Breath, Eyes, Memory | Study Guide

Edwidge Danticat

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Breath, Eyes, Memory | Symbols

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The Color Red

Red recurs as a symbol of strength, power, danger, and sexuality. Tante Atie explains to Sophie their family name Caco comes from the vibrant and noticeable red Caco bird. Martine's favorite color changes from yellow to red as she grows older, showing she's more aware of danger and risk in her life. With multiple instances of blood in the novel, the color red also shows physical violence. When Sophie breaks her own hymen and Martine stabs herself, the two women are linked in blood—both literal blood and the metaphorical connection of family bloodlines. They've both done similar violence to themselves. Sophie dresses her mother in red for her funeral as an act of empowerment. She wants to give Martine a strength her mother never felt she had in life.

Daffodils and the Color Yellow

Daffodils represent resilience, courage, and survival in difficult circumstances. As a child, Martine loved daffodils because they grew unexpectedly in Haiti despite not being suited for the climate. In this way the flowers resemble immigrants in exile from their home country, like Sophie and Martine. They aren't supposed to grow in a new environment, but they try to grow anyway. Young Sophie writes a poem comparing her mother to a daffodil strong in the wind. Although the wind attacks the daffodil, it remains standing. Similarly, Sophie's mother, aunt, and grandmother struggle to remain standing as they face loneliness and tragedy.

Yellow, the color of a daffodil, represents hope and new journeys. Sophie wears yellow clothing with daffodil embroidery when she first travels to America in Part 1. On a promising date with Joseph in Part 2 she wears a yellow dress. Martine's favorite color as a young girl was yellow, signifying her optimism about the future.

Erzulie

The Haitian goddess Erzulie represents motherhood and healing. She resembles the Virgin Mary or Madonna in the Christian religious tradition. But Erzulie is distinctly Haitian, combining Christian and Haitian voodoo beliefs. She's portrayed as caring and loving like a human parent. Unlike human mothers who have limitations, Erzulie is all-powerful.

Sophie's image of Erzulie changes as her concept of motherhood changes. As a young girl in Part 1 Sophie fantasizes about Erzulie as a mother figure. Erzulie has what Martine lacks. Martine is absent from Sophie's early life, but Erzulie is a reliable comfort. Martine faces financial and emotional challenges in New York while Erzulie lives in luxury. Erzulie is sexually desirable to men but Sophie struggles to see Martine in this way.

When Sophie grows older Erzulie becomes more important to her as a healing force. She brings the statue of Erzulie to her sexual phobia group during their recovery ritual. Erzulie continues to symbolize motherhood by connecting the women in the family. Once Grandme Ife realizes the damage the testing process did to Sophie she gives Sophie the family Erzulie statue. The gift shows Grandme Ife's attempt to relate to Sophie's pain and work towards a better future. Sophie also comes to view Martine as a complex person with her own desires and struggles. Then she imagines Martine as the sexually powerful Erzulie. Martine's red burial outfit makes her resemble "hot-blooded Erzulie who feared no men."

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