Artboard Created with Sketch. Close Search Dialog
! Error Created with Sketch.

Breath, Eyes, Memory


Section Four: Chapters 34–35

Summary Section Four: Chapters 34–35

The next morning, Marc asks Sophie to pick an outfit in which Martine will be buried. Sophie chooses the most crimson of all her mother's clothes: a red two- piece suit that she knows is too bright for burial.

That evening, Sophie and Marc get on a plane to Haiti, with Martine's body in the heavy luggage under the plane. In Dame Marie, Grandmè Ifé and Atie are waiting. Grandmè Ifé says that she knew of Martine's death, and pregnancy, before being told. That night, the group plays cards and drinks ginger tea, a wake in all but name. Grandmè Ifé and Atie share a bed so that Sophie can have her mother's room alone.

The next morning, the family goes to the funeral home to claim Martine's body. Grandmè Ifé nearly faints when she sees Martine's outfit. As the priest sprinkles holy water, Atie collapses. Marc holds her up, but she begins crying unstoppably.

As the mourners follow the coffin up the hill to its grave, villagers who know the family come to share in its grief. The crowd sings a funeral song as Martine's coffin is lowered into the seemingly bottomless pit. Grandmè Ifé throws the first handful of dirt, followed by Atie, Sophie, and Sophie for Brigitte. Unable to watch the dirt being shoveled over her mother, Sophie runs down the hill and into the cane field, where she begins violently beating the stalks.

Grandmè Ifé restrains the priest from going after Sophie. Instead she shouts at her granddaughter: "Ou libèrè?" Sobbing, Atie echoes her cry. Walking over and placing her hand on Sophie's shoulder, Grandmè Ifé tells Sophie a story about a place where women are buried in flame- red clothes, where a daughter comes into womanhood at her mother's death, and where mothers tell stories at night which end by asking their daughter if she is free. Grandmè Ifé tells Sophie that now she will know how to answer.


Sophie's trip to Haiti for her mother's funeral takes on the full mythological significance of a third and final return. Sophie's first experience of Haiti, in Section One, was tied to the innocence and asexuality of childhood, and marked by her mother's absence. Her return in Section Three was a chance to confront the problems of her adult sexuality as well as the violence of the countryside and of her family's past. The third trip is bittersweet, spanning the difficulty of Martine's death and the final promise of Sophie's liberation. As they arrive, Sophie's honest grief is set against Marc's discomfort. Having cultivated his Haitian identity from afar, Marc is no longer sure how to be authentic in the home country. Meanwhile Sophie, with no pretense to abandon, can directly engage with the landscape and her history. Faced with the embarrassment of Martine's tragedy, Marc immediately uses his influence to put as much distance between himself and the incident as possible. Though his reaction reflects the privileges of his power, it also represents his deep need to organize and control. Marc's patronizing treatment of Sophie and his brusque expedition of the funeral proceedings suggest a larger masculine distaste for the perceived volatility, irrationality and hysteria of women. The consignment of women to the territory of the absurd and the barricading of men within a fortress of rationality are two halves of an unsustainable process which mirrors the psychic split of doubling. Just as doubling sharply cleaves the feeling body from the distressed mind, the artificial gendering of the novel's world has split the hurting feminine from the disengaged masculine, leaving women to bear the burden of human suffering alone.