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Breath, Eyes, Memory

Edwidge Danticat

Section Four: Chapters 34–35

Section Four: Chapters 32–33

Important Quotations Explained

Summary

Chapter 34

Sophie returns to her therapist, Rena, to discuss her fears for Martine. Sophie worries that Martine is falling apart. She tells Rena that Martine has begun to hear voices, that the fetus speaks and says hurtful things to her, and that the nightmares are coming back. Rena suggests that Martine have an exorcism, but Sophie knows that her mother is terrified of anything that will make her fears more real. Rena asks about Marc, whom she calls Martine's "lover." When Sophie recoils at the term, Rena suggests that neither Sophie nor Martine can truly face Martine's sexuality. Sophie explains that Marc would probably not want Martine to have the baby if he knew what it was doing to her, but that he is probably oblivious from the way Martine carries on. Sophie doubts Marc knows the circumstances of Sophie's birth.

On the way home, stopping to mediate at Davina's house, Sophie notices Buki's balloon slowly deflating in a tree above the back yard.

Chapter 35

Sophie returns home to an answering machine message from Marc, asking Sophie to call him about Martine. Sophie and Joseph sit by the phone all night, alternately dialing and waiting.

At six in the morning, Marc calls back, sobbing. Martine is dead. Marc had found her in the bathroom in the middle of the night in a pool of blood, still breathing. She had stabbed herself in the stomach seventeen times with an old rusty knife. She died in the ambulance, after telling him in Creole that she could not carry the baby.

Sophie packs a suitcase and prepares to go to New York. Joseph wants to go with her, but Sophie insists that he stay with Brigitte. Joseph drives her to the bus station and holds her until the bus is ready to leave.

Arriving in Brooklyn, Sophie is surprised to find the house empty except for Marc, who sits her down to explain how things will proceed. Marc has used what influence he can to make the proceedings easy. He has been cleared beyond all doubt, has arranged for Martine's body to be shipped to Dame Marie, and has sent word to Grandmè Ifé by telegram. Sophie is furious at his audacity. That night, Marc stays in the living room while Sophie stays curled in a fetal position in her mother's bed, fighting back the thought that she is responsible for Martine's death.

The next morning, Marc asks Sophie to pick an outfit in which Martine will be buried. Sophie chooses the most crimson of all her mother's clothes: a red two- piece suit that she knows is too bright for burial.

That evening, Sophie and Marc get on a plane to Haiti, with Martine's body in the heavy luggage under the plane. In Dame Marie, Grandmè Ifé and Atie are waiting. Grandmè Ifé says that she knew of Martine's death, and pregnancy, before being told. That night, the group plays cards and drinks ginger tea, a wake in all but name. Grandmè Ifé and Atie share a bed so that Sophie can have her mother's room alone.

The next morning, the family goes to the funeral home to claim Martine's body. Grandmè Ifé nearly faints when she sees Martine's outfit. As the priest sprinkles holy water, Atie collapses. Marc holds her up, but she begins crying unstoppably.

As the mourners follow the coffin up the hill to its grave, villagers who know the family come to share in its grief. The crowd sings a funeral song as Martine's coffin is lowered into the seemingly bottomless pit. Grandmè Ifé throws the first handful of dirt, followed by Atie, Sophie, and Sophie for Brigitte. Unable to watch the dirt being shoveled over her mother, Sophie runs down the hill and into the cane field, where she begins violently beating the stalks.

Grandmè Ifé restrains the priest from going after Sophie. Instead she shouts at her granddaughter: "Ou libèrè?" Sobbing, Atie echoes her cry. Walking over and placing her hand on Sophie's shoulder, Grandmè Ifé tells Sophie a story about a place where women are buried in flame- red clothes, where a daughter comes into womanhood at her mother's death, and where mothers tell stories at night which end by asking their daughter if she is free. Grandmè Ifé tells Sophie that now she will know how to answer.

Analysis

Sophie's trip to Haiti for her mother's funeral takes on the full mythological significance of a third and final return. Sophie's first experience of Haiti, in Section One, was tied to the innocence and asexuality of childhood, and marked by her mother's absence. Her return in Section Three was a chance to confront the problems of her adult sexuality as well as the violence of the countryside and of her family's past. The third trip is bittersweet, spanning the difficulty of Martine's death and the final promise of Sophie's liberation. As they arrive, Sophie's honest grief is set against Marc's discomfort. Having cultivated his Haitian identity from afar, Marc is no longer sure how to be authentic in the home country. Meanwhile Sophie, with no pretense to abandon, can directly engage with the landscape and her history. Faced with the embarrassment of Martine's tragedy, Marc immediately uses his influence to put as much distance between himself and the incident as possible. Though his reaction reflects the privileges of his power, it also represents his deep need to organize and control. Marc's patronizing treatment of Sophie and his brusque expedition of the funeral proceedings suggest a larger masculine distaste for the perceived volatility, irrationality and hysteria of women. The consignment of women to the territory of the absurd and the barricading of men within a fortress of rationality are two halves of an unsustainable process which mirrors the psychic split of doubling. Just as doubling sharply cleaves the feeling body from the distressed mind, the artificial gendering of the novel's world has split the hurting feminine from the disengaged masculine, leaving women to bear the burden of human suffering alone.

Martine's death represents an attempt to directly attack the body that has been the source of her greatest pain. Simultaneously suggestive of suicide, abortion, and murder, Martine's repeated stabs represent an assault on herself, her child, and her attacker. As a result, the lines between these three spirits become increasingly ambiguous. Martine hears the child speak in the voice of the rapist, but it speaks from inside her, suggesting that her body itself has begun to perpetuate the rapist's violence. Martine sees the rapist in every man she meets, but worries that he has left a piece of him inside her that will infect the child. Further, she fears that this piece of the rapist has become an inseparable part of her, implicating herself as the ultimate agent of her own pain. Symbolically, as the rapist's body becomes increasingly affiliated with her own, Martine's suicide represents her ultimate revenge on her attacker, as she destroys the body that is both hers and his. Her repeated stabs are echoed in Sophie's wild pounding of the cane as her mother is laid to rest. More subtly, Martine's stabs echo Sophie's own decisive act against her body, impaling herself on a pestle at the end of Section Two. Both Sophie and Martine have assumed the role of their own symbolic violator, attempting to break out of their body's prison. In a world that controls and manipulates a woman physically, her battle for liberation must take place on the field of the body.

Ultimately, the force of the parable of the market women is revealed in the twist that it receives on the novel's last page. In Grandmè Ifé's account "Ou libèrè?" becomes the symbolic ending of a story passed from mother to daughter. Put otherwise, it is in the telling of a tale that a woman has the chance to truly become free. In the context of the novel, Grandmè Ifé's speech suggests the deep power of narrative to name, identify, reconcile and resolve. Narrative collaboration is set against the deep silence of hurt, as evidenced by Atie's parables, Grandmè Ifé's apology, Sophie's writing Atie a letter, Martine and Sophie's reconciliation, Sophie's therapy, Joseph's insistence on talking, and the rituals of Sophie's sexual phobia group. The power of narrative is further evinced by Grandmè Ifé's revelation that a daughter is not fully a woman until her mother dies. With her mother's death, Sophie passes from being a listener to a speaker, herself a teller of tales. Her ritual place is no longer in the answering of a question but in the asking of it. More broadly, she has acquired access to the full female power of creation, which can alternately and interchangeably produce words, stories, and children. Symbolically, Sophie's ambition to become a secretary, taking dictation, at the end of Section One has given way to an ability to speak in her own voice, writing her own life and telling her own story.

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