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CSEC English B: Breath, Eyes, Memory by Edwidge Danticat Chapter 30 Analysis/Summary

Updated: Nov 5, 2020

Sophie returns home, and Joseph of course rushes out to greet his wife and child. He seems conflicted by happiness to see them and anger with Sophie’s rash, impulsive actions, as he says “It’s nice to see you [Sophie], but I want to kill you.” Their bedroom is disorderly, and Joseph is surprisingly good-natured in suggesting that he needs Sophie to maintain order in his life.

When Joseph asks about Sophie’s trip, he is immediately drawn to her referral to Haiti as “home.” Apparently, she had never called Haiti home since they had been together- to her, home had always been Martine’s house, to which she could never return. This is interesting in several ways. Firstly, it tells us a lot about Sophie’s healing and growth since her eloping with Joseph. Before, she had been transfixed by the pain associated with her mother and that house- so her identity had been deeply intertwined with it, causing her to perceive that as her home. Contrarily, however, this home and the trauma that came with it made it so that she felt she could never return to it- similar to Martine’s adamant aversion to returning to or remaining in Haiti. Sophie seems to subconsciously acknowledge Haiti as her home after going there to confront her past and the reasons for the testing to which she was subjected. Sophie embraces her roots by seeing Haiti as a home, in contrast to Martine, who wants to separate herself from her home in attempt to escape confrontation of the source of her pain. Sophie has evidently grown, now likely understanding the pain of her mother and being able to look past what transpired with her in favour of comprehending her own identity.

Following this conversation is one of the many mentions of Afro-Haitian ancestral-based religious practices in the novel, where Sophie notices Joseph’s large drums in the nursery. He explains he was using them to call to the “ancestral spirits, asking them to make [Sophie] come back to [him].”

Sophie, while lying on the sofa, has a sudden epiphany of her own importance and authority. Within her own house, with her own family, she is now an authoritative figure who holds power within her own life, and the realization of this is a testament to her own growth.

Joseph questions if Sophie’s choice to go was impulsive or planned, and her only response is that they ‘weren’t connecting physically.’ She says that she needed more understanding, and Joseph’s response is somewhat ironic, saying that he does understand. However, it is most likely that Sophie means she needed a greater understanding of the origins of her own trauma rather than simply someone supporting her. It could also be that Joseph’s understanding of Sophie can only go so far; she would have had to return to Haiti to speak with the women of her family who went through the testing (and even perpetrated the practice themselves) to have her pain better understood.

Sophie attempts to call Martine, but she does not answer, and her answering machine doesn’t pick up either. She has to call again at midnight, when Martine does answer, sounding anxious while only relating that ‘Marc is [there]’ with her and hanging up after a succinct call.

Sophie brings Brigitte to the paediatrician, who of course chides Sophie for doing something so reckless as bringing her very young child to the provinces of Haiti where there are warnings for certain vector-borne and water-borne diseases. Nonetheless, Brigitte seems unharmed, prompting Sophie’s remark that “only a mountain can crush a Haitian woman.”

After dinner that night, Sophie calls Martine again, who is still adamant that Sophie should not refer to the child within her as a ‘baby,’ choosing to regard it as a malignant object instead. She is still indecisive as to whether she will follow through or not. She says that she is unable to sleep, because she looks at every man and can only see her rapist. This is slightly strange, as she had never actually seen the rapist’s face during the encounter- so the image she sees deeply interwoven with her view of every man around her is simply an approximation, or some deeply obscured visual representation that is only recognizable by the fear and pain it elicits.

She had attempted to get rid of it that day, but, as lawfully required by 25 US states, she was told to wait 24 hours to think about it. Thinking about it became more horrifying, and that was when she began to see the rapist everywhere. It seems that there is a power imbalance between her and her rapist within her mind. While she previously acknowledged that it was supremely her choice whether or not she would have the child, the traumatic experience and the man that so violently took all sense of control from her years prior are now contradicting that idea of control.

Sophie ends the call, to be pulled into a sexual interaction with Joseph. However, during this, she doubles, dissociating herself from her current physical situation and situating her mind somewhere else. Her tolerance of intercourse seems to only be based on her ability to separate her mind from her physical body as a coping mechanism.

Now, as an adult, Sophie has the ability to console her mother- tragically able to understand Martine’s trauma and her pain so that she can stand by her. During her doubling, she continuously thinks about her role as Martine’s protector, and even as a friend:

“I kept thinking of my mother, who now wanted to be my friend. Finally, I had her approval. I was okay. I was safe. We were both safe. The past was gone. Even though she had forced it on me, of her sudden will, we were now even more than friends. We were twins, in spirit. Marassas.”

Martine approves of the woman Sophie has become, they are safe, and the events of the past are past. They are Marassas, one in the same- sharing similar experiences and pain.

After intercourse, when Sophie’s mind returns to her body, the first instance of Sophie purging herself is described. Of course, the reader is previously told she is bulimic, but the novel had yet to relate the specific circumstances of a compensatory episode. She eats all of the leftovers of their large dinner, and then purges “all the food out of [her] body.” This implies that the shame surrounding her own body is deeply related to the guilt and pain she feels during intercourse, as she had previously said “I kept my eyes closed so the tears wouldn't slip out” to Joseph after they finished. It seems like a reaction, some sort of habitual practice to do this- as she waits for him to fall asleep before following a very fixed and almost routine set of steps to eat copiously and then purge herself.

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