Study Guide

Breath, Eyes, Memory Madness

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While we spend all of our time in Sophie's head, the focus of this discussion has to be on Martine. She suffers from mental illness from the time of her rape at the age of sixteen. She never seeks outside help to cope with this traumatic event, thinking that she can leave the past behind her. But every night, the past reaches out for her in nightmares and forces her to relive the worst moment of her life.

In those moments, Martine harms herself: biting her flesh, tearing clothes, trying to jump out of windows. Sophie witnesses these events and eventually understands the source of it all. Her exposure to her mother's suffering makes her wonder if this illness is catching. In some ways, it is. While Martine's problems are most likely not encoded in Sophie's DNA, the experience of it is ingrained in her soul.

Sophie's anxieties and disorders arise from trauma in her own life, but also from violence that she never experienced. These received memories become her own and it's not until she buries her mother that Sophie is able to declare herself free of the nightmares of the past.

Questions About Madness

  1. Why is Sophie glad that Brigitte is a good sleeper?
  2. What happens to Martine after she learns that she's pregnant with Sophie?
  3. How does Martine's second pregnancy affect her?
  4. How does Martine's mental illness affect Sophie?

Chew on This

Sophie's concern that her mother's mental illness is genetic is justified, since it seems improbable that just witnessing Martine's suffering could affect her daughter so much.

Ritual healing plays an important role in this work, but it isn't the means of true healing for Sophie.

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