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CSEC English B: Breath, Eyes, Memory Chapter 15 Analysis/Summary

Updated: Nov 5, 2020

The three women sit together and eat supper. Note the mention of the distant light on the hill- it will be referred to later on. When Atie asks Sophie if Martine still cooks Haitian cuisine, she must say that she isn’t sure, as she has not been in contact with Martine since she eloped with Joseph. Ife tries to hide her displeasure with this fact. Her discontent with this is understandable, as her only granddaughter has no relationship with her own mother- something so averse to a matriarchal family such as the Cacos.

A short dispute between Atie and Ife reveals Ife’s displeasure with Atie leaving in the night to do her reading lessons. Ife compares Atie to a devil, travelling about in the night, yet Atie seems headstrong in working at learning to read. Atie’s somewhat nihilistic views are revealed in the next exchange- she expresses that she thinks that she was born ‘short of her share’ when Ife says that most people are born with what they need. Her cry out to her ‘Makers’ in Ginen reflects Atie’s feeling of insufficiency. She feels that the gods with were ‘stingy the clay when [they] made [her].” This expression of her sentiment of inadequacy, her feeling of not being enough is justified by what we already know about her. Atie’s lover chooses someone else over her and she never marries. The child who she raises (Sophie) is called away by her ‘real’ mother. Atie is left with no fulfilled societal role. This all culminates in an evident shame in Atie, as shown in her declaration of her own innate insufficiency. In Shame resilience theory: A grounded theory study on women and shame, Brown postulates that there exist sociocultural expectations within society which are simply limited/narrow “interpretations of who women are “supposed to be,” based on their identity (e.g., gender, race, class, sexual orientation, age, religious identity) and/or their role (e.g. mother, employee, partner, group member).” These socio-cultural expectations are propagated, imposed and enforced by individuals and groups (e.g. self, family, partners, friends, co-workers, children, membership groups). These expectations, when realized to be either self-contradicting or impossible to be simultaneously met by the women (i.e. the participants of the study conducted), they feel inevitably trapped. Shame Resilience Theory, as discussed by Brown, proposes that the main shame-related concerns for women are “feelings of being trapped, powerless, and isolated.” If we compare these ideas to what is seen in Atie, a woman seemingly powerless over the forces which govern her life, we can understand that she is plagued by feelings related to shame. As we progress throughout the novel, more instances which highlight her feelings of isolation and being trapped will be introduced.

After this minor dispute, Atie goes for her notebook to read to them on Ife’s request.

“She read the very same words as those I'd written on the card that I had made for her so long ago, on Mother's Day.

My mother is a daffodil, limber and strong as one. My mother is a daffodil, but in the wind, iron strong.

When she was done, she raised her head from behind the pages and snapped the notebook shut. "I have never forgotten those words. I have written them down."”

Atie reads the exact words from Sophie’s card approximately 8 years prior. We can tell from these lines the impact that the poem had on her. If you remember the scene when Sophie originally reads the poem to her as a child, Atie shrugs and says that it was never meant for her anyway. She comes across indifferent and unaffected by Sophie’s words. However, from this, we know that Atie hadn’t taken those words lightly; they had meant a lot to her and stayed in her memory. This also means that she accepts that those words were meant for her, and in writing them down is able to come to terms with the emotions she feels for the child she parented. As she leaves off into the night, she says that “the spirits of alone-ness, they call to me,” showing that her journeys off into the night likely tie into her feeling of loneliness. The fact that she is going to Louise, someone who is also alone since her mother’s death, reinforces the idea that Atie’s shame with herself is connected to isolation.

When Sophie goes to her mother’s room (the room in which she will be staying during her time in Haiti)HaitH, she hears Ife mumbling in her sleep, just like the sounds Martine used to make (according to Sophie). Thus, it appears that there is a running line of women plagued with night terrors. Martine’s is presumably caused by sexual violence in testing and rape, but the cause of Ife’s is ambiguous at this point (however, we do know that she watched her husband die before her in the cane fields and was also likely subjected to the tradition of testing, all likely causes of the night terrors).

As Sophie prepares to sleep, she asks Brigitte a series of questions that correlate to her current situation and the concept of intergenerational trauma inheritance: "Are you going to remember all of this? Will you be mad at Mommy for severing you from your daddy? Are you going to inherit some of Mommy's problems?" Sophie seems concerned whether the issues of sexual violence she was subjected to will be passed down to Brigitte just like Martine’s were passed down to her. Sophie feels the urge to tell her child a story, just like Atie used to tell her stories to help her fall asleep.

Atie returns in the veil of night, and sounds like she has been drinking. It is possible that her alcoholism is simply a consequence of her own shame, and trying to obscure the trauma of her ‘other-motherhood.’ In speaking to Ife, she reveals that since Sophie is no longer a child, she doesn’t have to ‘be a saint for her anymore.’

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