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Breath, Eyes, Memory

Edwidge Danticat

Section Three: Chapters 13–15

Section Two: Chapters 9–12

Section Three: Chapters 16–18

Summary

Chapter 13

It is August, two years since Sophie has left home. Sophie arrives in La Nouvelle Dame Marie, Haiti, with her infant daughter Brigitte, after a four- hour ride from the airport. Though she has not been to Haiti since leaving at age twelve, the flirtatious van driver finds Sophie's Creole flawless.

As the van's passengers disembark in the village marketplace, Sophie watches the female street vendors coming down the road. When one vendor sets down her heavy basket, the others call "Ou libèrè?" ("Are you free?") to see whether she has managed to do so without hurting herself. Meanwhile, several Tonton Macoutes climb into the van's empty seats to eat their lunch.

As they wait for Tante Atie, Sophie and Brigitte are startled by the familiar voice of Louise, trying to sell her pig. Louise, a local girl who has become Atie's best friend, is trying to raise money to buy passage on a boat to Miami. Despite the dangers of the trip, she tells Sophie that she is desperate to go.

Tante Atie arrives at the crossroads, grinning widely, and looking exactly as Sophie remembered. Atie is amazed to see Sophie, a grown-up version of the child she put on the plane, and delighted by Brigitte. Taking the baby in her arms, Atie proclaims that she has Martine's face.

Chapter 14

Sophie and Atie walk back to Grandmè Ifé's house, trading news. Atie carries Brigitte, whom she can hardly believe came out of Sophie. Atie admits that Louise has taught her to read, and that she sometimes even writes poems. Sophie admits that Martine has not answered her letters or calls, and that they have not spoken since Sophie left home. Knowing that Sophie and Martine need each other in New York saddens Artie. Sophie admits that in New York one can become easily lost.

As the three arrive at Grandmè Ifé's house, the old woman's eyes fill with tears as she embraces her long-lost granddaughter. In Brigitte's features, Grandmè Ifé declares that she sees a miraculous amalgamation of her family's faces.

Chapter 15

The women eat supper together on the back porch, Atie wearing the 'I Love New York' sweatshirt which Sophie has brought her. After dinner, Atie prepares to go meet Louise for reading classes, despite Grandmè Ifé's disapproval of walking around after dark. However, Atie concedes to read something from her notebook before she goes. As Atie begins to read, Sophie recognizes the poem that she wrote on the Mother's Day card so many years before.

That night, Grandmè Ifé gives Sophie Martine's old room. As the women settle down to go to sleep, Sophie hears her grandmother's moans and remembers Martine's unquiet sleep. Alone in the bed with Brigitte, Sophie misses Joseph, remembering how he used to play his saxophone to her belly during the pregnancy. In the dark, Sophie asks her infant daughter if she will remember this moment, and if she will inherit her mother's problems.

Later that night, Brigitte wakes with a loud wail, and Sophie gets up to feed her. Out the window, she catches a glimpse of Atie in the yard, waving into the darkness and seemingly drunk. Sophie hears Grandmè Ifé rise, pace, and ask Atie if she doesn't want Sophie to respect her. Atie replies that Sophie is no longer a child and that she, Atie, does not need to be a saint for her.

Analysis

By having a child with her mother's face, Sophie has managed to pay a generational debt. As Sophie's own face resembled no one's in the family, Martine assumed Sophie's features were those of her father, Martine's attacker. Brigitte's family resemblance affirms Sophie's place in the family and confirms that she is her mother's daughter. At the same time, Brigitte's face is a hopeful sign. Looking at the infant Brigitte, who could be the infant Martine, it is as if the past has been erased and the clock turned back. The irony is that this infant came from Sophie's body, herself a living reminder of that past. Still, Brigitte's place as symbol of potential and new beginning is unrivalled among Caco women. Her name suggests Maman Brigitte, the voodoo loa invoked to cure those on the point of death from a magic spell. Further, Sophie's trip back to Haiti with her infant child implicitly sets her new womanhood against the pre-puberty of her Haitian past. Confused about her body, her sexuality and her marriage, Sophie returns to the soil where her mother, aunt and grandmother became women. Yet Sophie's best evidence for reconciliation is not in the Dame Marie homestead but in the face of her child.

Sophie's first day back in Dame Marie is a study in fragments, as the memory of place triggers scenes from her past. For example, Sophie is given her mother's bedroom in Grandmè Ifé's house, a room in which she last stayed on a trip to obtain her grandmother's blessing before leaving for New York. Atie reads the poem from the Mother's Day card that Sophie read to her years before, and though Atie had refused to go to reading class with Sophie on the day Sophie made the card, she now heads off into the night for reading class with Louise. Later, alone in her mother's bed, Sophie recalls her husband, her pregnancy, her mother, and her childhood, letting the memories run together like the ancestors' features in her daughter's face. But amid these happy amalgams are indications of important change. Notably, the Macoutes in the marketplace, Atie's alcoholism, and Louise's odd belligerence suggest the slow unraveling of a world gone oddly awry.

When the van driver compliments Sophie on her Creole, he is approving much more than her language. By remembering her mother tongue, Sophie proves that she has been faithful to her roots and is not another child lost to the Diaspora. For some of the novel's characters, like Marc, the beloved memory of Haiti is much more satisfying than its reality. For Martine, the island is a site of terrible memories, which she cannot visit without becoming physically ill. For Atie, it is a trap she will never leave, a place where she is crucified on the cross of duty. Though Sophie's return is a kind of homecoming, it also represents her attempt to address her own troubles by returning directly to the source and site of her mother's pain. However, Martine is notably missing. Since Sophie left home, two years previously, her mother has not returned letters and refused to talk to her. She has become palpably absent, as she was during Sophie's Haitian childhood, a figure consigned to nightmares, photographs and dreams.

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