Themes and Meanings
Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 536
Edwidge Danticat spent the first twelve years of her life in Haiti, toward the end living with her aunts, separated from her parents, who had preceded her in emigrating to the United States. She was an imaginative child in a land of strange religious voodoo rites, myths about spirits and ghosts, and customs that many outsiders can scarcely comprehend, and her work reflects those early years. Her upbringing presents a sharp contrast with her later life in the United States, which involved a bachelor’s degree from Barnard College in 1990, membership in a sorority, and a master’s of fine arts from Brown University three years later. This duality of outlook can be seen in her writing.
In “Night Women,” among other concerns, Danticat touches on the problems of unemployment (high in the impoverished island of Haiti) and the beguiling choice of prostitution as a solution. There is also a hint of the author’s reaction to the social breakdown that turns part of the heroine’s life into something that she dreads.
“Night Women” is one of nine stories and an epilogue that make up Krik? Krak! Some of the other stories in this collection are much more bitter and socially aware. For example, “Children of the Sea” chronicles a failed attempt by a party of refugees to escape to Florida in a leaky boat, and “Nineteen Thirty-Seven” is about a woman dying from conditions of her incarceration in the state prison. What is simply mentioned in “Night Women” is more centrally emphasized in these works.
One paragraph in “Night Women” mentions ghost women with stars in their hair. If the myth/folktale aspect of Danticat’s work gets more frontal treatment elsewhere in the collection, perhaps most noticeably in the otherwise realistic “Caroline’s Wedding,” it is at least present here. “Night Women,” however, treats a theme missing from the other eight stories: the prostitute’s nearly incestuous love for her own son. The physical contact she describes—little details such as brushing her lips across the cleft of his nose—are the motions she would use to arouse her lovers. With the boy, she is experiencing the joy only feigned with her clients.
Beyond social concerns, myth and superstition, and forbidden sex lies the basic nature of Danticat’s work: She is more than anything else, a realist. This trend is clearly evident in The Farming of Bones (1998), an unflinching, indictment of the 1937 massacre of migrant Haitian farmers by the Dominican Republic military.
Some critics have lauded Danticat’s charm as a storyteller, calling this her essential goal as a writer—a weaver of the picturesque lore of her native land. They note that Krik? Krak!, the title of the collection, is an expression that reflects a Haitian practice. In one interview, Danticat explained that storytelling is a favorite Haitian form of entertainment. The storyteller asks the audience “Krik?,” inquiring whether they are ready for a tale. Their enthusiastic “Krak!” indicates they are. She is undoubtedly a most skilled practitioner of this age-old art, but she is much more. It is her realistic assessment of the strengths, weaknesses, and woes of her embattled land that will ultimately fix her place in its literature.