Breath, Eyes, Memory
Section Four: Chapters 32–33
Sophie discusses her flight to Haiti with her therapist, Rena, a beautiful black woman and initiated Santeria priestess. They discuss Sophie's situation in familiar but objective terms, while going for a walk by the river behind Rena's office. Rena is surprised that Sophie felt ready for the confrontational therapy of going directly to Haiti. Sophie tells her about finding out that the practice of testing was passed along from mother to daughter throughout her maternal line. Though she tried to express her anger about testing to her grandmother, Sophie realized that her grandmother had simply been doing something that made her feel like a good mother. Where Rena wants Sophie to confront her conflicted feelings about Martine, Sophie would prefer to re-imagine her mother as someone she is meeting again for the first time.
When Sophie explains her mother's current turmoil, Rena suggests that Martine's failure to symbolically give the rapist a face has allowed him to exert enormous influence over her, an influence that the pregnancy is bringing to the fore. She asks Sophie to imagine her mother in the sexual act. Sophie knows, viscerally, that her mother does not enjoy sex, although she probably tries to endure it, as Sophie does with Joseph. Rena points out that Sophie's own willingness to put up with sex simply to keep Joseph is evidence of a larger fear of abandonment. Sophie agrees, adding that her daughter is the only person in the world who will never leave her. Rena replies that Martine's fears of Sophie being with a man stem from exactly this feeling.
Rena suggests that Sophie and Martine must return to Haiti together, to the place where the rape occurred, to put an end to the ghosts.
The next Saturday, as promised, Sophie and Joseph go with Brigitte to visit Martine and Marc. Martine is in high spirits, bent on pleasing Joseph. Marc introduces himself formally and then returns to cooking while Martine takes Joseph on the tour of the house he never got. In the back yard, Martine carefully shows Joseph how to sprinkle chopped pickle peppers on his plantains.
Over dinner, Marc attempts to draw Joseph into a discussion of music, wanting to know what Joseph plays and whether there is money in it. Martine winks, and Sophie sees that her mother has a plan to make Joseph love her. Speaking quietly, Martine tells Sophie that she has made a decision, but does not specify.
When the discussion turns to Joseph's Southern roots, Martine's plan begins. She tells Joseph that she feels she could have been Southern African-American, and that she used to go to a Southern church in Harlem for the Negro spirituals. Martine asks Joseph to explain spirituals to Marc. Joseph says that spirituals are prayers set to music, songs of freedom and the passage to another world. He begins to hum fragments. Later, when pressed, Martine sings her favorite spiritual: "Sometimes I feel like a motherless child . A long ways from home." After the rendition, everyone claps, including Brigitte. Martine asks to have the song sung at her funeral.
The day ends too soon for Martine, and without a private moment in which to tell Sophie her decision. As mother and daughter say goodbye, Martine holds Sophie close. On the way back, Joseph hums Martine's song. He tells Sophie that he always understood why Martine didn't like him: he took away her treasured daughter.
Sophie and Joseph arrive home to two messages from Martine. When Sophie calls back, Martine reveals her decision: she is going to have an abortion. Martine tells Sophie that the child spoke to her in a man's voice, and that she must get it out of her. She can never carry a child who speaks to her like the rapist. Martine worries that she still has something of the rapist lodged inside of her, and that if she has the baby, this piece of evil will come out in the child.
Martine says goodbye, promising to call the next day.
The language of psychoanalysis and modern therapy, first introduced in Chapter 31 with Sophie's sexual phobia group, becomes a more explicit tool in Sophie's session with Rena. The character of Rena, who is both a licensed therapist and an initiated Santeria priestess, suggests Sophie's attempts to draw on a wide variety of wisdom traditions to make sense of her experience. Notably, Rena asks Sophie to imagine , attempting to direct her mental vision. This guided visualization recalls the trope of parables, which provide imaginative solutions to a situation's metaphorical counterpart. More subtly, Sophie's explicit discussion of her situation with a third party suggests the kind of dialogue that she might have with a curious reader. Occurring at a critical junction in the book, after Sophie's flight to Haiti and before the fallout of her mother's pregnancy, Sophie's counseling session evinces a clear awareness of her situation and an honest consideration of what is happening. The novel's continual willingness to play with situations and narrative styles keeps provincialism at bay, forcing the reader to encounter Sophie on her own terms as an inquisitive, introspective, intelligent woman. Finally, the fact that the session is narrated as a conversation groups it implicitly with the book's other major conversations—Sophie and Grandmè Ifé in Chapter 23, Atie and Martine in Chapter 25, and Sophie and Martine in Chapter 26—suggesting the broader healing power of dialogue.
Sophie and Joseph's day with Martine and Marc is symbolic reconciliation on a number of levels. The dinner is an acknowledgement by Martine of Sophie's adulthood and of Sophie and Joseph's relationship, even as its double-date quality suggests Sophie's acknowledgment of the sexuality of her mother and Marc's relationship. Further, Joseph's welcome into Martine's house atones for years in which he was forbidden entry. Having made her peace with Sophie and accepted the fact that a daughter can love her mother while loving her husband as well, Martine decides to win Joseph's heart. Her tactic of telling him that she can imagine herself as one of his people is a compliment of the highest order. The ability to imagine oneself as another person suggests the power of doubles and the twinned spirits of the Marassas, and a privileged access to the other's experience. Evincing the success of her efforts, Martine and Joseph's singing is a dialogue in the secret language of song. Meanwhile, Joseph's explanation of spirituals as a kind of prayer and as a message of freedom recalls the novel's concern with language and narrative as liberation.
Ironically, Martine is anything but free. Her perception that the fetus has spoken to her in the rapist's voice indicates that she has finally given the pain of her past a physical form. It is likely that her physical memory of the rape is linked to the physical experience of pregnancy, so that this second pregnancy has made the images and feelings unbearably real. Having been traumatized for twenty years, Martine's body has finally begun to perpetuate the trauma on its own. Likewise, the symbol of the child-as-rapist suggests the ways in which Martine's own body has plotted against her in the past decades, perpetuating nightmares and incubating horror. More tellingly, the fetus-as- rapist reflects Martine's fear that she has never been able to entirely cleanse the rapist from her body, and that perhaps a bit of him has remained stuck inside her. The deep tragedy of this twist is evidenced by Martine's desperation to abort. For the enemy has become not the child but her body itself, which holds her captive with its images and fears, and which she cannot escape intact.
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