“Caroline’s Wedding,” by Edwidge Danticat, is the last story in the collection Krik? Krak!, which was published in 1995. The story features the narrator and protagonist, Gracina (Grace) Azile, who, with her mother and sister Caroline, has immigrated to the United States from Haiti. It describes the cross-generational and cross-cultural conflicts triggered by Caroline’s wedding to a non-Haitian man. Danticat introduces her readers to traditional stories, games, beliefs, and rituals from a culture that is little known or understood outside Haiti. In particular, the story explores the role of storytelling and tradition, and the relationship between mother and daughter, in creating social and family cohesion. Against the background of Haiti’s violent history, the individual stories of the pain and suffering experienced by the different characters unfold and interlink. Although the focus is on Haiti’s culture and history, many of the collection’s themes, including memory, loss, dispossession, and the resilience of the human life and spirit in the face of extreme circumstances, have a broader relevance.
When “Caroline’s Wedding” opens, Grace Azile is leaving a Brooklyn courtroom, having just received her certificate of U.S. citizenship. When she calls her mother (Ma) to tell her the news, Ma advises her to hurry and get her passport, as that is what is truly American. Grace has to temporarily trade in the certificate at the post office to get a passport. She feels anxious without it, since when her mother was pregnant with her sister Caroline, she was arrested in a sweatshop raid and spent three days in an immigration jail.
Grace reaches home to find her mother preparing a pot of bone soup. Ma holds the traditional Haitian belief that bone soup has the magical power to separate lovers, so she has served it every night since Caroline announced her engagement. Ma disapproves of Eric because he is Bahamian and not Haitian.
Caroline was born without a left forearm. Ma thinks the cause was a drug that was injected into her by a prison doctor after the sweatshop immigration raid and that Caroline was lucky to have been born at all. Unlike Grace, Caroline was born in the United States.
Ma calls Grace into her bedroom. She is upset that Eric’s courtship of Caroline is different from how she was courted by her daughters’ father, which took place in Haiti and was formal. Grace and Caroline’s father (Papa) is now dead.
One night, Caroline and Grace play a traditional Haitian free association game around the word, “lost.” The game was taught to them by Ma, who learned it as a girl. Ma appears and asks them to go with her to a mass for a dead Haitian refugee woman. Grace goes, but Caroline does not. The Catholic Church they attend holds services tailored to the Haitian community. The priest reads out the names of refugees drowned at sea that week. Many are known to members of the congregation. He says a prayer for the dead woman, who gave birth to a baby on board the boat. The child died, and the mother threw the baby overboard and then jumped into the sea after it, drowning herself. Grace thinks of the Haitian belief that there are spots in the sea where Africans who jumped off the slave ships rest, where those who die at sea can choose to join their long-lost relations. The priest asks the congregation to remember those they have loved and lost. As screams erupt in the congregation, Ma suddenly gets up and leaves.
Caroline and Eric plan a civil ceremony. Ma wants Eric to bring his family to their house to court her favor and to have his father ask her blessing, according to the old Haitian custom. Caroline tells Grace that she dreamt of Papa the previous night. It is ten years since he died. After Papa’s death, Ma told her daughters to wear red panties, in the belief that this would ward off his spirit so that he would not mistake the daughters for his wife and try to lie with them at night. For some time after he died,...
(The entire section is 1,935 words.)