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ENGL 2Q99 Lecture Notes - Breath, Eyes, Memory, Tonton Macoute, Edwidge Danticat

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Shannon Mac Rae

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Breath, Eyes, Memory
February 5th, 2013: Lecture 3
Essay due:
- February 12th in class hard copy in order to receive feedback
- February 20th if youre happy with just a number grade
Edwidge Danticat
1969- 42/43 years old super young author like Adichie
Born in Haiti, father immigrates first, mother second and she is left behind
immigrated to United States at age 12
Brother named Eliab just like the boy in the book
‘‘My primary feeling the whole first year was one of loss. Loss of my
childhood, and of the people I'd left behindand also of being lost. It was like
being a baby—learning everything for the first time.’’ (Publishers Weekly)
- Moving from one country to another creates sense of leaving things behind
- Primary language is French and Creole, so she is at a loss here once again
- She was right in the midst of maturation while having to deal with her loss
- Pg. 66 When Sophie talks about how she came to understand English.
She feels left out because she is of the minority in the USA.
BEM selected as Oprah book club book in 1998
- guaranteed millions of dollars of profit for the author and publisher.
Many interviews with Danticat on YouTube
Was often interviewed on television in the wake of Haiti’s earthquake in
- She lost parts of her family in this tragedy
This novel can’t be taken as apprehension for every Haitian Woman’s life
Haiti of Breath, Eyes, Memory
Colonial space
Haiti and the Dominican Republic occupy the same island
- Dominican has become tourist economy, Haiti not so much
- Prior to the earthquake and after, Haiti is enormously poor
Island was occupied by France and Spaineventually France takes control of
what is now Haiti and Spain takes control of what is now the Dominican
Colonists imported slaves to work sugar cane plantations
French colonists often took sexual advantage of slave women, resulting in a
“mixed race”
- Difference in ‘colonized’ and ‘colonizer’
- Slave women are sexually taken advantage (pressure) of as opposed to
‘rape’ because slave women would give their consent to sex in order to eat or
not be beaten
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- many carry French surnames
- there is no ‘pure’ Haitian race
In 1792, France abolishes slavery on the island
Napoleon attempts to restore slavery in 1802, population revolts
- Haiti is one of the only countries in the world that can say of its history that
it springs from a slave revolt
United States occupies Haiti in 1915 and stays until 1934 (sugar and cotton,
Cacos uprising)
- A Canadian vacationer by chance finds a copy of the original declaration of
independence for Haiti in the library
- Sophie’s last name is a huge connection to history by Danticat: Caco (family
who tempted to resist American restoration/control of the Haitian space)
1957-1968, Duvalier family, Papa Doc and Baby Doc
- Haitian families
- Come into power in illegitimate means
- When foreign cameras were turned off, they led a country where an
enormous amount of people were massacred
Papa Doc establishes the Tonton Macoutes
- Para-military organization, a group of men with a lot of firepower
- Papa Doc was the founder and they became his right arm
Could kill, rape or steal without repercussions
Can’t assume that Sophie’s story happened to all women, however, it is not
out of the ordinary for these types of things to happen to Haitian women
Breath, Eyes, Memory
The Haitian context is important to the text
- We don’t get any of the stories of the Ton Ton macoutes, or of the actual
rapist, they just haunt the text and stories of the raped
Papa Doc, Baby Doc and the Tonton Macoutes are male force
- Presented in the text
- The only face of Haiti that would be seen … Haitian women were largely
invisible, you would only see Ton ton’s raiding stores, not the actual
community - This text restored that.
Matriarchal culture
- Patriarchy is the one that is controlled
- Matriarchal because of the absence of fathers due to the fact that a lot of
children are created due to their mothers being raped
- a whole world where dads don’t really exist
- Domestic sphere: Grammas, Mothers, Sisters, etc. They may not be able to
have power in society and authority in the real world, but the authority in
their homes is matriarchal (Sophie is raised in this society)
Danticat uses text to present the matriarchal culture of Haiti in opposition to
what “others” know of Haiti
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