“Breath, Eyes, Memory” by Edwidge Danticat Essay

July 16, 2021 by Essay Writer

Updated: Dec 27th, 2019

The novel breath, eyes, memory is a true manifestation of the medieval and present human society. In simpler terms, it reflects the basic elements that spun our existence. These elements are explained from the main themes of the novel. These themes form the framework of this paper because immigration, love and parenting are discussed as the main themes in the novel.


Immigration is a major theme in the novel breath, eyes, memory because it describes the foundation of the novel’s plot. Moreover, the theme of immigration is almost representative of the current and past American immigration trends. From the novel, a reader is able to see the difference in culture between Sophie and her mother. Sophie was raised in Haiti but her mother lived in New York (Danticat 3).

As the novel progresses, we can see that Martine (Sophie’s mother) invites her daughter to the US to stay with her. From this understanding, the theme of immigration is profound. After shifting her residence from Haiti to New York, Sophie discovers missing pieces of her past. In addition, she is able to adjust to the new American lifestyle.

Later in the narration, Sophie returns to Haiti to see her grandmother after she develops some resentment towards her mother. Her trip back to Haiti is also another manifestation of the theme of immigration, where she goes back to her native homeland to live with her grandmother and aunts.

However, throughout the novel, the differences in culture (between native Haitians and Americans) are exposed, and the concept of assimilation is emphasized to synchronize the two cultures (Danticat 15).


The theme of love is profound in the novel breath, eyes, memory. Love manifests in the Haitian ritual to check female virginity, where mothers test their daughters to ensure they are still pure. This is an act of love, which manifests in protection. Testing is therefore done to ensure mothers protect their daughters from the social evils of the world.

Briefly, this ritual acts as a deterrent for young women to engage in runaway sexual adventures, which may expose them to harm (Danticat 23). Therefore, due to the practice of the ritual, young women observe chastity because they would not want to be condemned if they failed the test. Though the entire experience is traumatizing for Sophie, clearly, the procedure is done out of love.

When Sophie moves to America, she finds love with her husband. This episode in the novel’s plot is a fast forward to Sophie’s life after high school (Danticat 31). Sophie becomes obsessed with the man next door and through love; they are able to court and live together. From this love, they bore a daughter.

The analysis of love within the above framework can be understood in the context of family love because Sophie and her husband lived together, bound by love. By extension, the theme of love also manifests in the bond that existed among the Caco women. Coupled by a deep sense of history, the theme of love binds the practices, beliefs and values shared by the Caco women (Danticat 31).

When Sophie moves back to Haiti, she seeks counsel from these women and consequently, their advice shape her ideals as a woman. The bravery and struggles of the Haitian women are passed down to Sophie through the love they have for her. They also treat her as one of their own because of the love they all share.


A major part of the novel breath, eyes, memory highlights the theme of parenting. In fact, Sophie’s entire experience is understood within the framework of parenthood (Danticat 40). Her trip from Haiti to New York, her experiences as a mother, and her trip back to Haiti highlight her quest and experiences in understanding parenthood.

Raised without a mother, the theme of parenting manifests in Sophie’s life during the earlier chapters of the novel when Martine (a childless mother) invites Sophie (a motherless child) to live with her in the US. Parenthood is at the center of this invitation because Sophie is curious to learn the history and life of a mother that she never knew.

Similarly, Martine is desperate to unite with her daughter. All along, Sophie’s grandmother raised her until she was 12. Everything that she knew before she joined her mother was because of the parental care she received from her grandmother in Haiti.

Later sections of the novel revolve around Martine’s parenting skills, which eventually form a rift with her daughter. For instance, the virginity test is a form of parental skill Martine inherited from her past as a Haitian girl. She passes this practice down to her daughter but Sophie is not receptive to it.

It is from this understanding that a rift is created between Sophie and her mother. This sentiment prompts her trip back to Haiti where she goes to seek her grandmother’s counsel. The entire narration manifests the need for good parenting.


The themes of immigration, parenting and love feature prominently in breath, eyes, memory because they are used to explain the lives of the main characters. These themes represent real-life situations affecting people in the society, and almost concisely, they summarize the fabric of our social relationships.

For instance, love and parenting are core foundations of family life, while family life is the core of the society. Based on this understanding, the themes discussed above are core to the understanding of the novel breath, eyes, memory and a mirror of the society.

Works Cited

Danticat, Edwidge. Breath, Eyes, Memory. New York: Vintage Books, 1998. Print.

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