Breath, Eyes, Memory

by: Edwidge Danticat

Sophie Caco

Characters Sophie Caco

The novel's protagonist and narrator, Sophie is a liminal creature whose search for resolution drives the narrative. The book opens as she leaves Haiti for New York on the threshold of adolescence, suspended between childhood and womanhood and between her aunt's and mother's worlds. As the novel progresses, her simultaneous roles as daughter and mother, girl and woman, child of rape and savior from nightmares, Creole- and English-speaker, immigrant and exile, daughter and wife play out as infinite variations of a difficult cohabitation. By the time of her testing, this continual disjunction has given way to a conscious power of doubling, as Sophie distracts her mind from the experiences of her body. It is not until her return to Dame Marie in the novel's third section that Sophie will begin to undo this work of splitting and simultaneity, to fit the pieces of herself into a coherent whole.

Sophie's narrative style suggests the unfinished nature of her project. She describes herself objectively, often with the distance of a third person. She narrates simply, presenting events without explanations, refusing to speak from a vantage point of perfect knowledge. Sophie has access to many vocabularies of introspection, from psychoanalysis to folk wisdom, and her wide use of them reflects an attempt to use all she knows against life's complexity. She leaves narrative gaps of months or years, imposing structure on her story through calculated omission. At the same time, her objectivity acknowledges the difficulty of faithfully narrating or communicating pain. Just as Sophie stands outside her mother's nightmares even as she lives their pain, so the reader is aware both of the humanity and of the privacy of Sophie's struggle. Her narrative is a testament, a record, and a script, but it is not a confessional. Sophie appears alternately as hopeful, desperate, kind, loving, hurt, lost, self-conscious, confident, confused, angry, and free. Yet she never reveals herself entirely, choosing at times to retreat behind an objective, opaque curtain of narrative. Just as parables do not explain, but instead embody the truth, Sophie's story stands alone as a witness to her womanhood and to her reconciliation.