequently. She's become close to Louise, a young woman whose mother recently passed away. Political tensions in Haiti have made Louise desperate to move to America, but Tante Atie wants her to stay. Grandmè Ifé is making preparations for her own death. She dislikes that Tante Atie stays with her out of family obligation rather than genuine love.

Tante Atie and Grandmè Ifé urge Sophie to reconcile with Martine. Sophie resists, but she's forced to confront her mother when Martine shows up in Haiti to bring Sophie back to the United States. Sophie asks Martine why she put her through the virginity tests. Martine replies honestly: she continued the tests because her mother had given them to her. She confesses that she was glad her own testing stopped after she was raped. Martine is apologetic and hopes she and Sophie can be friends. Meanwhile Louise leaves for America without saying goodbye, leaving Tante Atie devastated.

Part 4

As Part 4 begins, Martine, Sophie, and Brigitte are leaving Haiti together. While spending a night with her mother in New York, Sophie calls Joseph, and they agree to work on their marriage together. The next morning Sophie learns Martine is pregnant with Marc's child. Martine is afraid the pregnancy will re-traumatize her by bringing back memories of her rape. She wants to terminate the pregnancy, though Sophie encourages her to consider other options.

Sophie and Brigitte return to Providence to be with Joseph. Sophie attends a support group for survivors of sexual abuse and talks with her therapist, Rena, in an attempt to process her trauma. Rena believes Sophie and Martine should return to the spot where Martine was raped in the Haitian cane fields. Rena believes that by doing this they can confront the memory of Martine's rapist.

Martine grows increasingly distressed about her pregnancy. She imagines the child is a boy who taunts her with insults. Sophie asks Martine to consider professional help and keeps in touch with her. But soon after, Sophie is shocked to get a call from Marc saying Martine is dead. In an attempt to terminate the pregnancy on her own, Martine stabbed herself in the stomach multiple times.

Sophie and Marc return to Haiti for Martine's funeral. Overcome with grief, Sophie runs into the Haitian cane fields and begins beating cane stalks. She considers the legacy her mother has passed down to her and the connection they both have to Haiti. Grandmè Ifé finds Sophie and tells her she can finally be free.

Breath, Eyes, Memory Plot Diagram

Climax123456789Rising ActionFalling ActionResolutionIntroduction


1 Atie tells Sophie her mother wants her to come to America.

Rising Action

2 Sophie and Martine reunite in New York City.

3 Martine begins testing Sophie's virginity.

4 Sophie leaves Martine's house and elopes with Joseph.

5 Two years later, Sophie goes to Haiti with her daughter.

6 Sophie confronts Martine and they return to America.


7 Unable to cope with a pregnancy, Martine kills herself.

Falling Action

8 Sophie returns to Haiti to attend her mother's funeral.


9 Sophie confronts the cane field where Martine was raped.

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