Study Guide

Breath, Eyes, Memory Women and Femininity

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Women and Femininity

Sophie's role as a woman is complicated because she has to negotiate two cultures. Martine keeps close watch on her and expects her to behave like a Haitian woman in terms of sexuality, but to succeed as an independent woman, according to the American Dream.

Her position, though conflicted, is more hopeful than that of her Tante Atie, who remains by her mother Ifé's side in Haiti. Atie tells Sophie that to be a woman in Haiti means to live a life that is not yours and that has no room for personal desires.

There is also conflict over the value of the feminine. In the politically unstable and violent Haiti (post-Duvalier government), the female body holds little value. We see violence of all kinds against women—including against Haiti, which is figured as feminine.

And yet the mythology of the island privileges the feminine. Erzulie is the goddess that has it all: she is virgin mother and supreme seductress. It's a complicated situation that leaves the Caco women scrambling to make sense of their purpose and identity.

Questions About Women and Femininity

  1. What does the goddess Erzulie mean for Sophie? Why is she so attracted to her?
  2. What is Atie's take on being a woman in Haiti?
  3. Why does Marc object when young Sophie says she wants to be a secretary?
  4. Why does Sophie believe that every Haitian is a "daughter of the land"? What is her proof?

Chew on This

Though Sophie wants to equate Martine with the goddess Erzulie (especially after her mother's death), it is really just wish fulfillment on her part.

Atie's bitterness later in life has to do with her frustration at her limited role as a woman and not particularly with her duty to take care of her mother.

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