“Black-Eyed Women” Summary and Analysis

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Last Updated on January 6, 2021, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1383

The narrator of “Black-Eyed Women” is a ghostwriter, a person who is hired to write the stories of other people but who does not receive credit for the work. At thirty-eight, she lives with her mother in the absence of her father and older brother, both of whom have died. The narrator’s most recent client is Victor Devoto, the sole survivor of an airplane crash that killed one hundred and seventy-three other people, including his wife and children. The narrator notes that although his body survived the crash, little else remains of the man.

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The narrator awakens one night to her mother’s voice telling her not to be afraid. Her mother then mentions the name of the narrator’s deceased brother and insists that his ghost was just in their living room. When the narrator touches the carpet in the living room, she finds that it is still damp; the narrator’s mother insists that her son came because he needed to see his younger sister.

The narrator’s mother has told her the stories of the ghosts she has seen for many years. She claims that her aunt Six came to visit her just after dying as she made her rounds to say farewell to her loved ones.

Now, sitting in the kitchen with her mother, the narrator asks how her brother could have gotten to their home. Her mother responds matter-of-factly: “He swam.” She goes on to say that he looked exactly the way he did the last time she saw him, because ghosts never change.

The narrator flashes back to the last time she saw her brother, his open eyes never flinching as his cheek pressed against a boat’s deck. She returns to bed, but when she closes her eyes, she sees her brother’s open eyes every time she closes her own. Her brother had been her best friend, and as children she had followed his voice whenever he called.

In her childhood, the narrator had hidden in the family’s bomb shelter with her brother as war planes shrieked overhead; he had whispered ghost stories into her ear as a distraction. He obtained his stories from the “blacked-eyed women” from the market, who told him tales of Koreans and Americans who had died horrific deaths on Vietnamese land.

At 6:35 p.m., a knock awakens the narrator. She knows that it is her brother before she opens the door. Recalling how her brother sacrificed his own life to save hers, she tells herself that the least she can do is to open the door for her brother’s ghost. The narrator finds her brother on the other side of the door, looking bloated and pale. He wears black shorts and a tattered gray T-shirt, and he says her name. His voice is hoarse and raspy, and a purple bruise highlights his left temple. The narrator invites him in and offers him dry clothes, as his own clothes are soaking wet. After changing, he acknowledges that he had to swim his way to her and that it had taken a long time to do so. The narrator is relieved to hear the front door opening and tells the ghost of her brother that their mother will want to see him. When she and her mother return, however, her brother is gone, and only his wet clothes remain.

After waiting for a while, the narrator’s mother eventually goes to bed. The ghost of the narrator’s brother returns shortly thereafter, and the narrator welcomes him. He reminds her that as children they always knew that ghosts existed, but she confesses that she had her doubts. She asks why he has returned, and he tells her that he has never left this world. The narrator replies that she has tried to forget the details of his death but has been unsuccessful.

The story then flashes back to the fateful day of the brother’s death. After spending four uneventful days at sea, the boat that had carried their family and others was spotted by pirates. The narrator’s brother had acted swiftly, cutting off her hair with...

(The entire section contains 1383 words.)

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