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Breath, Eyes, Memory

  • Study Guide

Important Quotes Explained

Quotes Important Quotes Explained

The female street vendors called to one another as they came down the road. When one merchant dropped her heavy basket, another called out of concern, "Ou libèrè?" Are you free from your heavy load? The woman with the load would answer yes, if she had unloaded her freight without hurting herself.

This passage, from the beginning of Section Three, comes as Sophie returns to Haiti for the first time with her infant daughter, Brigitte. The story it tells, of the market women's cry "Ou libèrè?" ("Are you free?"), opens and closes Sophie's passage into womanhood. At its first telling, in this passage, Sophie is a woman by society's standards: she has left home, has gotten married, and has had a child. At the story's second invocation in the book's last chapter, during Martine's funeral, Grandmè Ifé tells Sophie that a daughter is not a woman until her mother has passed on before her. As her mother is laid to rest, Sophie comes fully into womanhood.

The market women's cry is symbolically rich and resonates with much of the Caco women's story, itself a passage into freedom. The quote above sets up an implicit contrast between Sophie's epic attempts to free herself from the burdens of inheritance and the market women's quotidian business. The daily, familiar cry of "Ou libèrè?," which in the market women's case simply reveals that one more trip has been successfully been completed, is set against the single reply that Sophie will give to this question, as suggested on the novel's last page. Yet this contrast between a life's work and a daily habit also reflects the epic quality of daily life, and the extent to which freedom is a matter of the everyday. The story also contains a subtle indication of the dynamics between the story's women, who cannot help each other carry or unload, but instead can simply ask after each other. Likewise, though others may be responsible for one's own burdens, reconciliation is largely a personal affair. Freedom may be a rallying cry for mobs, families and democracies, but the unit of liberation remains the individual.