In her acclaimed 1994 novel Breath, Eyes, Memory, author Edwidge Danticat uses symbolism, particularly colors and motifs, to articulate certain themes, feelings, emotions and other points that she wishes to make to the reader.
The concept of "literacy" is deftly explored in ways that transcend the academic nature of the word. It's not just about who can read and who can't, but about how certain characters like Grandma Ife can intuit an entire story from blinking lights and sounds or how Sophie fails to understand some of the allegorical nuances of Grandma’s storytelling.
Daffodils play into Danticat's use of color, describing how the bright yellow flower is young Martine's favorite, even though it's not native to her homeland. The yellow is the symbol of light, warmth, and joy while the flower itself represents growth, resilience, and perseverance. Ironically, Martine begins to tire of the daffodil as she grows up and gravitates toward red flowers instead—a clever way to explore how her character changed over time.
The color red symbolizes heat, boldness, pain, sexuality, and power—things that are associated with adult Martine and her life in New York. We see blood in the story several times, which is used to explore the idea of female purity, from the virginity tests Martine gives Sophie to the story of the groom cutting his bride and showing off the bloody sheets at her funeral. The red continues to recur, from the dying bird to Martine's hibiscus plants to her burial clothes.
The Marassas, the divine twins, also ties into the themes of purity and love. Martine tells Sophie the story of the Marassas twins as part of the virginity testing ritual to instill in her the notion that a man's love can never compete with a mother's.
Similarly, Erzulie is a statue of the love goddess that Grandma Ife gives to Sophie. Erzulie's ability to turn a tortured woman into a butterfly, according to one story, was meant to mimic Sophie's own difficult journey through the virginity tests, eventually leading her to break her own hymen and run away with Joseph.