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CSEC English B: Breath, Eyes, Memory Chapters 24-25 Analysis/Summary

Updated: Nov 5, 2020

Martine arrives three days after Sophie’s confrontation with Ife. Note that she arrives holding a red umbrella that is obscuring her face. This directly connects Martine to a theme of death and trauma, and the fact that the umbrella is covering her face seems to signify that her identity will be- or already has been- overcome by trauma. Atie seems indifferent, almost apathetic to Martine’s return, while Ife seems overcome with emotion. Sophie says that Martine is ‘glowing,’ which, in that context, could function either as a contrast to Atie’s lack of emotion by saying that Martine is glowing with excitement; or, more literally, in the sense that Martine’s skin is so light that it seems to glow. It seems that it may be both, especially because Ife points out Martine’s lighter skin. Ife guesses that she used a product to get this effect, however, Martine seems embarrassed by it and insists that it is because of the cold American weather. Using some bleaching products would explain why she walked with an umbrella, to block the sunlight.

Martine does not intend to stay long; in fact, she intends to only take care of some of Ife’s affairs before returning to New York with Sophie in tow. In a strange instance of foreshadowing, Martine says that the next time she comes, she will stay with them ‘for a very long time.’


Now there exists a standoff of sorts between Martine and Sophie. They stare at one another from across the yard, while Ife urges Sophie with increasing intensity to ‘walk to [her] mother.’ This is probably meant to be a symbolic acknowledgement of respect for her mother, but she does not move. Sophie has not seen Martine since she eloped, and thus, seems too overcome with emotion to fulfil the traditional obligation she would have to walk to and greet her mother first. Ife is irritated by Sophie’s apparent effrontery; however, Martine seems unperturbed, and breaks the stalemate herself. Martine greets Sophie affectionately with a kiss on the cheek, and reveals why she did not answer any of Sophie’s letters and attempts to contact her- she ‘could not find the words.’


Ife had told Martine to come and reconcile, as it was her belief that mother and daughter being enemies (especially in a matrilineal family like the Cacos) put a ‘curse’ on the family. Martine reveals that Joseph has been very worried, and she promised to return with Sophie in three days. Martine has already made plans for Sophie, just like in years past. Martine discloses her intention to start anew with Sophie, considering that Sophie has grown into a woman. She wants to restart with their relationship; she wants to forget the enmity that had arisen between them.


Martine proceeds to unpack, and Sophie sees the true unbleached shade of Martine’s skin. When Ife cups her hands around Martine’s prosthetic bra and asks if ‘they hurt,’ her response is interesting:


“No… because they are not really part of me.”


At first glance, the line is simply explaining the fact that Martine had a mammectomy, and thus the prosthetic bra that mimics breasts is not actually a part of her. However, we can also look at this from a symbolic standpoint. Martine attempts to separate herself from the trauma of her past by escaping Haiti. In spite of this, she cannot escape her own memory of it, nor, therefore, the associated pain. This line reflects essentially what Martine did in trying to escape the trauma of her past- she attempts to deny the pain and the effect it has on her by detaching herself from it. She affirms that the memory is ‘not really a part of her,’ and thus, cannot cause her pain. But they do, and it is her attempt to escape without confrontation of the memory that culminates in her own collapse.

Martine says that if Ife was not so stubborn, she would have moved her to Croix-des-Rosets, or the city, where she could have access to all sorts of modern utilities. Ife shows no desire to move though; she is comfortable where she is.


That evening, Atie stays in the yard staring at the sky instead of visiting Louise, which is an interesting shift from habit. Martine joins her outside, and they both stare in silence. Martine recalls the unpleasant stories Ife would tell them about the stars in the sky, and Atie mentions her ‘favourite’ of these stories: “my favourite was the one about the girl who wished she could marry a star and then went up there and… the man she wished for was a monster.” Such a tale, that could function to deter girls from easily trusting and giving themselves to unscrupulous men, is strange for Atie to select as her ‘favourite.’ However, the tale may be able to give Atie some comfort in her own life. After all, it was her wish to marry a certain man (Donald Augustin), but she was passed up in favour of another woman. Villainizing or creating a monstrous nature for an idealized man through the tale could serve to mollify Atie’s pain in losing the man she was supposed to marry.


Atie continues by saying she preferred the story told by their father, who said the stars were brave men. He also claimed that they would ‘come back and fall in love with [Atie],’ which Atie remarks was not right.


"We used to fight so hard when we saw a star wink. You said it was winking at you. I thought it was winking at me. I think, Manman, she told us that unpleasant story about the stars to stop the quarrels."

"Young girls, they should be allowed to keep their pleasant stories," Tante Atie said.


They had taken the story about stars being brave men quite seriously as children, fighting to claim the “affection” of the stars whenever they winked. Martine believes that Ife had likely told them the story of the man being a monster to deter these frivolous quarrels, and Atie is contrary this line of thinking. She thinks that young girls should be allowed to retain the pleasant nature of the stories they’re told; after all, there is no guarantee that they will have anything pleasant later on in their lives. The stories at least give them the opportunity to hold the idealized wonder of their dreams close in their childhood, before they are met the brunt force of reality and potential disappointment.


When Martine asks why Atie doesn’t sleep in her own bed, she replies that it is because ‘it is empty in her bed.’ She feels alone, and this makes it difficult for her to even sleep in her own bed. Martine is perplexed by Atie’s lack of a romantic partner, because ‘men came to ask for [her] hand.’ Atie meets this remark by saying that their interest died away once ‘better women came along.’ It seems that Donald’s choice of Lotus over Atie wasn’t the only shift of interest that occurred in Atie’s lifetime. Martine still sees dignity in her older sister, wondering how she could not be chosen. Her identity as Atie Caco, Martine believes, is enough to make her a widely sought-after woman; one who would be chosen. However, Atie’s confidence in herself has obviously decayed: “Atie Caco to you. Special to no one.” She feels that she is not special; the value Martine ascribes to her identity and her name is not reflected in the world around her.


Atie says that Martine can keep the brightest stars in the sky, because ‘when [Martine] is gone [she] will have them all to [herself].’ Atie refers to Martine leaving Haiti once again, but the dismal tone of the remark foreshadows Martine leaving in a different sense, death. Martine’s next line reflects a deeper sadness in both of their losses: “we come from a place, where in one instant, you can lose your father and all your other dreams." They both had their dreams dashed: Atie, by men who lost interest after seeking ‘better’ women, and Martine, by a man who violated her and devalued her in the eyes of Haitian society. All of these things seem to happen in an instant, just like the death of their father in the fields. The nature of Haiti’s social conventions dictate that a woman should aspire to become a proper wife, and that they should be virgins and pure. It is in this way that they are raised and trained, creating a pre-determined destiny which strips away both hopes, dreams and happiness once the ‘conditions’ for womanhood are violated.

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