Breath, Eyes, Memory

by: Edwidge Danticat

Atie Caco

Where Martine's character is defined by her absence, her sister Atie is set against the absence of other people, defined by what she has lost or never had. In her youth, she loved Donald Augustin, who promised to marry her until he met another woman. After Martine's rape, Atie moved to Croix-des-Rosets to take care of the child Sophie. But when Martine sent Sophie an airplane ticket to New York, Atie was forced to let her go. With Sophie's departure, spinster Atie returned to Dame Marie to take care of her aging mother, knowing that Martine could not bear to do so. In Dame Marie, she is betrayed once more by her best friend Louise, a desperate woman trying to save the money to leave Haiti. When the money appears, Louise leaves without saying goodbye.

Atie is a character of great endurance, and it is not until Section Three that life's continual ironies begin to take their toll. When Sophie leaves for New York, Atie explains that she loves Martine too much not to let Sophie go. But by the time Sophie returns to Dame Marie with Brigitte, Atie has succumbed to despair, drinking with Louise and moping about the house. Where Martine's life is marked by sudden and violent pain, Atie's is a series of dull hurts, wounds bothered just enough so that they do not heal. Yet her continual pain evinces a deep resilience, a stubborn willingness to love again and be betrayed again. In Croix-des-Rosets, Sophie and Atie live across the street from the Augustins, and Atie secretly cries as she watches Donald and his wife prepare for bed. In Dame Marie, Atie must confront not simply Louise's departure but the fact that it was Grandmè Ifé who bought her pig, fed up with Louise's influence on her daughter. Atie is a character of great love and great endurance faced with a life of sacrifice and trivial pleasure. But not only is Atie's life not worthy of her, it seems callously indifferent. She sardonically curses the gods and wanders the night as if daring harm to befall her, but nothing happens.

Like the parable of the ten fingers, Atie's life is not her own. She is trapped in her village, her context, her duty and her woman's body, struggling heroically to fashion something of her own from nothing. She learns to read in her old age, and composes poems when no one is looking. She may threaten to die of chagrin, but such a volatile death would belie her true strength. Near the novel's beginning, Atie tells Sophie that she will know the people of Creation, who were strong and could bear anything, by the heavy weight which they have been chosen to bear. Against Martine's rape, nightmares and suicide, Atie stands unpitied and uncelebrated, loving despite herself and steadfast through the most undesirable of duties, suggesting that she, like the people in her story, has been chosen to carry a piece of the sky on her head.