First published in the October, 1993, issue of Short Fiction by Women under the title "From the Ocean Floor,'' ''Children of the Sea'' was also included in Edwidge Danticat's 1995 short story collection Krik? Krak! The story of a young couple separated by political strife in Haiti, it received positive attention from critics as did the book, and the author quickly gained a reputation as one of the most promising writers in the United States. The tragic story, which concerns a doomed fate of a young couple, concerns many of the issues Danticat addresses in her other stories and in her novel, Breath, Eyes, Memory, which was published in 1994.
A native of Haiti, Danticat writes almost exclusively about the country's people, particularly its women, who during the 1980s suffered at the hands of a dictator, Papa Doc Duvalier, as well as from poverty and violence. The story was inspired by the author's conversations with "boat people," as the refugees are sometimes known, who had made their way to Providence, Massachusetts. "Children of the Sea" has been commended for the way in which it blends political concerns with the emotional lives of the characters, thereby putting a human face on the suffering that many Westerners have only read about in the newspapers. Written in the alternating viewpoints of the young man and woman, the reader experiences the situation from both characters' perspectives. Through this technique, Danticat demonstrates the danger inherent in any choice a Haitian makes, whether it involves standing up to the government and trying to gain political asylum in the United States, or complying with the regime's demands even if it means betraying others through silence.
The story opens with an unnamed narrator, a young Haitian revolutionary, thinking of his girlfriend. He is on a small boat that has set sail for Miami, Florida. He is going into exile because he is wanted by the Haitian government. These details are disclosed by the young woman, who is the second narrator of the story. While her lover has left the country, she remains behind with her mother and father. The man and woman tell their stories through a series of letters. Though they cannot mail these letters, they are writing to appease their loneliness while they are away from one another. When they are reunited, they will feel as if they have not been apart.
In Haiti the young man, a university student, was a member of a youth federation that protested the dictator and called for a new government. He fled the country when the secret police, known as the Tonton Macoutes, cracked down on his group. The other members have been killed by the army, and even more students were shot while demonstrating for the return of their friends' bodies. One woman, Madam Roger, a neighbor of the young woman's family, returned with only, the head of her son.
The young man speaks of the difficulties of life aboard the ship: the vomiting, the temperature changes, the lack of privacy, the shortage of food. He dreams that he has died and gone to heaven, only heaven is at the bottom of the sea. The young woman is also in heaven, but her father continues to keep them apart. The young woman's father does not approve of their relationship, thinking that the young man was not good enough. Now that the young man is gone, the father is still afraid that his daughter's connection with the revolutionaries will endanger their lives. One night soldiers beat Madam Roger in order to coerce her into naming her son's associates. The young woman and her mother think the father should go to Madam Roger's aid. But the father knows he can do nothing for his neighbor, and that it is impossible even to protect his own family. The father only wants to move to Ville Rose, which he thinks will be "civilization" compared to Port-au-Prince, a crowded and impoverished city.
On board the ship a young teenager named Celianne gives birth to a dead baby. The passengers gossip about her, saying her parents...
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