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, Caroline and Grace had the same dream: they try in vain to catch up with him as he walks through a deserted field. They disobeyed Ma and did not wear the red panties, as they wanted Papa’s spirit to visit them.
Grace tells Caroline that the son of their Cuban neighbor, Mrs. Ruiz, was recently shot by the pilot of an airplane after trying to hijack the plane to go from Havana to Miami.
Grace recalls that when she and Caroline were younger, they used to wish that one day the rest of Caroline’s arm would burst out of Ma’s stomach and float back to her. Caroline likes to have her stub stroked, but no one does, out of fear of giving offense. Caroline says that if she were to cut the vein that throbs below the surface of her stub, she could bleed to death.
Grace dreams that she sees her father at a masked ball but cannot get close to him. By his side is Caroline. Grace screams in protest that they are leaving her out. When alive, he remembered everything about their life in Haiti and its traditions and beliefs.
Preparations are under way for Caroline’s wedding, which is a month away. Though Ma does not want to attend, she pretends that this is the “real wedding” she wants for her daughter, so that Caroline does not resent her. However, she is not going to cook a wedding-night dinner, as is the custom. Grace decides to throw a wedding shower for Caroline. Ma disapproves because to her a...