Study Guide

Breath, Eyes, Memory Transformation

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Since folklore and storytelling are central to the lives of the women in this story, it's no surprise that magical transformations are an important part of Danticat's work. Sophie relishes the stories told by Atie and Ifé, even if they involve horrible things like kidnapping, murder, and death.

Magic works around all this, allowing women to leave behind suffering bodies and become beautiful butterflies, or veiling monsters in the shiny splendor of a star until the prey is caught.

But transformation isn't just for folktales. It happens to the Caco women as well. Martine slowly descends into insanity and after death is figured as one of Sophie's transformed women. Atie changes too, and not for the better.

But transformation isn't the last word. "Crabs don't make papayas," says Ifé, who understands that you can't make a person into something she is not.

Questions About Transformation

  1. What part do the folk tales remembered by Sophie play in this work?
  2. What is Sophie's purpose in telling the tale of the woman who was transformed into a butterfly?
  3. What happens to send Martine further into mental illness?
  4. Why does Sophie choose an inappropriate shade of red for her mother's burial suit?

Chew on This

Danticat includes folktales in her story to illustrate what it means to be a woman in Haiti.

Sophie chooses the "inappropriate" shade of red for her mother's burial clothes to help transform Martine into a woman of power, rather than sending her off as a woman crushed by fear.

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