1. I also know there are timeless waters, endless seas, and lots of people in this world whose names don’t matter to anyone but themselves.
The male narrator writes these words at the beginning of “Children of the Sea,” soon after he sets out for the United States in a tiny boat. His words emphasize how common and almost meaningless suffering is in Haiti. Every Haitian, not just the ones on the male narrator’s boat, has a reason to flee the country, whether for political, economic, or personal reasons. Their stories are painful and touching, but so many stories exist that listening to or caring about them all is impossible. Each person must focus on his or her own difficult past and unsure future. The suffering they share makes them anonymous. The entirety of the Haitian problem is so great that no individual matters too much. The male narrator also understands that, like the “timeless waters,” this suffering is nothing new. Haiti and many other places have been consumed by suffering for centuries, and people in these places will likely continue to suffer. This realization makes the male narrator’s despair both inevitable and understandable. Danticat points out that maintaining hope is almost impossible when everyone is so familiar with pain and no relief is in sight. Somewhere between Haiti and the United States, the male narrator sees that suffering is as great as the ocean, and all he can do is navigate it in the foolish hope of one day reaching safety.
2. [P]eople are just too hopeful, and sometimes hope is the biggest weapon of all to use against us. [P]eople will believe anything.
This statement, which the female narrator’s mother, Manman, makes when she hears rumors that the old president might be returning to Port-au-Prince in “Children of the Sea,” shows how desperate the Haitian people are for something good to happen. Even a highly unlikely rumor has the power to revitalize the hope of a community worn out by the horror of daily life. The Haitians have been scared and angry for such a long time that they need something to be happy about, so they cling to whatever they can. This is true for many of the characters in Krik? Krak!, including Guy in “A Wall of Fire Rising,” the narrator of “Night Women,” and even Princesse, who dreams of becoming an artist in “Seeing Things Simply.” They want to believe good exists in the world and that their lives will get better, but their rare moments of optimism are constantly proven to be ill-founded. Hope is all they have, but every disappointment suggests they can’t keep even that.
This remark emphasizes the reality, and even the necessity, of Haitian despair. Even hope is a bad thing in the Haitians’ world because it is more likely to be a trap than a true sign of good things to come. In “Children of the Sea,” the people who let hope get the best of them and believe the rumor go to the airport to greet the returning president, where they are arrested or killed by the macoutes. Only the realist, who accepts the horrific state of Haiti, can survive. Haitians are better off embracing their hopelessness because that way they won’t be disappointed or even killed. Hope may be the best thing in a Haitian’s life, but despair—a total abandonment of hope—is the only real option. Of course, despair is not much better, as Celianne shows when she kills herself and the male narrator shows when he gives in to death. The horrors of Haitian life lead only to death, whether one embraces despair or foolishly clings to hope.
3. It’s so easy to love somebody, I tell you, when there’s nothing else around.
This comment appears in “Between the Pool and the Gardenias” when Marie tells Rose about her life. It shows the loneliness of a Haitian woman who has lost everything. In Marie’s case, her numerous miscarriages and her unfaithful husband made her so unhappy that she had to leave Ville Rose. She has no family because her grandmother, from “Nineteen Thirty-Seven,” was killed for being a witch, and her godmother, Lili, from “A Wall of Fire Rising,” killed herself when she lost her husband to despair. Nothing good has happened to Marie, so she looks for any good she can find or invent. Marie goes so far as to convince herself that the dead baby she finds on the street is alive and even her own. She is so desperately lonely that she needs something to love.
Love is vital to survival in the cruel poverty of Haiti. Marie has lost every other person she has loved and who has loved her, so she tries to create love in unlikely places. She sleeps with the Dominican pool-cleaner even though she doesn’t know his name, and she is saddened when he ignores her. She pretends the dead baby is alive so she can pretend it loves her back. This need for love is an important motivator in many of the stories. In “Nineteen Thirty-Seven,” Josephine’s mother looks forward to Josephine’s visits because they represent a daughter’s love and sustain her even as she slowly starves to death. Lamort in “The Missing Peace” needs to win her grandmother’s love by living up to her standards, and she risks her life to win the affection of her grandmother’s foreign boarders. In “Caroline’s Wedding,” Grace’s mother clings to the past because her husband still loved her then. The suffering of loss and hopelessness seem bearable when a woman has love to support her.
4. These were our bedtime stories. Tales that haunted our parents and made them laugh at the same time. We never understood them until we were fully grown and they became our sole inheritance.
These words appear in “Caroline’s Wedding,” when Grace remembers her father’s favorite jokes, and they emphasize the importance of storytelling in passing on Haitian traditions. The jokes Grace remembers aren’t technically stories, but they capture the hopes and fears of the Haitian people as well as any stories would. The jokes are both lighthearted and serious: their subject matter is so grave that it must be delivered with a dose of humor. Talking about such things would be too difficult otherwise. The specific joke Grace remembers is about God fearing Papa Doc Duvalier, who would steal God’s throne if given a chance. Though the joke is meant to be funny, it is a poignant reminder of the ruthlessness of Haitian politics and the hatred the Haitian people have for their corrupt leaders. It is both funny and depressing because, in a way, the sentiment is true. Grace’s father could show his young daughters his great sorrow about his country without frightening them because he treated it as a joke. In a country where violence and poverty threaten to destroy everyone who doesn’t leave, such storytelling and passing on of tradition, even outside of the country, is necessary to keep its culture alive.
Though Grace didn’t understand her father’s jokes as a child, they subtly shaped her understanding of her own Haitian culture. She grew up in a household where her parents told stories about Haiti all the time, so she accepted the country’s importance without thinking about it. Her knowledge of Haitian politics originated in these stories, and as she grew older she understood more and more. As a young immigrant growing up in America, Grace might easily have lost all sense of connection to Haiti, but her parents’ stories kept that connection alive.
5. The women in your family have never lost touch with one another. Death is a path we take to meet on the other side.
This passage, spoken by the narrator of the epilogue, “Women Like Us,” reveals the strong bond Haitian women feel with their female relatives. The women in these stories feel very close even to the relatives who have died because they all have suffered many of the same things. In Haiti, poverty and political oppression have been constants for centuries, so generation after generation of Haitian women have had to deal with similar problems. In “Nineteen Thirty-Seven,” Josephine and her mother perform rituals to honor her grandmother, who was slaughtered by a cruel government, until Josephine’s mother is also imprisoned and essentially killed by the police. The chain of suffering continues with Josephine’s daughter, Marie, in “Between the Pool and the Gardenias,” when her insanity, caused by her despair, results in her arrest and probable death in prison. Marie, like Josephine and many of the women in the collection, turns to the ghosts of her female ancestors for comfort. The female bond in families also helps to perpetuate Haitian tradition, as Grace learns in “Caroline’s Wedding.”
The Haitian belief that women are tied to their dead female ancestors also provides a way of coping with death. In a world where death is easier than life, whether because of imprisonment, hunger, or despair, as in the case of Lili from “A Wall of Fire Rising,” viewing death as a source of happiness brings comfort. When the Haitian women in Danticat’s stories die, they expect to be reunited with their female ancestors, and they often sense the ghosts of those ancestors communicating with them. The narrator of the epilogue hopes to channel these communications into her stories, thus providing an outlet for the suffering she has inherited from her female ancestors. The suffering they share is so strong that it deserves to be expressed, and she hopes to do this through her writing. Because her female ancestors can speak from beyond the grave, death is not an end of life but rather a source of relief from earthly pain.
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