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Last Updated September 6, 2023.

Duality in Trauma and Familial Relationships

The idea of duality is outlined in the tale of the marasa. In the stories of The Dew Breaker, trauma is depicted as a binary of physical and emotional manifestations. These two types of manifestations are codependent. Within the context of historical events in Haiti, this double trauma is caused by the brutal dictatorships of François "Papa Doc" Duvalier and Jean Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier. In that regard, the fact that two dictators—the father, Papa Doc, and then his son, Baby Doc—maintained control of Haiti emphasizes the recurrence of the theme of duality.

The theme of generational duality is also persistent throughout the story collection. For instance, like Papa Doc and Baby Doc, the characters Beatrice Saint Fort and Aline Cajuste show a split between two generations. The characters are a mirror image of the two dictators, showing the significance of familial relations—especially the dynamic between a parent and their child. On the other hand, the character Ka reveals another kind of duality. Her father was a member of the paramilitary unit Tonton Macoute, who was responsible for torturing multiple people; yet Ka is also the niece of a man who was killed by the Macoute.

Forgetting Trauma

Another recurring theme in the short story collection is the idea that past trauma is invalidated through forgetting. The concept of memory is examined both from an individual's viewpoint and from a collective perspective (i.e., the collective memory of the Haitian diaspora). The events and characters of each story are all linked, so there is a sense of collective memory loss as the stories progress. However, the theme of forgetting is highlighted most vividly in stories that pertain to personal histories rather than political history. In this sense, forgetting one's personal traumas is akin to forgetting the collective trauma of a people who suffered under a dictatorship.


Isolation and alienation are common themes in the intertwined stories, especially in the sections that depict the lives of Haitian refugees in the United States. After escaping the brutal dictatorship, many Haitian migrants clustered into pockets of Haitian communities in places like New York City and Miami. However, being with their kinfolk does not provide a sense of community, because each individual deals with personal traumas secretly. For instance, Ka's mother, Anne, lives in a neighborhood in New York City where many of the Haitian diaspora actively participate in political protests against the Tonton Macoute. Anne feels isolated in this community, because her husband was a member of the Macoute, and she bears the consequences of his crimes emotionally, even in America.

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