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CSEC English B: Breath, Eyes, Memory Chapter 14 Analysis/Summary

Updated: Nov 5, 2020

Tante Atie and Sophie set foot towards Granmé Ifé’s house. As they pass the people on the road, Sophie notes that the people call Atie Madame even though she had never married. This could be for at least two reasons. The more likely of these reasons is that she commands respect due to her long history in that village. However, it could also be because the people generally expect a woman like her to be married, and thus fall into one of the basic conventional roles of women in society.

"I cannot see this child coming out of you,” says Atie. Sophie replies: "Sometimes, I cannot see it myself." Sophie most overtly refers to the baby’s lack of resemblance to her and how jarring that is- to the point that she often wonders how that baby came out of her. This line also subtly hints at the pain and fear Sophie feels as a result of the trauma of testing. Having a baby seems crazy to her, especially considering what we learn later about Sophie’s intolerance of sexual experiences and what is already known about the pain of childbirth. Sophie describes Brigitte as a ‘true Caco woman’ who is therefore ‘very strong.’

Sophie mentions her happiness with Atie learning her letters. After all, as a child, she had insisted Atie learned them with her at school- but she would always decline. Now, Atie says that she occasionally writes ‘nice words’ Louise calls poems.

Atie asks if Sophie had brought Brigitte to Martine. Sophie says that Martine never answers her letters or speaks to her over calls- she refuses to contact Sophie even after this long. They have not spoken or seen each other since Sophie left home (~2 years ago). Sophie has not had the opportunity to introduce her to her daughter. Thus, they have been distant for a long time, and Martine’s obvious rejection of Sophie’s attempts to reach out reflect that she is likely still upset with Sophie’s denial of their relationship in favour of freedom. Atie remarks the sadness of this situation- a mother separated from her only child with no other relative with her in New York. Even worse, as Atie acknowledges, “Martine’s head is not in the best condition.” Leaving her alone with her own suboptimal mental condition coupled with her brutal work hours and her evident indelible trauma is a recipe for disaster. Considering all of this, I would like to draw your attention to the two things described by Danticat before and after the mention of Martine in this instance. Before Martine is mentioned, there is this image:

“An old lady was trying to kill a rooster in the yard behind her house. The rooster escaped her grasp and ran around headless until it collapsed in the middle of the road. We walked around the bloody trail as the lady picked up the dead animal.”

Note here the presence of the colour red in the blood of the rooster and the association with death. I argue that each recurrent image involving red and relating to death and pain corresponds to mentions of Martine and the increasing prominence of her insanity. The specific image used here with the rooster losing its head and running around listlessly until it eventually collapses could be considered foreshadowing, albeit very subtle. Martine will eventually become pregnant with Marc’s child, and thus feels as though she has lost agency over her body again (just like a rooster running around headless).

Eventually, she kills herself and the baby due to her own mental instability from years of plague by trauma (the rooster must eventually collapse). Strange way to relate the two events, but it works out nonetheless.

The image which comes directly after Sophie and Atie’s short tête-à-tête about Martine is this:

“A man hammered nails into a coffin in front of his roadside hut. "Oné, Monsié Frank," Tante Atie called out to the coffin builder. "Respect." He flashed back a friendly smile.”

Quite a bit too obvious for it to be coincidental, isn’t it? A man hammering nails into a coffin right after the mention of Martine’s abysmal mental state is a sneaky piece of imagery foreshadowing her eventual death.

When Atie asks whether America is the grand place they have always hear about, her response is that it is ‘a place where you can lose yourself easily.’ This calls back to Sophie’s reason for returning to Haiti- she says she ‘needs to remember,’ as though being in New York has resulted in a loss of her identity. In the same way, Martine has somewhat lost herself in New York- avoiding returning to Haiti because in hopes of escaping her trauma. Atie says, "grand or not grand, I am losing myself here too." It appears that Atie is losing her identity even though she is in in her homeland. This is likely because of what was discussed earlier. Because Atie has neither married nor had a child of her own, she cannot identify with a conventional gender role. Her identity cannot be pegged to such basic societal roles, and thus, she feels as though she is losing herself.

Atie tells Sophie about how and when Man Grace (Louise’s mother) died. Atie says she returned to La Nouvelle Dame Marie almost the day that Man Grace passed. Thus, Atie may have been a pillar of strength for Louise during this trauma, creating a friendship. Atie says that it was very hard on Louise, since she had slept in the same bed with her mother for her whole life. Now, it is painful for her to sleep alone.

They arrive at Ifé’s house, and she embraces Sophie with tears of joy in her eyes. She, like Atie, acknowledges Brigitte’s close resemblance to the other Caco women.

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