Last Updated on October 4, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 970
The Dew Breaker is a collection of short stories by Edwidge Danticat. The stories are all linked, in some way or another, to Danticat’s home country, Haiti—as well as to one another. Danticat explores themes of familial and romantic love, nationhood, and sense of self throughout.
The Book of the Dead
“The Book of the Dead” is about a young sculptor, Ka, and the complex relationship she has with her parents. After telling Ka that he’d disposed of a sculpture she had made of him, Ka’s father confesses to her the crimes he’d done as a dew breaker, or torturer, in 1960s Haiti. Ka struggles to come to terms with this information and the life her parents lived before having her.
“Seven” is the story of a married couple’s reunion after having been apart for seven years. Both from Haiti, they endured separation for the man to find work in the United States. Underneath all the joy and the affection of their reunion, however, we find that both had been unfaithful in their time apart. They story ends with both of them in silence, reminiscing about their “carnival marriage” back in Haiti and how the charade of it had translated to true life.
“Water Child” is the story of a Haitian nurse, named Nadine, working in the United States. Nadine works in the Ear, Nose, and Throat wing of a hospital. She forms a bond with Ms. Hinds, a schoolteacher who has lost her voice. The story shows us that, in a way, Nadine is voiceless too—she refuses to contact her family or engage in social activities. She considers her parents, colleagues, and past lovers as all belonging not to her, but to the life of a stranger.
The Book of Miracles
The protagonist of “The Book of Miracles” is Anne, Ka’s mother from “The Book of the Dead.” This story is about Anne, her husband, and Ka attending Christmas Mass. On their way to the church, Anne relates news of miracles from all over the world. Despite this, it is clear she is unsatisfied with her family’s faith, as she is with her own as well. At the end of the story, however, Anne realizes that the “pendulum of regret and forgiveness” she goes through every day is a small miracle in itself.
“Night Talkers” is the story of Dany’s surprise visit to his aunt in Haiti, who resides in the mountains with a close-knit community. Upon arriving, Dany tells his aunt that he had found in New York the man who had blinded her and killed his parents. His aunt, however, refuses to talk about the matter. She soon dies in her sleep, leaving Dany to wonder if his encounter with the killer was merely the universe’s way to compel him to visit his aunt before she died. The story is entitled “Night Talkers” because Dany and his aunt are among those who talk in their sleep, who mutter secrets and truths when the moon is out.
The Bridal Seamstress
“The Bridal Seamstress” is about journalist Aline Kajuste and one of her interviewees, Beatrice Saint Fort—the titular bridal seamstress. Fort is retiring from dressmaking, and so Kajuste shows up at her home to interview her for a news piece. Fort meanders and tells Kajuste of the man who has followed her around all her life, moving to every neighborhood she goes. Curiously, this endears Kajuste to Fort and compels her to leave her dissatisfactory life to stay with Fort indefinitely.
“Monkey Tails” is a story of Michel, a child during a time of political unrest in Haiti. The adult Michel is telling the story, and we soon learn he is actually addressing his own unborn infant child. Michel talks of his bond with Romain, an older boy from his neighborhood, and how they risked their lives to search for Romain’s father. Michel and Romain waded through violent political demonstrations in the street but did not find him. Michel soberly relates this story and how he will name his son after Romain, his first true friend.
The Funeral Singer
“The Funeral Singer” is the story of Freda and her friendship with two other Haitian exiles, Rezia and Mariselle. The three are enrolled in a diploma training course in the United States and soon bond over study sessions. They share with each other the reason they’d been exiled from Haiti—Freda’s is because she refused to sing at a funeral when the government ordered her to. The story ends with Freda disclosing to her friends that she intends to return to Haiti to fight in a rebel militia. The three then drunkenly sing melancholy funeral songs to honor Freda’s decision.
The Dew Breaker
“The Dew Breaker” is the longest story in Danticat’s book. It is told from three perspectives: those of the fat man, the preacher, and the preacher’s sister, Anne (the same Anne from “The Book of the Dead” and “The Book of Miracles”). The fat man is a volunteer of the authoritarian state and has been ordered to dispatch the preacher, who has adopted heated anti-fascist rhetoric in his sermons. After the preacher manages to hideously scar the fat man’s face with splintered wood, the fat man shoots him dead. The fat man then wanders around piteously until he meets Anne, who does not know at the time that he is the man who killed her brother, and she dresses his wounds. The two then fall in love and move to New York to start a new life. Neither of them ever addresses the ordeal again; rather, they silently push through the knowledge that they will never be able to escape the past.