Caroline's Wedding

by Edwidge Danticat

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Cross-Generational and Cross-Cultural Conflicts

“Caroline’s Wedding” explores the conflicts set off in the Aziles, a family of Haitian immigrants to the United States, when one of the daughters, Caroline, decides to marry a non-Haitian man. The Aziles embody a situation common to many immigrant families to the United States at the time the story was written. The older generation (Ma and Papa) clings tenaciously to the culture of the home country, Haiti, and find American ways strange; the younger daughter, Caroline, who was born in the United States, has been completely assimilated by her adopted country; and the older daughter, Grace, who was born in Haiti but has lived for many years in the United States, embodies elements of both cultures and acts as an intermediary between Ma and Caroline.

Diaspora and Discontinuity

Haiti has been afflicted with political unrest and violence that have led to waves of refugees fleeing to the United States, among other countries. “Caroline’s Wedding,” in common with many of the Krik? Krak! stories, examines this phenomenon. Grace accompanies Ma to a service for a Haitian woman and her baby who died on their way by boat to the United States. Grace’s own family, too, escaped poverty by immigrating to the United States. The price paid for greater security and freedom is, however, often severe, and the story shows the terrible effects of diaspora (dispersion of people from a single region into far-ranging locations). Grace’s father had to take vows in a false marriage to gain entry to the United States. Her mother, left behind in Haiti until he divorced the woman and sent for her, had to watch from afar as he fell out of love with her. When she first arrived in the United States, she was imprisoned after a sweatshop raid and injected with a drug that she believed caused her daughter Caroline to be born without a forearm. When Grace receives her certificate of U.S. citizenship, she remarks that her entire family has “paid dearly for this piece of paper.” Indeed, she says, “It had cost my parents’ marriage, my mother’s spirit, my sister’s arm.”

Traditional Stories, Games, and Rituals

Krik? Krak! takes its title from a Haitian storytelling tradition. In Haiti, which has experienced high levels of illiteracy, the oral tradition of storytelling is beloved. It is customary for the person who has a story to tell to ask a potential audience, “Krik?” If they want to hear the story, they shout back, “Krak!” Then the storyteller begins. As a collection of stories, Krik? Krak! implicitly engages the reader in this ritual.

In addition, a major theme of “Caroline’s Wedding” concerns how the broken continuities wrought by the Haitian diaspora are countered by traditional stories, games, beliefs, and rituals. These stories create a cultural identity and a sense of community between individual Haitians and different generations of Haitians. When a person has lost family or relatives, those people live on in their stories. In “Caroline’s Wedding,” Danticat particularly emphasizes the central role of women in passing these traditions from mother to daughter. Tension arises in the story between Ma, who wants the old traditions to continue, and Caroline, who seems to be turning her back on those traditions by paying them scant attention and by marrying a non-Haitian.

Memory and Loss

In keeping with the themes of diaspora and of a dispossessed people, the concept of loss is emphasized throughout the story. Loss is highlighted in the traditional free-association game that Caroline and Grace play with the word “lost,” in which Grace describes herself as “the lost child of the night,”...

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whose mother and father are also lost.

Many of the characters have lost people, places, and things that were cherished by them. Ma has lost her homeland and has twice lost her husband, first to a marriage of convenience and then to death; she fears that she will lose Caroline through her marriage to a non-Haitian; Caroline and Grace have lost their father; Papa lost his mother to typhoid fever; Caroline lost her forearm; members of the congregation at the mass for the drowned Haitian realize that they have lost friends and relatives as the names of dead refugees are read out; the Cuban Mrs. Ruiz lost her son; and the Bahamian Eric has lost his family. Grace’s dreams about her father are characterized by unsuccessful attempts to catch up with him, be rescued by him, or get close to him. Only in the final dream that Grace recounts does she succeed in interacting with her father, only to be rebuked by him for forgetting (losing) the old Haitian traditions.

Violence and Suffering

The violence of the history of Haiti and the suffering of its people is not explicitly shown, but it is suggested as being ever-present just below the surface of life, just as Caroline’s vein throbs just below the surface of her stub: As she says, a slice through the vein would make her bleed to death. Grace is Ma and Papa’s “misery baby” because of the poverty her parents suffer in their Haitian shantytown; the sweatshop raid and subsequent imprisonment in which Ma is caught up is her terrifying introduction to her adopted country, the United States. Her being injected with a drug that may have harmed the unborn Caroline is a violation comparable to rape. Haitians are not the only people who suffer such violent episodes: the son of the Cuban Mrs. Ruiz is shot when he tries to hijack an airplane from Cuba to Miami (possibly in an attempt to escape from Cuba).

Paradoxically the violence and suffering endured by the Haitian people in their scattering also brings them together as they share their stories. At the mass for the drowned Haitian woman and her baby, members of the congregation scream as they recognize people among the list of names of the refugees who have drowned at sea in just that week. This graphically confirms Ma’s assertion that “all Haitians know each other” and shows how the community is held together through pain and suffering as well as love.