Study Guide

Breath, Eyes, Memory Memory and the Past

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Memory and the Past

Danticat highlights the importance of storytelling in Haitian culture. Sophie identifies completely with the folklore, mythology, and songs from her native land. When she needs a way to define herself or to help her think about a difficulty, she falls immediately into the storyland of her youth. These stories and songs are cultural memory, beliefs, and lessons passed orally from one generation to the next.

It's such a crucial part of their lives that the Caco women can't think of themselves outside of story. In some ways, this is a problem. Martine can't stop replaying the most horrific episode of her life, reliving her rape nightly in her nightmares. Sophie inherits these traumatic memories from her mother, who recounts them to explain why her daughter's unfamiliar face sparks such an unpleasant reaction.

But in the end, it's story that redeems them. Haiti becomes the land of memory, the land of stories that can transform a lost mother into a lark or a butterfly—or a star. It's in the memory of these stories that Sophie finds strength and salvation.

Questions About Memory and the Past

  1. In what ways is storytelling key to the past for the Caco family?
  2. Sophie seems conflicted over whether she needs to forget or to remember? Which do you think she finally decides is the best course of action?
  3. In what ways is Sophie a "savior" for Martine? In what ways does she make life more difficult for her?
  4. How does the past make it difficult for Sophie to assimilate as an American citizen?

Chew on This

Storytelling is the prime way that the women in Sophie's family pass on ideas about acceptable behavior to their daughters.

Sophie proves that it's possible to inherit memories and past traumas from a loved one, even without sharing their experiences.

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