Last Updated September 6, 2023.
In her novel about the consequences of political tyranny, Edwidge Danticat centers on questions of personal responsibility and of forgiveness for what seem to be unpardonable acts. The Dew Breaker, rather than making the torturer the protagonist, offers intersecting stories of numerous people whose lives were affected by his actions specifically and by the larger context of Haiti’s political system under Duvalier. It is as much a novel of modern New York as of bygone Haiti. Not only asking how people can be turned into monsters, Danticat forces the reader to ask about the possible options that such individuals set aside in order to make those fateful choices.
As Ka, the dew breaker’s daughter, reaches adulthood, she learns of her father’s past (about which he had constantly lied). She struggles to reconcile the identity of a vicious torturer with that of her beloved father. Danticat suggests the redeeming power of love with the character of Ka’s mother, who claims that her love prevented the evil from spreading. The author also considers the importance of self-awareness and shame. Although Ka's father believes he has repented for his actions, only when he realizes that Ka idolizes him does he confess the truth.
Danticat makes clear that putting a formal end to a repressive political system does not remove its impact. The various characters' lives intertwine in similar ways as the past and present. Other characters similarly fight the demons of their past and, in different degrees, overcome hatred. Dany has rented a room from the dew breaker, who serves as a landlord for other Haitians arriving in New York. Dany must move beyond his desire to kill the dew breaker, as he realizes the likely consequences of such actions. Beatrice, in contrast, was once the torturer’s victim. She still lives with a crippling fear of persecution; her life was destroyed, and no action on his part will change that.