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Symbols are objects, characters, figures, or colors used to represent abstract ideas or concepts.
Crying represents life, which in Haiti is always marked by pain. Crying expresses suffering, and as long as Haitians live, they suffer and therefore cry. Danticat indicates that both Célianne’s baby in “Children of the Sea” and the dead baby in “Between the Pool and the Gardenias” are dead by noting that they do not cry. For Marie, the absence of crying is positive in a way. She wishes no babies cried, because a dead baby cannot feel pain. In “Nineteen Thirty-Seven,” Josephine tries not to cry in order to suppress her suffering, as well as her mother’s. But Josephine’s mother makes the Madonna statuette cry because her suffering has not died, and she needs to express it somehow. Similarly, in “Women Like Us,” the narrator’s mother compares the sound of her writing to the sound of crying, and the narrator agrees that writing is a form of crying. She writes to express her suffering and the suffering of her ancestors and to keep their painful stories alive. In a way, the whole story collection is one deep cry, expressing the emotional pain of its characters.
In Krik? Krak!, butterflies suggest the understanding of harsh realities. In “Children of the Sea,” the female narrator explains that different butterflies can deliver different messages, but in a troubled country such as Haiti, nearly all the messages are bad ones. When the black butterfly at the end of “Children of the Sea” lands on the female narrator, she knows the male narrator has died. At the end of “The Missing Peace,” Lamort describes Raymond as a soldier who likes butterfly-shaped leaves because she realizes he has embraced the reality of political conflict and violence. The narrator of “Night Women” imagines her son as a butterfly in the middle of a stream because she knows he is too distant for her to protect him. Butterflies are elusive, hard to catch or to control, much like the suffering of the characters. They represent change, the blossoming of a lowly caterpillar into a bigger, greater creature, just as the characters’ daily pain blossoms into greater, unavoidable tragedy.
Braiding suggests the combination of unique strands into a coherent, more beautiful whole, an apt description of what Krik? Krak! does with the characters’ unique stories. Although this symbol appears only in the epilogue, it represents the book as a whole. In the epilogue, the narrator explains that writing is like braiding because it forces separate elements to build a single, unified meaning. It can be challenging, and if the hair doesn’t cooperate, the result isn’t always pretty. But there is something soothing about the process, the rhythmic performance of a skill that is both challenging and routine. To the narrator, it comes naturally. It is also a tradition she has inherited from her mother and her ancestors, who used to braid her hair when she was a child. Although the narrator’s mother doesn’t write or even approve of her writing, the storytelling traditions she has handed down to the narrator are the foundations of her writing. Although the narrator tells stories, or braids, in her own way, she maintains her Haitian inheritance by doing so.