The Dew Breaker is a novel written by Edwidge Danticat. It deals with the struggle of one man who tries to escape his past life in Haiti as a hired government bully for Duvalier, and tries to lead a new life in New York. Unbeknownst to him, the past is hardly ever easy to bury completely, and it will eventually come back to haunt you.
The protagonist of the novel The Dew Breaker is not named. He is a former prison guard who was also hired by the corrupt and terroristic Haitian government to serve as a hired killer as well as a torturer of prisoners. This is where the title comes from. A “dew breaker” was the jargon used to identify the government bullies who would be hired to go and get people from their homes and into the prison system, whether they deserved it or not.
The man’s story, narrated by his daughter, begins in New York City, to where he has moved to start a new life, away from the horrible situation in Haiti. There, he works as a barber and leads a quiet life with his wife and his daughter. Sadly, his daughter has been brought up thinking that her father is a prisoner and victim of Duvalier’s dictatorship, not knowing that he was actually a pawn in such a horrible system.
Arguably, the key antagonist in the story is the main character’s past. It is because of his past that all of the situations in the story will unfold, with the narrative showing the story of each of his victims from his years as a hired gun for the Haitian government. The fact is that the main character has to confront his past, no matter how hard he wants to fight to get away from it.
The novel The Dew Breaker follows the same convoluted narrative style as modern movies such as Crash, where different stories, each with its own plot and characters, are told and are then connected to a common source. As such, The Dew Breaker’s common source is the past life of the main character, which was responsible for the life changes that occur to the people whose stories are featured in the novel: Dany, Claude and Beatrice. As such, the main conflict is that of the unnamed barber against his past; a past that has come to haunt him all too heavily.
Evidence of this conflict can be found in the quote:
Do you recall the judgment of the dead," my father speaks up at last, "when the heart of a person is put on a scale? If it’s heavy, the heart, then this person cannot enter the other world
This is a poignant moment in the novel when the main character sees a statue that his daughter, Ka, has built for him. The statue shows a man who is subjugated by an unjust prison sentence. Thinking that his father was a victim of Duvalier, Ka makes this symbolic gesture representing her father’s presumed years of pain and suffering. The main character is so mortified by his truth that, when he sees the statue, he decides that he does not deserve it. He throws it eventually at the bottom of a lake, and this is allusive to the way that he wishes he could do the same thing with his past.
So much is his desperation that, when he confesses to Ka about his past, Ka’s mother responds with compassion because she knows that the man’s past has cost him too much.
You and me, we save him. When I meet him, it made him stop hurt the people. This how I see it. He a seed thrown in rock. You, me, we make him take root.
The barber did what he did in his past because he had no other choice. Duvalier ruled Haiti with an iron fist and the corruption in the government was so rampant that the only choices were either to join in or die fighting.
In all, if we were to write a theme of the story in one sentence we could easily describe it as “A man’s lifetime struggle to bury his past”. This is a huge statement because the truth is that the past makes us who we are, therefore, it never really goes away.
Hence, if the past that forged you into what you are now was a good past, you will always cherish it. If the past that forged you is a bad one, you have to live it daily, similarly, whether you like it or not. The past simply does not just go away.