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CSEC English B: Breath Eyes Memory Chapter 3 Analysis

Updated: Nov 5, 2020

Atie and Sophie take a several-hour long journey to La Nouvelle Dame Marie to receive the blessing of Granme Ife for Sophie’s journey. Sophie notes the possible finality in this

visit; that due to her grandmother’s old age, this may be the last time she sees her. In a joyous and affectionate reunion between the two, Ife asks, “Are you hungry? I am going to cook only the things you like.” This conveys the importance of food, not only to their family, but in the Haitian culture overall. By offering food, the meal becomes an expression of love and affection coming from their familial bond.

Ife wears a black dress to mourn the passing of her husband, Sophie’s grandfather. Ife, in this way, carries this trauma of his death.

You must never forget this, your mother is your first friend,” Ife says to Sophie. Ife wants Sophie to value her mother; she wants her to understand the significance that a mother has. However, looking at this line based on what we know about Sophie’s own ideas relating to Martine, it seems slightly ironic. Yes, Ife communicates something very true to the Haitian culture, the importance of a child’s mother; but, considering that Sophie has never even become acquainted with Martine and instead grew up with Atie, is Martine truly her mother (or her first friend)? Especially when we consider that Martine attempted to kill herself and Sophie when she was pregnant (as we later learn) the line becomes incredibly ironic.

When Sophie goes to sleep (in a room by herself at that, such luxury!), she waits for ‘the nightmare where my mother would finally get to take me away.’ This calls back to the recurring nightmare of her mother chasing her and pulling her into a frame, except now, the nightmare has become true, and her mother will finally wisp her away with Tante Atie powerless to stop it.

Sophie and Atie leave the next day, spurred on by Ife’s insistence that they leave before she got too used to them and ‘suffered asu dden attack of chagrin.’ She fears that she may become too accustomed to their company and be overcome by deep sorrow and a tangible distress in their absence. Ife considers chagrin a physical disease, one that takes a toll on your body like a broken arm. She says it can only be treated by drinking tea from certain leaves recognizable by the wise elderly. When Sophie questions Atie on whether one can truly die of chagrin, she states that it isn’t a ‘sudden illness, but something that [can] kill you slowly, taking a small piece of you every day until one day, it finally take all of you away.’ This could be seen as an example of foreshadowing, as it is this distress, this chagrin that eventually causes Martine to destroy herself in the end. Atie, always a ray of optimism, states that someone can’t choose chagrin, but it instead chooses the person.

However, immediately after explaining the concept of chagrin, Atie tells the first folk tale of the novel, a means of foreshadowing not only Sophie’s situation but also her strength. Atie says there is a group of people in Ginen (the heaven of Vodou) who carry the sky on their heads. “They are the people of Creation. Strong, tall and mighty people who can bear anything. Their Maker… gives them the sky to carry because they are strong. These people do not know who they are, but if you see a lot of trouble in your life, it is because you were chosen to carry part of the sky on your head.” This short tale conveys the idea of hardship as a testament to a person’s own strength. Tante Atie tells Sophie this story to help her understand that she will need to find strength to deal with whatever she may face when she leaves, because their maker has deemed her strong and capable. This lesson serves to encourage Sophie to solve the issues she will encounter in life. The entire book contains 11 folk tales like this one that serve to relate to Sophie’s experiences and what is happening around her. Thus, the reader is able to have a nuanced experience of the story, and see the lessons being expressed for that particular moment in Sophie’s life.

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