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CSEC English B: Breath, Eyes, Memory Chapter 10 Analysis/Summary

Updated: Nov 5, 2020

Martine returns home early the following night, and decides to carry Sophie out some place as they hadn’t done anything together in a long time. They take a train, on which they see “listless faces, people clutching the straps, hanging on.” This imagery directly reflects the general situation of migrants in New York like Martine and Sophie- people desperately clutching and holding on to a new turbulent life.


Sophie asks Martine if she will ever return to Haiti, to which she replies that she will return to arrange the burial of her mother, and also to see her again before she dies. However, she reveals the pain that is still present for her in Haiti:


“I don't want to stay there for more than three or four days. I know that sounds bad, but that is the only way I can do it. There are ghosts there that I can't face, things that are still very painful for me."


Even after about 18 years in New York, Martine still cannot come to terms with what happened to her in Haiti. The pain for her is till very real- she cannot escape her trauma. Her inability to even fathom staying in Haiti for long and facing the ghosts that plague her conveys Martine’s own fear. This trauma has not become any less painful for her, and this unescapable pain, like chagrin, will continue to eat away at her, taking “a small piece… every day.”


Sophie begins with a very cautious question: "I am past eighteen now, is it okay if I like someone?" She is treading lightly, only playing on the possibility that she does indeed like someone. After all, she is past eighteen, the age which Martine had set as the threshold for any romantic involvement years prior. Martine instantly knows that Sophie does like someone, despite her attempt at secrecy. She is “afraid to tell her right away,” and for good reason- Martine takes on the cold probing demeanour of interrogation promptly to extract every ounce of information she can from her daughter. Martine begins to spout advice for Sophie, saying that this man must not be a vagabond, and he should be able to do something for her. When Sophie begins to say that she trusts that this man is not a vagabond, Martine’s cynical response is swift: "You are already lost, you tell me you trust him and I know you are already lost.” Martine is essentially saying that giving even an iota of trust to a man will lead to her downfall, regardless of who he is. She believes that Sophie is ultimately lost the minute she believes this man or confides in him. Fearful of her mother finding out about her real love interest, Sophie concocts the fictitious name Henry Napoleon for her supposed love interest, and Martine takes her in stride. She herself fabricates a story about the Léogâne Napoleons and thus, backs Sophie into a corner where her lie is likely to be uncovered. Martine’s story about the family is false however, and she therefore knows from this point that Sophie has lied and has a different, real romantic interest which she wants to hide.


Martine’s stringent approach to controlling Sophie’s life is intended to be protecting her, and being a good mother. Sophie acknowledges this and gives her a kiss on the cheek to show her appreciation, but finds it difficult to tell her that she loves her. It is obvious, then, that she is made severely uncomfortable by this unfaltering restriction over her life. Joseph has broken a monotony for her and granted her a small taste of freedom. Martine intends to continue to keep Sophie under lock and key with strict regulation of every area of her life even though she is eighteen.


Sophie must be more wary when interacting with Martine now that she was aware that she had a love interest, and attempts to please her by cooking her favourite meal and doing well in school. She hides her unhappiness whenever Joseph leaves for a show in another part of the country. Every time Martine asks about the fictitious Henry Napoleon, she also spouts some general advice for Sophie. She talks about the old-fashioned Haitians and how they only ‘make you cook plantains and rice and beans and never let you feed them lasagna,” criticizing their strict adherence to the Haitian cuisine, never allowing even the slightest exploration of other foods. The new generation Haitians, she says, have mostly lots their ’sense of obligation to the family.’ It appears that one’s obligation to the family is fulfilling a meaningful profession rather than jobs like a taxi driver to ‘make quick cash.’


Martine says that she had learned about the Léogâne Napoleons from a friend at work. During this, there is an oddity revealed about the Haitian culture: “in Haiti if your mother was a coal seller and you became a doctor, people would still look down on you knowing where you came from. But in America, they like success stories. The worse off you were, the higher your praise.” In Haiti, despite how far you go, people will still judge you based on where you came from. Quite ironic, considering that one’s ‘obligation to the family’ is to assume a meaningful profession like an ‘engineer’ or ‘doctor’ according to Martine, yet still they are looked down upon because of the poorer lineage of their family. America’s view is the exact opposite, as they see one’s ability to rise from dire circumstances as deserving of greater merit.


Whenever Martine is home, Sophie stays up all night waiting for her to have a nightmare. Every time, shortly after she falls asleep, Martine begins to scream and thrash about violently. Sophie must wake her up, and her reaction remains the same each time. She notes that Martine seems even more frightened when she sees Sophie, probably because of her likely resemblance to Martine’s rapist.

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