Breath Eyes Memory
Haiti has endured a legacy of suffering whereby slavery transitioned into one of the bloodiest wars in modern history. Despite winning their political freedom to this day the Western powers impose economic strangulation and denounce their nondiscriminatory citizenship, the legitimate form of democracy, of which Beckles asserts as a crime “greater than slavery”. From the trauma of history, Haiti has withstood debt, imperialism and dictatorship, of which all have imposed oppression and angst. Under the Duvalier’s totalitarian regime during the later half of the twentieth century, extreme measures were enforced so as to combat resistance from the government. These measures include, but are not limited to, the systematic rape and murder of numerous Haitian women to prevent communal resistance. Haitian women have been subjected to objectification and denied identity throughout the patriarchal nation-state. The female gender is perpetually denigrated by rigorous traditions and the male construction of the female identity.
In Breath, Eyes, Memory Edwidge Danticat depicts a twentieth century Haitian immigrant, Sophie that leaves her small village in Haiti at the age of twelve, to move to New York to be with a mother she has not seen since her birth. This act of migration sets in motion a series of traumatic experiences around which Sophie must construct her identity. According to Ashcroft, “a valid and active sense of self may have been eroded by dislocation, resulting from migration… Or it may have been destroyed by cultural denigration, the conscious and unconscious oppression of the indigenous personality and culture by a superior racial or cultural model” (9). Sophie’s sense of self, however has been debased then on both fronts: Firstly, her migration to New York alienates her from all the comfort she has ever known, Tante Ante and Grandma Ife and relocates her to a woman from whom she has been apart physically since birth. Secondly, Sophie’s cultural denigration is in fact the denigration of her gender; female identity is constructed entirely by and for male relations in Haitian culture, insofar as women are only given identities through marriage and the system of oppression that it entails.
Females reinforce this ideology by subjecting their own family members to virginal testing to ensure purity before marriage, which justifies this premium placed on virginity. “Danticat writes another version of Haiti’s political history by focusing on women’s bodies – and the stories embedded there” (Francis). In other words, the novel illustrates a lineage of violation and victimization of women that is subject to and intertwined with a broader national oppression and subjugation. Yet it is through this lineage that a shared identity is formed and is inextricably linked from one another, in all forms of space and time, because the suffering manifested by violence perpetuates it. Danticat seems to be suggesting that the violence against one Haitian is the violence against them all, and the violence done by one Haitian to another is the same as violence done to oneself.
Breath, Eyes, Memory blurs the traditional lines of history, allowing memory to serve as a present force, rather than as a historical fact. Time and history are nonlinear. Martine and Sophie suffer over a bond of their own migration to New York from Haiti, and the painful nostalgia manifests while cooking the food that has a history, identity and memory in Haiti. Both of these women are a construction of womanhood whereby cooking a traditional cultural- food represents the woman of that culture, the identity of the domestic servant that has been constructed for them. Therefore, when their communication is served, the Haitian food embodies a shared identity between the women that Sophie is rebelling from. It is with a painful sense of repression that both Martine and Sophie refuse to cook the food which forces the present lack of family to the fore. “I usually ate random concoctions: frozen dinners, samples from global cookbooks, food that was easy to put together and brought me no pain. No memories of a past that at times was cherished and at others despised” (Danticat, 151). The text also bonds the role of traditional ‘individual’ identity towards multiple others.
The women of the Caco family are inextricably linked to each other’s past, present and future. It is her mother’s past sexual violation that informs Sophie’s present, and it’s for Sophie’s future that her mother begins to sexually violate her own daughter. In fact, she is so connected to her family, Sophie asserts, “her nightmares had somehow become my own, so much that I would wake up some mornings wondering if we hadn’t both spent the night dreaming about the same thing” (Danitcat, 193). Sophie’s own identity is so connected to her mother’s, that she also becomes victim to her mother’s pain. Additionally, Sophie’s own identity is also connected to every other Haitian woman that has been victimized by males. Sophie recounts the tale of a rich man marrying a poor girl that was pure. Keeping with tradition, he prepared linens to be paraded in front of the neighbors to prove his conquest over her virginity. When his bride did not bleed, “he took a knife and cut her between her legs to get some blood to show” (Danticat, 155). She bled so much that she died. “The emphasis placed on the public display of evidence of a girl’s virginity illustrates the ways in which women’s bodies are used to service male desires” (Francis) specifically, in this case, at the expense of a woman’s life and sexual organs.
Sophie’s own identity is equally connected to the dead bride’s: her ‘identity’ is constructed entirely by and to service male desires. It is by this acknowledgment that Sophie can remove some of the accountability of her own violation from her mother; “I knew my hurt and hers were links in a long chain and if she hurt me, it was because she was hurt, too. It was up to me to avoid my turn in the fire. It was up to me to make sure that my daughter never slept with ghosts, never lived with nightmares, and never had her name burnt in the flames” (Danticat ,203). Sophie acknowledges lineage of sexual violence that was both perpetuated against and perpetuated by her mother and her grandmother before her. In refusing to participate in violation that victimizes her own daughter, Sophie identifies her mother as a victim, but most importantly, as her violator. Sophie understands Haitian culture, that in her own failures and successes are inextricably linked to her families; that her own failure reflects the failure of her family, “If your child is disgraced, you are disgraced… If I give a soiled daughter to her husband, he can shame my family, speak evil of me, even bring her back to me” (Danticat, 165) and that “if you make something of yourself in life, we will all succeed. You can raise our heads” (Danticat, 44). Therefore, despite her marginalized dislocation, she still feels duty toward her family and her family’s honor.
Her mother, subject to violent nightmares that force her to relive her rape every night, forced Sophie to wake her up “before she bit her finger off, ripped her nightgown, or threw herself out of a window” (Danticat. 193). And when Sophie woke her she always said, “Sophie, you saved my life” (Danticat, 81). When Sophie begins to have her own suicidal thoughts, “some nights I woke up in a cold sweat wondering if my mother’s anxiety was somehow hereditary or if it was something that I had “caught” from living with her. Her nightmares had somehow become my own” (Danticat, 193). Her mother has an equal dependency on Sophie, and during the first of her virginal tests, tells the story: “The Marassas were two inseparable lovers. They were the same person, duplicated in two. When you love someone, you want him to be closer to you than your Marassa. Closer than your shadow. You want him to be your soul… Wouldn’t you scream? The love between a mother and daughter is deeper than the sea. You and I we could be like Marassas” (Danticat, 84-85).
Throughout the text, there is a theme of doubling; it is Sophie’s own doubling during her mother’s testing that gives her solace during her own violation. However, Sophie also illustrates the nation’s suffering: “There were many cases in our history where our ancestors had doubled. Most of our presidents were actually one body split in two: part flesh and part shadow. That was the way hey could murder and rape so many people and still go home to play with their children and make love to their wives” (Danticat, 155-156). Doubling is used for both the victim and the victimizer. Internalizing her own “embodied protest” (Susan Bardo), Sophie doubles as she mutilates herself with a pestle to prevent her mother’s testing. Sophie becomes her own victimizer, one that sexually violates her own self to create autonomy from her mother’s sexual violation. Her own sexual trauma from her mother’s testing forces Sophie to double during intercourse with her husband: “he reached over and pulled my body towards his. I closed my eyes and thought of my Marassa, the doubling” (Danitcat, 200). Sophie brings forth her Marassa – who doubles as her mother and her perpetrator of her trauma.
Even Sophie’s bulimia functions as an articulation of violence. It is both her violence toward herself and the hatred of her body that has been victimized and her violence against all those who committed violence against her. She is attempting to express agency over her own body. Bulimia, however, is well known to be a disease that the subject does not control. The bulimia symbolizes Sophie’s lack of autonomy over her own body despite her attempts. She is therefore fixing a cycle of suffering. She is perpetuating a system that causes her own violence to herself under the delusion of her own agency. Tante Atie never marries, and therefore, cannot be defined through her husband, and as a result, is never identified, “my life, it is nothing…The sky seems empty even when I am looking at the moon and stars” (Danticat 136). Atie bares only part of the intergeneration conflict. Women are only defined through their husbands, and are constructed at birth to be a domestic servant. “Haitian men, they insist that their women are virgins and have their ten fingers. According to Tante Atie, each finger had a purpose. It was the way she had been taught to prepare herself to become a woman. Mothering. Boiling. Loving. Baking. Nursing. Frying. Healing. Washing. Ironing. Scrubbing. It wasn’t her fault, she said. Her ten fingers had been named for her even before she was born” (Danticat 151).
As identity is only to given to married females, and is limited to that, other females subscribe to this larger ideology of the female economy (i.e. marriage market) and reduce their own daughters to their genital organs by practicing virginal testing. Sophie understands how the testing functions as a lie; her grandmother performed it on both her mother and Tante Atie, and her mother’s virginity was forcibly taken, while Tante Atie never married, rendering the trauma from the tests useless. Sophie’s comprehension of the construction of the testing gestures to her knowledge of patriarchal oppression, rather than blame her grandmother she says “it was very hard to be angry at my grandmother. After all she was only doing that made her feel like a good mother. My mother too” (Danticat, 208). Sophie is implying that the accountability lies within the nation-state, with the patriarchal regime.
Sophie understands herself as “a living memory from the past” (Danticat, 56). Her mother’s past trauma is tied congruently to her own past, present and future. She previously notes that she was “born out of the petal of roses, water from the stream, and a chunk of the sky” (Danticat, 47). In order to reclaim the stake in her own autonomy she must claim her mother’s pain. She finally acknowledges: “My father might have been a Macoute. He was a stranger who, when my mother was sixteen years old, grabbed her on her way back from school. He dragged her into the cane fields, and pinned her down on the ground. He had a black bandanna over his face so she never saw anything but his hair which was the color of eggplants. He kept pounding her until she was too stunned to make a sound” (Danticat 139). By looking toward her origin, she can look past her victimized family, and arrive at her own identity. The women of the Caco family endure the same identity due to their suffering and trauma.
This identity is constructed by the patriarchal regime that refuses any identity to women but the role of domestic servant. Even this can be denied, however, to the unmarried woman. Women are denied any voice in society. Sophie is literally silent from the moment she discovers she is being physically dislocated which only further deepens her feelings of alienation, “I felt closer to tears with each word I thought of saying, so I said nothing” (Danticat, 18). Her grandmother reminds her that “people have died for saying the wrong things” (Danticat, 118), and so Haitian women are subjected to silence by “the Tonton Macoute [who] was a bogeyman” (Danticat, 138), and historically enforced the extremely oppressive and totalitarian dictatorship of the Duvaliers, and by larger societal expectations that construct women in only one role: the domestic servant. She is thus taught that she is to endure in a displaced silence. Indeed, even Sophie’s mother was literally silenced by her society, by her rapist who “kept pounding her until she was too stunned to make a sound” (Danticat, 139).
Ashcroft, Bill. The Empire Writes Back. New York: Routledge, 2002.
Danticat, Edwidge. Breath, Eyes, Memory. New York: Vintage, 1994.
Francis, Donnette A. “‘Silences Too Horrific to Disturb’: Writing Sexual Histories in Edwidge Danticat’s Breath, Eyes, Memory.” Research in African Literatures 35.2 (2004): 75-90. Web. April 1 2012.
Sarthou, Sharron Eve. “Unsiliencing Defiles Daughters: Overcoming Silence in Edwidge Danicat’s Breath, Eyes, Memory”. The Global South 4.2 (2010): 99-123. Web. April 1 2012.
Nicole Billitz Professor Russell LIT 4192 1 April 2012
The Deconstruction of Opportunity: Danticat’s Narrative of Disempowerment in Breath, Eyes, Memory
The narrative of disempowerment is one that is woven extensively through Edwidge Danticat’s postcolonial novel, Breath, Eyes, Memory. Placing great emphasis on the politics of the domestic sphere and the stories told between women, the novel spans the childhood and young adulthood of Edwidge’s main protagonist Sophie Caco, highlighting the ways in which Sophie experiences social and cultural limitations. What is perhaps most striking throughout the text are the ways in which Sophie is presented with a plethora of opportunity only to be consistently limited in her ability for true change. Sophie’s changing familial relationships—with both her mother and her husband—in particular highlight this illusion of opportunity. Her unsuccessful movement across these relationships conveys the ways in which cultural norms entrap Sophie, as marriage—something commonly portrayed as an idealized and cherished opportunity—instead aggravates Sophie’s sexual phobia, edifying her disillusionment with her own body and ultimately, her identity. Throughout Breath, Eyes, Memory Danticat portrays the illusion of opportunity through her construction of Sophie’s parallel relationships with both Joseph and Martine in order to explicate her disempowerment and entrapment within the constructs of ideal Haitian womanhood.
In her construction of what first appears to be an ideal opportunistic narrative, Danticat highlights Sophie’s infatuation with Joseph, particularly the ways in which it stems from her desire to escape living with her mother. In Sophie’s earliest encounters with Joseph, he repeatedly compliments her, declaring, “you’re such a beautiful woman” (Danticat 75), only to have Sophie question back, “You think I am a woman? You are the first person that has called me that” (Danticat 75). This repetition of “woman” denotes a change in the way Sophie is perceived—no longer a child but a woman. Thus, in this moment she is presented with the opportunity to move beyond her status as a young girl and further into adulthood, something traditionally perceived as freeing. Sophie’s echoing of the term also illustrates her infatuation with the declaration, as it enables her to see herself as something she has never been referred to before, constructing a new ideal for her maturity. By outlining her potential to move from girl to woman, Joseph presents Sophie with opportunity and aspiration to occupy a more mature title of grown femininity and adulthood. This change in the way she is perceived epitomizes the opportunity that Sophie sees in being with Joseph, particularly compared to the confining relationship she maintains with her mother.
Furthermore, the employment of the diction “first” also aids in the construction of an opportunistic declaration. By utilizing this diction, Danticat is able to edify a feeling of newness and change, highlighting the opportunity Sophie sees in a relationship with Joseph. The scene of opportunity is additionally highlighted through Danticat’s use of light imagery, as she writes, “we watched the morning sky lighten” (Danticat 75). Enlisting the personal pronoun “we” crafts a sense of unity between Sophie and Joseph, while the imagery of a lightening sky depicts a scene of vast opportunity in order to construct a traditionally opportunistic narrative. Thus, Sophie’s initial interactions with Joseph follow the rhetoric of a traditional opportunistic narrative in order to express her desire to establish a new relationship.
However, Danticat begins to deconstruct this narrative of opportunity through the parallels she draws between Joseph and Sophie’s mother, Martine. Through these characters’ similarities, the reader begins to see the progression of Sophie’s disempowerment as well as her disillusionment with her relationships. When speaking with her grandmother, Sophie’s depiction of her relationship with Joseph is consistently paralleled to that with her mother, merging intimacy with her husband with her mother’s practice of testing. The need for escape from her husband is what denotes the failed narrative of opportunity, as Sophie proclaims that leaving her husband “is just a short vacation” (Danticat 122). The image of a vacation denotes her desire for isolation and escape—a sharp dichotomy from the previous closeness she first felt with Joseph.
Furthermore, Danticat’s use of negative diction to portray the failure of the marriage highlights the disintegration of opportunity. While marriage to Joseph was initially portrayed as ideal and freeing, Sophie now faces the restraints and troubles of her “marital duties” (Danticat 122). The depiction of these “duties” highlights Sophie’s disdain for her role as a wife—and particularly a sexual partner—as this harsh depiction denotes feelings of responsibility and obligation rather than love. Furthermore, Sophie’s description of “the night” (Danticat 122) with Joseph is lined with dark and fearful imagery. Describing to her grandmother how she “cannot perform” and her “trouble with the night,” (Danticat 122) she proclaims “It is very painful for me… I have no desire. I feel like it is an evil thing to do” (Danticat 122). These projections of pain act as a physical limitation to Sophie’s opportunity, as she is held back by her own husband, and even more significantly, her own body. These restrictions on her freedom convey that while marriage appeared opportunistic, Sophie was only given an illusion, as her marriage—like her mother’s previous testing—garners extensive pain and grief. The image of Sophie’s sexuality as something that is inherently “evil,” (Danticat 122) allows for the continuity of social ideals—particularly those surrounding womanhood—that testing conveys. By portraying and defining female value and honor as concepts dependent on purity, Sophie is restricted even within the sexuality of her own marriage by the overarching cultural limitations placed upon her through testing—a practice she was subject to long before even meeting her husband.
Perhaps what is most striking in Danticat’s destruction of Sophie’s perceived opportunity is the way in which she crafts continuity between her protagonist’s situations with both her husband and her mother. As Sophie speaks to her grandmother tirelessly over the strains of her marriage, and its subsequent sexual obligations, she is immediately followed with a question of testing. After her declaration of the evils she affiliates with sex, her grandmother questions, “Your mother? Did she ever test you?” (Danticat 123). By immediately following a discussion of sex and intimacy with an inquiry of testing, Danticat demonstrates the ways in which this construct is so deeply intertwined with the notion of female sexuality and womanhood. The intermingling of present and past narratives through this question further demonstrates Sophie’s entrapment within the circumstances of these social norms. Her grandmother begs the question about past testing as if it is intrinsically related to her current sexual behaviors, demonstrating the ways in which these rather confining, disempowering standards stem across both time and relationships.
Sophie’s relationships with both Joseph and Martine are further paralleled through her depiction of the pain testing brought her. Responding to her grandmother’s inquiry, Sophie declares, “I call it humiliation” (Danticat 123). This denouncement of the practice not only epitomizes Sophie’s own detest for testing but also demonstrates the ways in which it was carried out across the course of her life. Within the narrative structure, this notion of humiliation immediately follows the painful and abhorrent imagery employed to summarize sex with her husband, explicating a further similarity between the two. By placing the two instances directly next to one another, Danticat is able to draw a distinct similarity between Sophie’s testing from Martine and her sexual relationship with Joseph. Thus, by highlighting the extensive similarities across the two relationships, Danticat is also able to disassemble the narrative of opportunity presented through Sophie’s marriage to Joseph. While it may first appear that her marriage allows for the change and opportunity to escape Martine’s testing, Sophie is in fact left entrapped and disempowered within the confines of the same circumstance—only this time with her husband instead of her mother. The parallels between Sophie’s mother and husband are continued when she elaborates; “I hate my body. I am ashamed to show it to anybody, even my husband” (Danticat 123). This contempt for her own body conveys the restrictions Sophie feels in her own existence; thus, it becomes clear that the ideals of chastity and purity instilled in her through the practice of testing greatly damaged Sophie’s perception of herself and loom over her marriage. Furthermore, the notion of shame demonstrates Sophie’s extensive disempowerment. Despite the opportunity to end the testing and marry Joseph, Sophie is still entrapped within her own shame for her sexuality. Thus, this degenerative and shame-filled sentiment conveys Sophie’s inability to move past the confines of her own—culturally influenced—sexuality, further paralleling the narratives of her relationships with Joseph and Martine and deconstructing the notion of opportunity.
Throughout the novel, the narrative of opportunity begins to fades as parallels are drawn between Sophie’s relationships with both her mother and her husband. Sophie initially desires to end living with Martine—and thus end her testing—and idealizes her opportunity to wed Joseph. However, throughout the progression of her marriage, Sophie becomes disillusioned, merely finding herself in the same situation of sexual shame and humiliation. The dark and fearful imagery used to describe her sexual relationship with Joseph conveys the destruction of Sophie’s opportunity, instead upholding the same abhorrent limitations she faced from her mother’s testing. Thus, in the face of opportunity, Danticat conveys that Sophie is continuously entrapped within her relationships due to the long upheld notions of female sexuality and value, constructing a narrative of disempowerment—not opportunity.
Mother-Daughter Relationship in Breath, Eyes, Memory
Sophie Caco, in Breath, Eyes, Memory, quotes her mother, “There’s a difference between what a person wants and what’s good for them” (72). In Edwidge Danticat’s novel, there is conflict between what Sophie wants and what her mother, Martine, believes is good for her. While Sophie wants to live in the great realm of Providence, her mother has a specific idea of what is good for her daughter—remaining pure until marriage, being the ideal, obedient daughter, and studying to become a doctor. The narrative voice in Breath, Eyes, Memory conveys how Sophie wholly violates her mother’s concept of what is good for her; Sophie becomes free from Martine in order to seek her Providence because she wants to finally put behind her the anguish of her mother’s horrifying past.Martine’s horrifying past is one of the things that links her to her daughter. The ultimate impression Sophie gets of her mother before a six year time lapse in the narrative is the tragic story of how she was born. Part One ends with Martine divulging to Sophie that, “A man grabbed me from the side of the road, pulled me into a cane field, and put you in my body” (61). Martine and Sophie are now both linked by a rapist. Although Sophie does not say it explicitly, the narrative voice connotes that she knows deep in her heart that whenever her mother sees her she is reminded of that horror of the night she was raped, making Sophie feel more and more disconnected from her mother. This extremely important revelation which Martine explains in such a calm, mollified tone shows that Martine doesn’t want her daughter to be angry or grief-stricken; instead, she wants Sophie to learn about her past and bring her closer to her. Martine’s idea of what’s good for her, knowing about her father and Martine’s own past, conflicts with Sophie’s idea of what she wants to know. Otherwise, there would not have been a six-year gap between the time she was told of her mother’s rape to the following scene.Martine feels it necessary to tell her daughter the importance of ‘testing’ because as a tradition in her family the idea of keeping the child clean and pure is of utmost priority. She explains to Sophie, “When I was a girl, my mother used to test us to see if we were virgins. She would put her finger in our very private parts and see if it would go inside…The way my mother was raised, a mother is supposed to do that to her daughter until the daughter is married. It is her responsibility to keep her daughter pure” (60-61). As Sophie’s mother, Martine feels it is her duty to explain the reasoning behind testing her because it is what’s good for her. Again, although Sophie does not want to have this done to her, that’s not important to Martine because it needs to be done. Even her Tante Atie hated it, but it was necessary.Throughout the novel, Martine tries to fit her daughter into a perfect frame and be a certain person that Sophie tries to break away from. Although this is yet another way of bringing Sophie closer to her, Martine only pushes her away even further. When Marc asks Sophie what she wants to be, she says, “I want to do dactylo, be a secretary” (56). Martine, however, insists that, “She is too young now to know. You are going to be a doctor” (56), indicating the tension between mother and daughter. Sophie and Martine are different people with different intentions. Even though Martine wants her daughter to grow up to be a doctor, Sophie never establishes the connection in which she takes into consideration being a doctor. Martine never seems to understand Sophie because she is too wrapped up in having the ideal daughter who doesn’t go astray. Without explicitly saying it, it is obvious through the narrative voice that Sophie knows what she wants—she ends up being a secretary. When Sophie returns to Haiti, Louise asks her, “What do you do in America, Sophie? What is your profession?” (99) to which Sophie responds, “A secretary.” (99).No matter how much Martine tries, she fails to make Sophie fit into the role of the Marassas twin. Martine describes, “They looked the same, talked the same, walked the same,” (84) indicating how she envisions the way she and her daughter should be. Sophie, however, never viewed herself as Martine’s twin prior to this description of the Marassas. When she sees a picture of Atie, her mother, and herself in Martine’s house she says, “I looked like no one in my family. Not my mother. Not my Tante Atie. I did not look like them when I was a baby and I did not look like them now” (45). Not only was she not raised by her own mother, but she didn’t even look like Martine. The narrative voice conveys that Sophie is observant yet unruffled; there is no sense of emotional reaction only an objective remark, indicating that it doesn’t make a difference to Sophie. When Marc takes Martine and Sophie out to dinner, Sophie once again thinks about the fact that she does not look like her mother solely by the waiter’s expression. She says, “He looked at us for a long time. First me, then my mother. I wanted to tell him to stop it. There was no resemblance between us. I knew it” (55). Sophie’s tone of voice conveys her irritation; by now, she has accepted the fact that she and her mother look nothing like each other. There is no changing it.Sophie violates her mother’s notion of being pure because she wants to break free from Martine. She likens herself to the woman who would not stop bleeding when she says, “If she wanted to stop bleeding, she would have to give up her right to be a human being” (87), in which Sophie herself would have to break her hymen in order to “break free” from her mother’s clutches. The night that she took the pestle to bed with her, though she knew it was “not good for her hymen to tear apart like so, she had felt that “there was no longer any reason for me to live” (87), because her mother had been doing this horrible thing of testing her. If she could be free from her mother and her testing, she would consequently be free from her mother’s past because she, too, had been tested. The pestle acts as a mechanism for Sophie to free herself from her mother. When Sophie runs away from home to elope with her boyfriend Joseph, she completely goes against what her mother wanted for her. Sophie’s attempts to break free from her mother has succeeded so far, because she wants to reach that Providence that she has until now unable to attain. The second part ends with Sophie departing from her mother’s house and leaving for a life with Joe, once again doing what she wants to do even though in her mother’s eyes it is not what is good for her. If she lives her entire life under her mother’s control she would be tortured forever by her mother’s past and would never be “liberated” from it. When she had lived in Haiti, she was supported by her mother’s weekly supply of money. When she arrived in America she was dependent on her mother for survival. But now, as Sophie moves on and in with Joe, she no longer needs her mother and is now closer than her ever to being free from Martine.The parts are structured so that the most important milestones in the story are left hanging with enormous spaces in time. This time around two years have passed between Sophie leaving for her sense of Providence and from where the story picks up again in Haiti. This type of narrative of leaving huge chunks out of an otherwise linear chronology draws attention to the fact that Sophie’s life itself is so disjoint. The story takes us suddenly from America to Haiti just as suddenly as Sophie was taken from Haiti to America after one letter and plane ticket from her mother. Sophie often feels her life is empty and especially when she was growing up without her mother for twelve years, an enormous part of her life was missing even though she didn’t know it. She says, “It took me twelve years to piece together my mother’s entire story.” (61). By the time Sophie has moved out of her mother’s place she believes she may be free but realizes that her mother is not. When she is with her sexual phobia group, she understands that the person who has wronged her, Martine, has been unable to be free. Sophie says, “I knew my hurt and hers were links in a long chain and if she hurt me, it was because she was hurt, too” (203). She comes to the realization that there is a reason why her mother did what she did and that in order for her to be free, her mother needs to be free from her past as well. Her mother’s rape had given her nightmares that she was able to “free” her mother from, but only from the nightmares themselves, not from the reality of the rape.Sophie is devastated by the fact that her mother found her own way of escaping the reality of rape—committing suicide. For the first time her mother did what she wanted to do and Sophie desired for her to do what is good for her, going to Haiti and confronting the cane field where she was raped as the psychiatrist advised. This role-reversal shows how Sophie is still in a way so connected to her mother that she is compelled to “free” herself as well as her mother by confronting the cane field. In the final scene, she says she, “ran through the field, attacking the cane. I took off my shoes and began to beat a cane stalk. I pounded it until it began to lean over.” The image of the bent cane stalk reflects Sophie reclaiming her mother’s power and Sophie finally achieving the freedom she so desperately sought.Sophie Caco in Breath, Eyes Memory not only goes on a journey to free herself from her mother, but in the process allows herself to free her mother from her mother’s past. Because Martine was unable to find the Providence that Sophie sought, Sophie was about to put her mother’s rape behind her by fighting the cane stalk in the final scene of the novel.