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Breath, Eyes, Memory


Section Four: Chapters 34–35

Summary Section Four: Chapters 34–35

Martine's death represents an attempt to directly attack the body that has been the source of her greatest pain. Simultaneously suggestive of suicide, abortion, and murder, Martine's repeated stabs represent an assault on herself, her child, and her attacker. As a result, the lines between these three spirits become increasingly ambiguous. Martine hears the child speak in the voice of the rapist, but it speaks from inside her, suggesting that her body itself has begun to perpetuate the rapist's violence. Martine sees the rapist in every man she meets, but worries that he has left a piece of him inside her that will infect the child. Further, she fears that this piece of the rapist has become an inseparable part of her, implicating herself as the ultimate agent of her own pain. Symbolically, as the rapist's body becomes increasingly affiliated with her own, Martine's suicide represents her ultimate revenge on her attacker, as she destroys the body that is both hers and his. Her repeated stabs are echoed in Sophie's wild pounding of the cane as her mother is laid to rest. More subtly, Martine's stabs echo Sophie's own decisive act against her body, impaling herself on a pestle at the end of Section Two. Both Sophie and Martine have assumed the role of their own symbolic violator, attempting to break out of their body's prison. In a world that controls and manipulates a woman physically, her battle for liberation must take place on the field of the body.

Ultimately, the force of the parable of the market women is revealed in the twist that it receives on the novel's last page. In Grandmè Ifé's account "Ou libèrè?" becomes the symbolic ending of a story passed from mother to daughter. Put otherwise, it is in the telling of a tale that a woman has the chance to truly become free. In the context of the novel, Grandmè Ifé's speech suggests the deep power of narrative to name, identify, reconcile and resolve. Narrative collaboration is set against the deep silence of hurt, as evidenced by Atie's parables, Grandmè Ifé's apology, Sophie's writing Atie a letter, Martine and Sophie's reconciliation, Sophie's therapy, Joseph's insistence on talking, and the rituals of Sophie's sexual phobia group. The power of narrative is further evinced by Grandmè Ifé's revelation that a daughter is not fully a woman until her mother dies. With her mother's death, Sophie passes from being a listener to a speaker, herself a teller of tales. Her ritual place is no longer in the answering of a question but in the asking of it. More broadly, she has acquired access to the full female power of creation, which can alternately and interchangeably produce words, stories, and children. Symbolically, Sophie's ambition to become a secretary, taking dictation, at the end of Section One has given way to an ability to speak in her own voice, writing her own life and telling her own story.