Breath, Eyes, Memory

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Important Quotes Explained

Quotes Important Quotes Explained

"I did it," she said, "because my mother had done it to me. I have no greater excuse. I realize standing here that the two greatest pains of my life are very much related. The one good thing about my being raped was that it made the testing stop. The testing and the rape. I live both every day."

This quote, from the end of Chapter 26, is from a conversation during Sophie and Martine's reconciliation as adult women at Grandmè Ifé's house in Dame Marie, Haiti. Sophie asks Martine why she tested her as a teenager. Martine replies on the condition that Sophie never asks her again. Thus the quote, Martine's single reply, stands in implicit contrast to the ritual violence of testing, even as the passing along of this secret from Martine to Sophie suggests the mother-daughter passage of the practice of testing from Grandmè Ifé to Martine. The passage speaks powerfully to the problems of inheritance that are necessary to avoid passing on pain. Often, the violence inherent in tradition is not fully visible until the cycle is broken. Martine's revelation in the course of speaking this passage is a testament to the transformative power of words and of narrative, which can make reconciliation possible.

The revelation itself, Martine's juxtaposition of 'the two greatest pains of [her] life,' the ritual testing and the rape, suggests the novel's larger juxtaposition of violence done by women and violence done by men. A variation on this question plays out in the life of Atie, Martine's sister. The two greatest pains of Atie's life are her two abandonments, first by a man, Donald Augustin, and then by Louise, her best female friend. Both are debilitating, for different if related reasons. After Donald's betrayal, the new Madame and Monsieur Augustin move into the house next to Atie's, becoming a daily reminder of pain. Meanwhile, Louise's sudden and devastating departure threatens to make Atie die of chagrin. The novel's intricate gendering of pain and of violence refuses to accept a simplistic picture of male oppressors and female victims, even as it eloquently opposes the brutality of the current order.