What is the main idea of Edwidge Danticat's short story "Night Talkers"?

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tamarakh's profile pic

Tamara K. H. | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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The importance of family and belonging are the two most important themes in Edwidge Danticat's short story "Night Talkers." The title itself is indicative of a sense of family and belonging.

As Dany states towards the beginning of the story, he and his aunt have one thing in common: they both talk in their sleep at night. It seems to be a trait the entire tribe has in common. Like Claude, Dany's fellow expatriate who had immigrated to America and wound up back in Beau Jour, Haiti, though neither Dany nor Claude feel they have anything in common with those around them who are declared to be family members, they at least share one trait with those around them--they talk in their sleep at night, and this shared trait helps give them a sense of belonging, as Dany indicates in the final paragraph of the story:

The only thing he could think to do for his aunt now was to get Claude to speak and speak and speak, which wouldn't be so hard, since Claude was already one of them, a member of their tribe. Claude was a night talker. (p. 1020)

Dany returned to the tiny, distant village of Beau Jour in Haiti for a sense of belonging because, orphaned, he came face to face in New York with the man responsible for killing his parents by throwing a grenade at their house. Wanting to take his revenge but thinking better of it, he returned to Beau Jour to be with the one family member of his who survived the bombing, his aunt, and he did so on an "expired visa," knowing he would not be permitted to return to the states. Similarly, Claude was sent to Beau Jour to find his own sense of belonging as well as to find redemption. In New York, Claude had gotten caught up in criminal activity that resulted in him shooting his own father to death. He was deported from America, abandoned by his mother, and held in prison at Port-au-Prince until released because his mother found him a place to stay with family in Beau Jour. Claude was so astonished by the treatment he received in Beau Jour, everyone welcoming him as family, that he finds a renewed sense of life, as he explains to Dany by the end of the story:

I am the luckiest ... alive. I have done something really bad that now makes me want to live my life like a[n] ... angel now. (p. 1020)

When Dany's aunt dies unexpectedly, leaving him to remain in Beau Jour all by himself, it is through Claude's words of wisdom that Dany too finds a lasting sense of belonging in Beau Jour.

Interestingly, the story of finding family and a sense of belonging is told against a backdrop of extreme hardship. Danticat paints for the reader the severity of poverty in Haiti, yet her message says that Haitians have what Americans never will have: a true understanding of family and belonging.


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epollock | (Level 3) Valedictorian

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"Night Talkers" is a story based on life and personal beliefs in Haiti, as contrasted with the less personal relationships of those in America, centered on New York. On the island, communication between close relatives takes place on a non-verbal level, the level of "night talkers." Thus the impending death of Estina is somehow made known to the main male character, Dany, who travels from the United States to Haiti to be with her in her final hours. It is as though Estina intuitively knows that Dany is thinking about carrying out a violent act of vengeance, and silently summons him back to Haiti to prevent him from doing so. As one of the major characters says, "Blood calls blood. She [Estina] made him come so he could see her before she died" (paragraph 160.)

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