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Breath, Eyes, Memory

Edwidge Danticat

Section Four: Chapters 28–29

Section Three: Chapters 24–27

Section Three: Chapters 30–31

Summary

Chapter 28

The ride to the airport is rocky and silent. As the van slows in city traffic, Martine begins to gasp and point at every place that she and Atie visited in their youth. The airport is bustling and crowded. Despite the rigors of the journey, Brigitte remains sleepy and quiet.

On the flight, Martine looks sick. She explains to Sophie that Haiti makes her physically ill, and that she will return there only to be buried. In turn, Sophie tells her mother about her own bulimia, periods of not eating followed by bingeing and purging. Martine, who considers food precious, does not understand this waste. During Martine's first year in America, she gained sixty pounds, simply because she could not believe there was so much food.

Sophie spends the night at Martine's before returning to Providence. The house is as red as she remembered it; even the new couch was bought in red velvet. Martine's answering machine is full of love from Marc. Going upstairs, Sophie finds that her old room is nearly bare. Her clothes and posters are gone and the bed no longer creaks. Martine comes in and apologizes for having burnt Sophie's clothes after she left in a fit of rage, and Sophie finds that she can understand.

For dinner, Martine makes spaghetti, explaining that in Sophie's absence she stopped cooking Haitian food because it all reminded Martine of Sophie. Martine admits that she did not think Sophie would stay away, but expected her to come back after several months, humiliated. Now, she would like Joseph and Sophie to come to dinner with her and Marc. After dinner, Martine apologizes and leaves on a quick errand.

Alone in her mother's house, Sophie calls Joseph. He is very upset, but loves her and Brigitte dearly and is relieved to hear her voice. He has been frantically looking for her, and wants her to trust him, to come home to him, and to let him help her. Shortly after Sophie hangs up, Martine returns from seeing Marc, explaining that she had to tell him something, but does not say what.

Chapter 29

The next morning, Martine makes an elaborate breakfast, hoping good food will cure Sophie's bulimia. Sophie protests that it is not that simple, but eats as instructed, feeling guilty afterward.

Pressed about her errand of the night before, Martine finally admits that she went to tell Marc that she is pregnant. Stunned, Sophie asks if Martine and Marc are planning to get married. Though Marc is willing, Martine doesn't see the point. The prospect of pregnancy terrifies her. She has recently recovered from cancer, and does not think her body can handle a child. She also worries about repeating her mistakes with Sophie. As a result, her nightmares are coming back with increasing strength. Though Marc is supportive of her, Martine worries that he will only put up with her madness so long.

Martine admits that when she was pregnant with Sophie, she tried all kinds of folk ways to abort the pregnancy. Now, the thought of a clinical abortion only makes the nightmares worse. As Sophie refers once again to "the baby," Martine laughs, saying the longer she spends with Sophie, the more likely it is she will keep the child. But, she adds darkly, it will be at the expense of her sanity.

Martine loans Sophie her new car for the trip to Providence, ensuring a speedy return visit. As she drives home, Sophie thinks about the intensity of her mother's nightmares, and how difficult it was to wake her from them. She recalls her own suicidal thoughts during the first year of her marriage to Joseph, wondering if she has inherited her mother's anxieties. Glancing at Brigitte sleeping peacefully, Sophie wonders if it is possible that her own daughter will grow up without nightmares.

Analysis

Martine's illness on the plane is a barometer for her charged emotional state. Just as her deep horror of the rape manifests in insomnia and violent nightmares, so her discomfort at being in Haiti translates into physical illness. Throughout the novel, women's emotions, losses, fears and feelings are played out through the cipher of their bodies. When Martine first arrived in New York, her surprise at the abundance of food and her deep fear that the food would run out translated into a weight gain of sixty pounds. Likewise, Sophie's unwillingness to allow herself the satisfaction of pleasure is echoed in the denial, guilt, desperate bingeing and purging of bulimia. The physical toll which the psychological baggage of rape has begun to take on Martine's womanhood and on her body is suggested by her recent breast cancer and double masectomy, while Atie's growing dissatisfaction and despair is manifest in her increasing silence, moodiness, night wanderings and alcoholism. On a similar note, Sophie's violent assault on her own virginity represents a choice to resolve her emotional problems by attacking her physical body. The powerful ties of emotion to the body are confirmed by Grandmè Ifé's, and ultimately Atie's, threat to "die of chagrin," attesting to the mortality of emotional distress. By contrast, the infant Brigitte's ability to sleep calm and untroubled suggests that she has not inherited her mother's and grandmother's ghosts.

Martine and Sophie's reconciliation consists in the intentional repetition of previous situations played out on a new emotional level, representing a conscious kind of narrative doubling. Sophie's second flight out of Haiti, having reconciled with Martine, recalls her first flight out of Haiti at age twelve, en route to her mother. Likewise, Martine's first flight out of Haiti, fleeing the aftermath of rape and her infant daughter, is echoed in this second flight with her adult daughter. Martine's madness at the time of her first departure is reflected in the physical illness of this second departure, just as Sophie's deep sleep during her first plane flight is now reflected in her own drowsy daughter. Returning to Martine's house, the women play out a ritual domesticity, bathing the child and cooking dinner, a scene whose normalcy attests to the depth of the reconciliation. The conscious repetition involved in reconciliation suggests the extent to which making peace with the past consists in reenacting past scenes with the privilege of a new maturity, retroactively rewriting history by symbolically changing the ending of the parable as it is retold. By contrast, much of the novel's pain is caused by the unthinking repetition of old patterns and the perpetuation of hurtful practices. In both its positive and negative aspects, the theatrical quality of repetition suggests the ultimate difficulty of getting inside another person's pain. Confronted with her mother's unbearable nightmares, Sophie can do little more than wake Martine up. Likewise, when confronted with her daughter's difficult bulimia, Martine cooks a feast hoping to cure her. The real and isolating distance between human beings requires the construction of rituals, symbolic gestures, parables, affirmations and even language in an attempt to bridge this distance in a meaningful way.

Finally, Martine's pregnancy represents the final rebellion of her body against her. Just as sex, for Martine, is not a matter of pleasure, pregnancy is hardly a matter of children. It is rather a deeply troubling effect of the use of her body by men. As the father of her second child-to-be, Marc is implicitly contrasted with Sophie's father, the Macoute rapist. Certainly Marc is neither violent nor anonymous, and his answering-machine messages seem to evince a respectable affection for Martine. But at the same time, his slickness, his deep sleep, and his ability to avoid the consequences of his actions echo the book's earlier description of Macoutes as men whose conscience remains untroubled by and disengaged with the world. Though he often sleeps with Martine and wants her to be happy, Marc seems to have no more idea of the depths of her pain than the man originally responsible for it. Throughout this section, Marc's lack of awareness is set against Joseph's concerted attempt to support, love and understand Sophie. As the novel's use of doubles suggests, Sophie's own emotional health is mirrored in the love of her partner, while Martine's increasing madness is reflected in her growing distance from Marc and her admissions to Sophie that he cannot possibly understand.

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