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Breath, Eyes, Memory

Section Four: Chapters 28–29

Summary Section Four: Chapters 28–29

Pressed about her errand of the night before, Martine finally admits that she went to tell Marc that she is pregnant. Stunned, Sophie asks if Martine and Marc are planning to get married. Though Marc is willing, Martine doesn't see the point. The prospect of pregnancy terrifies her. She has recently recovered from cancer, and does not think her body can handle a child. She also worries about repeating her mistakes with Sophie. As a result, her nightmares are coming back with increasing strength. Though Marc is supportive of her, Martine worries that he will only put up with her madness so long.

Martine admits that when she was pregnant with Sophie, she tried all kinds of folk ways to abort the pregnancy. Now, the thought of a clinical abortion only makes the nightmares worse. As Sophie refers once again to "the baby," Martine laughs, saying the longer she spends with Sophie, the more likely it is she will keep the child. But, she adds darkly, it will be at the expense of her sanity.

Martine loans Sophie her new car for the trip to Providence, ensuring a speedy return visit. As she drives home, Sophie thinks about the intensity of her mother's nightmares, and how difficult it was to wake her from them. She recalls her own suicidal thoughts during the first year of her marriage to Joseph, wondering if she has inherited her mother's anxieties. Glancing at Brigitte sleeping peacefully, Sophie wonders if it is possible that her own daughter will grow up without nightmares.


Martine's illness on the plane is a barometer for her charged emotional state. Just as her deep horror of the rape manifests in insomnia and violent nightmares, so her discomfort at being in Haiti translates into physical illness. Throughout the novel, women's emotions, losses, fears and feelings are played out through the cipher of their bodies. When Martine first arrived in New York, her surprise at the abundance of food and her deep fear that the food would run out translated into a weight gain of sixty pounds. Likewise, Sophie's unwillingness to allow herself the satisfaction of pleasure is echoed in the denial, guilt, desperate bingeing and purging of bulimia. The physical toll which the psychological baggage of rape has begun to take on Martine's womanhood and on her body is suggested by her recent breast cancer and double masectomy, while Atie's growing dissatisfaction and despair is manifest in her increasing silence, moodiness, night wanderings and alcoholism. On a similar note, Sophie's violent assault on her own virginity represents a choice to resolve her emotional problems by attacking her physical body. The powerful ties of emotion to the body are confirmed by Grandmè Ifé's, and ultimately Atie's, threat to "die of chagrin," attesting to the mortality of emotional distress. By contrast, the infant Brigitte's ability to sleep calm and untroubled suggests that she has not inherited her mother's and grandmother's ghosts.

Martine and Sophie's reconciliation consists in the intentional repetition of previous situations played out on a new emotional level, representing a conscious kind of narrative doubling. Sophie's second flight out of Haiti, having reconciled with Martine, recalls her first flight out of Haiti at age twelve, en route to her mother. Likewise, Martine's first flight out of Haiti, fleeing the aftermath of rape and her infant daughter, is echoed in this second flight with her adult daughter. Martine's madness at the time of her first departure is reflected in the physical illness of this second departure, just as Sophie's deep sleep during her first plane flight is now reflected in her own drowsy daughter. Returning to Martine's house, the women play out a ritual domesticity, bathing the child and cooking dinner, a scene whose normalcy attests to the depth of the reconciliation. The conscious repetition involved in reconciliation suggests the extent to which making peace with the past consists in reenacting past scenes with the privilege of a new maturity, retroactively rewriting history by symbolically changing the ending of the parable as it is retold. By contrast, much of the novel's pain is caused by the unthinking repetition of old patterns and the perpetuation of hurtful practices. In both its positive and negative aspects, the theatrical quality of repetition suggests the ultimate difficulty of getting inside another person's pain. Confronted with her mother's unbearable nightmares, Sophie can do little more than wake Martine up. Likewise, when confronted with her daughter's difficult bulimia, Martine cooks a feast hoping to cure her. The real and isolating distance between human beings requires the construction of rituals, symbolic gestures, parables, affirmations and even language in an attempt to bridge this distance in a meaningful way.

Finally, Martine's pregnancy represents the final rebellion of her body against her. Just as sex, for Martine, is not a matter of pleasure, pregnancy is hardly a matter of children. It is rather a deeply troubling effect of the use of her body by men. As the father of her second child-to-be, Marc is implicitly contrasted with Sophie's father, the Macoute rapist. Certainly Marc is neither violent nor anonymous, and his answering-machine messages seem to evince a respectable affection for Martine. But at the same time, his slickness, his deep sleep, and his ability to avoid the consequences of his actions echo the book's earlier description of Macoutes as men whose conscience remains untroubled by and disengaged with the world. Though he often sleeps with Martine and wants her to be happy, Marc seems to have no more idea of the depths of her pain than the man originally responsible for it. Throughout this section, Marc's lack of awareness is set against Joseph's concerted attempt to support, love and understand Sophie. As the novel's use of doubles suggests, Sophie's own emotional health is mirrored in the love of her partner, while Martine's increasing madness is reflected in her growing distance from Marc and her admissions to Sophie that he cannot possibly understand.