Themes of Remembrance, Racism, and Hope

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1782

In her afterword to The Farming of Bones, Danticat writes:

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In The Farming of Bones, Amabelle is similarly obsessed with the loss of the past, and the unrecorded or forgotten stories of thousands of lives cut short or stunted. Even before the slaughter, she ritualistically tells herself the story of her parents’ drowning, keeping alive every word and gesture; but she realizes that the older she gets, the more her memories of them are fading. At the end of the book she knows, painful though it is, that her memories of her lost lover Sebastien will fade in the same way.

She is not the only one who believes in the importance of stories and memory. The Haitians in the book share their stories, and Amabelle comments: ‘‘This was how people left imprints of themselves in each other's memory, so that if you left first and went back to the common village, you could carry, if not a letter, a piece of treasured clothing, some message to their loved ones that their place was still among the living.’’

Later, after the slaughter, in a refugee camp run by nuns, the survivors call out their stories, testifying to what they have seen, telling tales of wanton killing and destruction. Desperate to tell what happened to them, they interrupt each other, ‘‘the haste in their voices sometimes blurring the words.… One could hear it in the fervor of the declarations, the obscenities shouted when something could not be remembered fast enough, when a stutter allowed another speaker to race into his own account without the stutterer having completed his.’’

Later, she hears that the government supposedly will give reparation money to the survivors of the massacre and record their stories. Amabelle and Yves go to see the Justice of the Peace and tell about their experiences, and find over a thousand other people waiting. They wait for several days, and in the end, find that their story will not be recorded and no money will be paid; the government simply does not have the resources to deal with everyone who was affected. Amabelle and Yves are more upset by the fact that no one will listen to them than by the loss of money: money disappears, but stories, if recorded, endure forever.

But, as they see, listening and recording all this suffering is an arduous and painful task; even when Amabelle goes to visit the priests of the cathedral, they tell her that they too have stopped listening to the survivors’ tales, since they can do nothing to bring back those who have died or to change the suffering that people have already experienced. ‘‘It was taking all our time, and there is so much other work to be done,’’ one priest tells her. He is focusing on the future, not the past, an act that Amabelle later realizes is the only thing that can be done.

The only way to reconcile these two conflicting urges—to constantly keep the past alive, and to move beyond it into the future—is to record the past in a safe place, somewhere outside an individual's memory, some place where facts will remain and not fade, but where the person won't have to carry the memory daily. Amabelle says, ‘‘The slaughter is the only thing that is mine enough to pass on. All I want to do is to find a place to lay it down now and again, a safe nest where it will neither be scattered by the winds, nor remain forever buried beneath the sod.’’

That safe place, Danticat invites readers to say, is this book.

In addition, The Farming of Bones , in telling the stories of so many ordinary people whose lives were disrupted or destroyed, tells us that this could happen to anyone. No one is safe from disaster, grief, or pain. Even before the genocide, many people have been uprooted by a hurricane that devastated the island. Amabelle's parents die on a routine marketing trip across the...

(The entire section contains 2988 words.)

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Critical Overview