Study Guide

Breath, Eyes, Memory Suffering

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In many ways, Danticat's novel becomes an ode to suffering. It's the foundation of Sophie's existence and seems to be the only remaining part of Martine's character. Every character is touched by emotional and physical pain, including Ifé, who just knows when bad things are happening around her.

In part, this is because Haiti is a nation convulsed by poverty, political upheaval, and state-sanctioned violence. It would be impossible for the Caco women to remain untouched by these conditions.

Their suffering lingers because letting go of pain is difficult, especially when fears can't be faced. Suffering is also the result of inherited, abusive behaviors. Sophie works hard to forgive her family for the humiliation of the "virginity tests" and vows that she won't become part of the problem. Ultimately, Sophie and the women of her family have to put their collective feet down to declare that they will have no more pain from the past, despite their grief.

Questions About Suffering

  1. How do the scenes of political unrest in the book connect to the personal stories of the Caco women?
  2. What's the significance of the story of the woman who is turned into a butterfly?
  3. Why do the women in Sophie's therapy group burn slips of paper with names on them? In what way do you think this ritual helps these women?
  4. Who are the Tonton Macoutes and how do they help to shape this story?

Chew on This

In Danticat's work, suffering doesn't happen primarily on the personal level. It's really a cultural and familial phenomenon.

Sophie uses examples from stories and songs to find context and meaning for the pain that both she and her mother have had to endure.

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