Study Guide

Breath, Eyes, Memory Red

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Of Mythic Proportions

This bloodiest of colors is almost always symbolically fraught. Red—as the marketing gurus behind Valentine's Day sales are keen to let us know—means passion. Red is also associated with fire, violence, and sin—think fire trucks, the war novel The Red Badge of Courage, and the color of vampy Jessica Rabbit's hair.

And the color red plays an especially significant role in the lives of the Caco women because the family name is taken from an almost mythically red bird. Atie describes it as:

"A bird so crimson, it makes the reddest hibiscus or the brightest flame trees seem white. The Caco bird, when it dies, there is always a rush of blood that rises to its neck and the wings, they look so bright, you would think them on fire." (23.150)

The red of the Caco bird in its death throes symbolizes passion and violence and suggests a connection with Martine's character. As if to confirm this, Martine's favorite color is crimson—her furnishings and clothing are different shades of red, and Sophie always links the color with her mother.

After Martine's death, Sophie takes her mother's love of the color red one step further, identifying her with Erzulie Dantor, the protective and fierce aspect of the Vodou goddess of love and beauty. Red is this goddess' main color, representing passion, love, violence and power.

Do We Not Bleed?

There's no escaping the connection of the color red with blood. In this story, we see that to be human is to bleed—remember the woman who is transformed into a butterfly? Check out our discussion on the Symbols of Larks, Butterflies, and Stars for more—but bleeding is particularly associated with the feminine.

Women do a whole lot of bleeding in this work, both literally and figuratively. The woman who bleeds non-stop through her skin represents the pain and suffering of the female characters in the work (especially Martine and Sophie).

Sophie also recalls the stories of "virginity worship" in which new or potential brides must undergo virginity testing and "first night" bleeding is a matter of honor or shame—and also life or death.

Martine's especially bloody death seems to be the expected conclusion to her life of suffering. It's like she's participating in the folktales, exposing the immensity of her pain for the world to see.

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