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CSEC English B: Breath, Eyes, Memory Chapter 13 Analysis

Updated: Nov 5, 2020


The book makes another large time skip to Sophie, around two years later, now having returned to Haiti. As the driver of the vehicle she travelled in stops the car, he begins to swoon over her, complimenting her beauty and praising her excessively. Even when Sophie pretends not to hear, expressing disinterest, he persists with even more praises and expressions of his romantic intentions. “The sun, which was once god to my ancestors, slapped my face as though I had done something wrong,” Sophie muses, showing a sense of guilt within her for leaving Haiti.



As we progress through part three, special attention must be paid to instances of the colour red not previously present (or prevalent at least) in the Haiti of Sophie’s youth. The sides of the van Sophie travelled in are “painted in steaming reds, from cherry scarlet to crimson blood. Giraffes and lions were sketched over a terra cotta landscape, as though seeking a tint of green.” Red, as we discussed previously, symbolizes death, pain and anger. But, also note the diction of this description- the animals are said to be amidst a painted background of terracotta red ‘seeking a tint of green.’ Green will become prevalent throughout the novel from this point, and it represents healing and hope. In the same way, Sophie has been amidst an atmosphere of pain, from being subjected to testing in Martine’s household to living with the emotional fallout of that trauma, and now seeks healing in Haiti.


The driver’s voyeuristic tendencies are shown throughout his interaction with Sophie. Had the driver not termed Sophie as attractive, she would not have been granted the seat (even though she was travelling with her baby, Brigitte), and instead would have been forced into the back of the van with market women and their livestock. When the driver takes off his shirt due to the heat, he suggests that Sophie do the same. He wants to see if she “[looks] like a goddess naked.” He seems like the exact type of man which Martine tells Sophie to avoid when she was younger- one who seems to only want to exploit her body. When she says she was born in La Nouvelle Dame Marie in response to his remark about her flawless creole, he says "I still commend you, my dear. People who have been away from Haiti fewer years than you, they return and pretend they speak no Creole." It seems as though people who leave Haiti become ashamed of their heritage, and in trying to assimilate to the foreign culture, forget their own. Their dialogue reveals interesting views from Sophie about the memory of culture:

"Is it so easy to forget?" "Some people need to forget." "Obviously, you do not need to forget," he said. "I need to remember."

When Sophie says ‘some people need to forget,’ we can infer that she is speaking about Martine and the trauma Haiti holds for her. Martine doesn’t want to return to Haiti for long, as she wants to forget about the rape and other sexual violence she was subjected to in Haiti. By contrast, Sophie hopes to cope with her trauma by remembering her roots.

Sophie notes the female street vendors calling to each other out of concern, asking “ou libere?” The other woman would respond yes “if she had unloaded her freight without hurting herself.” This line will be repeated at the end of the book, where the load refers to the encumberment of trauma.


At this point, we are introduced to Louise, the daughter of Man Grace, who startles Sophie by asking her if she would like to buy her pig. Louise is constantly pushing Sophie to consider purchasing this pig for 500 gourdes, a steal according to her- insinuating that she needs the money for something if she is so insistent on pushing it to someone who has just returned to Haiti after ~8 years. Louise is extremely close to Atie, she says they are like “milk and coffee, lips and tongue.” Sophie says she is looking for Atie, and that she told Atie where to meet her in a cassette sent from America. At the mention of America, Louise’s eyes begin to glow, and she asks what it is like. She asks with great enthusiasm if there are really “pennies on the streets and lots of maids’ jobs.” She too understands an ideal America, fraught with opportunities. It is later learned that she wants the money from the pig to travel to America on a boat.


Louise says that Atie never stops talking about Sophie. She is teaching Atie how to read and write now, and even so, all she will write in her book is Sophie’s name. So, we know from this that Atie’s love for Sophie has never stopped. Even now, she expresses great affection for her niece in her obsession with speaking about her. Louise says that she and Atie are “both alone in the world since [Louise’s] mother dies.” It seems that Atie, even before she is shown on return to Haiti, is revealed to be severely alone. Her lover, Donald Augustin left her for Lotus, Martine had left her for America, and soon followed Sophie. Even though she has Ife, it appears that she and Louise are drawn to each other because of a deeper lack in their lives.


It is revealed that Sophie did in fact become a secretary like she wanted to as a child- escaping Martine’s stringent expectations has allowed her to do what she wanted to do. She had not planned on returning to Haiti. Instead, it seems to be an impulsive reaction to a feeling of being lost. As she said earlier, she “[needs] to remember.” She hopes to remember her own roots and confront her trauma.


Louise says that she wants to go to America, and she is taking a boat. Throughout the late 1970s to early 2000s, many Haitians travelled via boats in search of asylum in America (and some other countries) from the despotic regimes of Jean-Claude Duvalier and successive leaders from violent military coups. Many do not successfully make the journey- some boats capsize such as the one that sunk off the coast of the Bahamas in 2019. Thus, Sophie’s response makes sense- it is very dangerous and somewhat irrational to travel by boat (especially considering that the US had ruled that Haitians coming in on boats were economic immigrants rather than political refugees, and deported them upon arrival). Louise’s response is interesting: “spilled water is better than a broken jar.” This line suggests that Louise would rather fail than no longer be able to take such a risk later on. All she needs to make up the deposit is the 500 gourdes from selling the pig. She is risking it all for the chance at a better life in America. Louise notes Sophie’s meagre appearance despite being a mother. We later learn that Sophie is bulimic, explaining this appearance; however, this will be discussed later on.


Sophie sees Atie and calls her over. She races over and has to stare hard at Sophie to find features in her that she remembered from years prior. The years truly had changed her- both in physical appearance and in the maturity of her psyche. Atie wants to throw herself around Sophie, expressing her joy in being reunited with her at last, but doesn’t want to crush Brigitte in the process. As Sophie hands her Brigitte to hold, Atie remarks about the child’s closer resemblance to Martine than Sophie.

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