(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Breath, Eyes, Memory tells the story of Sophie Caco from her younger years in Haiti to her mother’s death. Over the course of the novel, Sophie must come to terms with her family, her family’s past, her childhood, and her own identity.

The third-person narrator begins with Sophie in Haiti, living with her Tante Atie, who had moved from her mother’s home to town to assure Sophie’s education. The early part of the novel (part 1) shows the details of Sophie’s world: the close neighborhood, the political turmoil, the struggles of Tante Atie as a single woman in this society, and Sophie’s struggles to understand Atie’s sorrow. During this section, Sophie learns that her mother, Martine, has sent for her to come to America and live.

Sophie’s ambiguous feelings about her identity are apparent when she tries to give Atie a Mother’s Day card, which Atie insists she give to her mother instead—the mother who is only a voice on the tape recordings she sends regularly. When Sophie arrives in New York, she learns that her mother works two jobs to support herself and send money home to Haiti. Sophie also learns that her birth was the result of a rape by a man who kept his face covered; her mother dreams nightly of this horror and the faceless man.

In part 2, Sophie has started college. She and her mother have moved to a larger house; her mother continues to work two jobs, and Sophie continues to struggle with the attitudes of those around her regarding her Haitian heritage. During this time, Sophie meets Joseph, an older musician who lives next door. Martine feels strongly about what she has been taught about a mother’s duty to protect her daughter’s chastity and...

(The entire section is 702 words.)


(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

Edwidge Danticat’s Breath, Eyes, Memory begins as Sophie Caco discovers she must leave the aunt she loves to live with a mother she barely recalls. The opening chapters establish the richness of Sophie’s life in Haiti, the powerful fragrances of the foods she eats and the flowers that surround her. Tante Atie knows the right herbs to treat almost any illness and the right stories to comfort a frightened child.

Sophie’s journey to the airport introduces a different Haiti, one marked by political turmoil and violence. Moreover, although almost everyone congratulates Sophie on her good fortune, the New York she first encounters with its trash-filled streets and barred windows is far from an embodiment of the American Dream. Her mother’s car has torn seats and a broken windshield, and Martine herself looks tired and overworked.

Part 2 of the novel leaps forward six years. Sophie and her mother have moved to a more middle-class neighborhood now that Martine has a better job. Sophie has started college and falls in love with the man next door. This section of the novel focuses on Sophie’s developing relationship with Joseph and on her mother’s insistence on policing her virginity. In defiance of the Haitian practice of “testing,” Sophie mutilates herself to ensure that she fails. She is evicted from her house as a result.

Part 3 finds Sophie and her daughter Brigitte in Haiti, having run away from her husband to...

(The entire section is 439 words.)