full title Breath, Eyes, Memory
author Edwidge Danticat
type of work Novel
genre Memoir, bildungsroman, generational (family) chronicle, testament, novel of the Haitian diaspora.
time and place written United States, early 1990s.
date of first publication 1994
publisher SoHo Press
narrator Sophie Caco
point of view Sophie narrates in the first person, relating her direct experiences and impressions during the years that she is twelve (Section One) and eighteen through twenty (Sections Two to Four). Though she speaks in the past tense, Sophie presents her story in strict temporal order, rarely invoking the privileges or analyses of hindsight. Exceptionally, the narrative first-person fades as Sophie recounts a well-known parable.
tone Sophie's tone is empathetic but objective, in the style of a testament. Though the narrative first person has access to Sophie's private feelings, its primarily factual style is more suggestive of a third-person description, as if Sophie were candidly describing herself from afar.
setting (time) Sophie's adolescence and early adulthood, spanning the 1980s and early 1990s.
setting (place) Croix-des-Rosets, Haiti (Sophie's birth to age twelve); Brooklyn, New York (ages 12–18); thereafter, Brooklyn, NY, Providence, RI and Port-au-Prince and La Nouvelle Dame Marie, Haiti.
protagonist Sophie Caco, the narrator
major conflicts The child of rape and the heir of wounded but resilient women, Sophie Caco attempts to grow into herself as a woman, wife, mother and daughter, fighting the weight of a difficult inheritance and making peace with her mother's ghosts.
rising action Sophie leaves Haiti for New York at age twelve, Sophie falls in love with Joseph at age eighteen, Sophie impales herself on a pestle in order to fail her mother's virginity test, Sophie is thrown out of the house, and Sophie elopes with Joseph.
climax Frustrated and confused by her responsibilities and anxieties, Sophie flees Providence for Haiti with her infant daughter Brigitte while Joseph is away on tour, at the beginning of Section Three.
falling action Martine comes to Haiti, Sophie and Martine reconcile and return to New York, Martine becomes pregnant by Marc, Martine commits suicide
themes The burden of inheritance, myth and parable as mediators of pain and violence, the male world's debilitating obsession with female purity, the restorative power of place, the female body as a site of violence, the next generation's reconciliation with its parents' ghosts, the invisible weight of institutionalized oppression, the strength and resilience of those who suffer, the difficulty and danger in laying down a burden, the ordering and interpretive power of stories and language, the redemptive power of love.
motifs The connections between language, affiliation and belonging, place as a mediator of memory, narrative disjunction, parallelism and doubling, the use of parables, location vs. placelessness, power vs. passivity, love vs. duty, the juxtaposition of various senses, the search for liberation.
symbols Testing,doubling, the goddess and loa, Erzulie, the color red, physical bleeding, the Marassas, butterflies, daffodils, the Mother's Day card, literacy, water.
foreshadowing The parable of the bleeding woman, the parable of the little girl and the lark, Sophie's first glimpse of the Macoutes beating Dessalines in the Dame Marie marketplace, the cry of 'Ou libéré?' between women vendors in the marketplace, Sophie's wish in the New York mail center to return to Haiti, Martine's attempts to abort her first pregnancy, Grandmè Ifé's preparations for a funeral.