Caroline's Wedding

by Edwidge Danticat

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Eric Abrahams

Eric is Caroline’s fiancé, whom she meets while working as a teacher in a school where he is a janitor. He is originally from the Bahamas, and Ma disapproves of him because he is not Haitian. Eric has a learning disability and is slow of speech. Though Ma calls him a “retard,” Grace knows that he has a good heart and sincerely cares for Caroline.

Carl Azile

See Papa

Caroline Azile

Caroline is the younger daughter of Hermine and Carl Azile and the sister of Grace. She was born in the United States and has most assimilated the ways of her adopted country. Caroline was born with a missing forearm, due to a drug that was injected into her pregnant mother after a sweatshop raid. Caroline’s wedding to Eric is the incident that incites the cross-cultural and cross-generational conflict between her and Ma. Caroline avoids direct confrontation with Ma, reacting to Ma’s hostility to her marriage with a mixture of long-suffering tolerance, irritation, and small deceptions, such as pretending to sleep at home before her wedding when she is really sleeping with Eric. Caroline and her mother achieve reconciliation when Caroline feels ill before her wedding. Ma gives her a bath and rubs her body with a traditional Haitian herbal concoction, which revives her. The episode involves Caroline surrendering to her mother’s love and wisdom, something that she has resisted previously. Caroline acknowledges the connection made by sending her mother a bunch of red roses, which carries the symbolism of the color red (used in the story variously to suggest Haiti, the violence and suffering of Haiti’s past, and life itself) and the symbolism of Sor Rose, the mythological founder of Haiti.

Grace Azile

Grace, whose full name is Gracina, is the protagonist and narrator. She is the eldest daughter of Hermine and Carl Azile (known in the story as Ma and Papa) and the sister of Caroline. While Grace was born in Haiti, at the story’s opening, she has just obtained U.S. citizenship. In the cross-cultural and cross-generational conflict between Ma and Caroline, Grace acts as a mediator, since she remains connected to her native culture (Haiti) and her adopted culture (the United States). She has a strong sense of the importance of Haitian tradition and becomes disturbed when she can no longer answer the ritualistic questions asked by her father in her dream. She seeks, and finds, the answers by asking Ma, an episode that affirms the central role of the mother-daughter relationship in sustaining cultural identity and community.

Hermine Azile

See Ma

Ma

Hermine Azile, called Ma, is Grace and Caroline’s mother and the widow of Carl Azile (known as Papa). She is strongly attached to Haiti and its traditions and expects her daughters to feel the same way. Initially, she seems never to have left her native land, as she makes no concessions to her adopted country, the United States. Her own harrowing story emerges over the course of the short story: she was separated from her husband when he immigrated to the United States by entering into a false marriage with a widow. While she waited until she could join her husband, she witnessed his falling out of love with her and never recovers from this grief. In addition, after she finally arrived in the United States and was pregnant with Caroline, she worked in an illegal New York sweatshop, which was raided. She was then injected by a prison doctor with a drug that she believes caused Caroline to be born without a forearm.

Ma rules her family with a tyrannical attitude...

(This entire section contains 1073 words.)

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and is intolerant of Caroline’s adoption of American ways. She uses old Haitian voodoo ritual, the making of bone soup, against her daughter, in the belief that it has the power to separate Caroline from her fiancé. She criticizes Eric’s informal courtship of Caroline and their plans for a civil wedding, which she dismisses as “mechanical” as well as typically American. She is rude about Eric because he is not Haitian. During the course of the story, however, she begins to make small concessions to Caroline’s status as a young American Haitian, buying her a very un-Haitian silk teddy for her wedding present and, most significantly, telling Caroline that she looks forward to being a guest in her and Eric’s house. The turning point comes when Caroline feels ill before her wedding and Ma is able to use her knowledge of a traditional herbal cure to revive her. Caroline’s acceptance of the old Haitian ways softens Ma’s attitude, reawakens the love between mother and daughter, and heals their relationship.

Papa

Carl Azile, called Papa, is father to Grace and Caroline and the husband of Ma. He has been dead for twelve years when the story begins but remains a vivid character in the story, appearing in dreams to Grace and Caroline. In the dreams that are recounted earlier in the story, he is an elusive figure, and Grace is always attempting in vain to connect with him. Because he has a perfect memory for the traditional stories, games, and rituals of Haiti, in the cross-cultural conflict of the story, he represents the old ways of Haiti. Grace finally connects with him in a dream that she has on the night of Caroline’s wedding, but he is disappointed, and she is disturbed, when she fails to give the right answers to the ritualistic questions he asks. For the first time, she feels afraid of him, which symbolically suggests that she fears losing connection with her roots in Haiti.

Papa suffered, just as his wife and countless other Haitian refugees did. He left his wife and family in Haiti in order to immigrate to the United States through a false marriage. Later, he divorced the woman and arranged for his family to join him. By this time, he seems to have ceased to love his real wife (Ma). He died of untreated prostate cancer, which suggests that he could not afford health care.

Judge Perez

Judge Perez, a friend of Eric, performs the marriage ceremony in his office for Eric and Caroline.

Mrs. Ruiz

Mrs. Ruiz is a Cuban neighbor of the Aziles who attends Caroline’s wedding shower. Her son has recently been shot by an airplane pilot while trying to hijack the airplane from Havana, Cuba, to Miami.

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