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Themes are the fundamental and often universal ideas explored in a literary work.
The stories in Krik? Krak! demonstrate that everyone experiences suffering in his or her own unique way. The characters in the collection come from diverse backgrounds and have very different experiences, but to a certain extent, they all share the same pain. The despair of Célianne in “Children of the Sea” as she throws herself into the ocean is felt by the male narrator of the same story when he embraces death and by Grace’s mother in “Caroline’s Wedding” when she goes to a mass for refugees who, like Célianne, died at sea. But while these and other characters all see the same horrible things happening to the people and the nation they love, they all have their own reactions. Guy, in “A Wall of Fire Rising,” tries to defy his hopelessness by stealing a brief moment of glory, even though he knows it must end in death. The mother in “New York Day Women” makes a new life for herself in the United States, but she still can’t face the suffering she left behind. As Danticat often explains, there is no universal Haitian experience because the people who suffer remain individuals.
In a country with a violent, complicated past, stories are passed on from mothers to daughters to preserve a sense of history and create a record for the future. In “The Missing Peace,” Emilie tells Lamort they should write down what has happened for posterity, but Lamort answers that she has posterity in the form of her family. She means that she has inherited her mother’s and her grandmother’s experiences, and when she is old, her own daughters will inherit her experiences. Similarly, Josephine’s mother tells her in “Nineteen Thirty-Seven” that her birth made up for her grandmother’s death. Death broke one link in the family chain, but a new one was formed. Many of the characters in Krik? Krak! sense the presence of their dead ancestors and feel connected to their pain. They understand their place in the world in terms of their mothers’ and ancestors’ experiences, and they pass these experiences on to their children in order to keep the family history alive. In the epilogue, “Women Like Us,” the narrator explains that these past experiences are what fuel her writing, giving her oppressed ancestors a voice.
Hope has the power to give people strength in times of suffering, but it also threatens to blind them to reality. Most of the characters in Krik? Krak! hold on to hope in order to keep themselves alive. In “Night Women,” the narrator makes up stories about an angel coming to rescue her and her son in order to hide the truth from him, but she also uses these stories to escape the harsh reality of her life. Similarly, in “Seeing Things Simple,” Princesse avoids the world around her by dreaming of becoming an artist and immersing herself in the reality of a foreign painter. These characters survive by denial and wait for the day when such denial will no longer be necessary. However, this coping strategy can be dangerous. In “Between the Pool and the Gardenias,” Marie’s hope becomes a delusion when she pretends to find the daughter she always wanted. This fantasy leads her to hold on to the baby even as it begins to rot, and she is finally arrested when the pool-cleaner, whom Marie had convinced herself cared about her, accuses her of witchcraft. Several other characters find out that too much hope can result in crippling despair when reality sets in.