Ties Between Womanhood and Motherhood
In Krik? Krak! Edwidge Danticat expands on the difficult role women must fulfill in a corrupted Haitian society. She portrays some of these requirements through the various transformations in the story, “The Missing Peace”. With this important text, Danticat indicates that maturity and sexuality are not identical, and that personal development is bound up with learning to deal with loss and learning to put society, and one’s own place in it, in perspective.
Emilie comes as a tourist to Ville Rose in search for her lost mother. Her search mainly acts, however, to confirm her mother’s death, take a step into reality, and begin the process of grieving. She feels disconnected from her mother and doesn’t want her to go as she tells Lamort, “‘I see my mother sinking into a river, and she keeps calling my name”’ (116). Emilie can’t save her mother even though she’s calling Emilie for help, and Emilie feels useless. In an attempt to reach her mother and try to save her, Emilie goes to the graveyard. Although she already knows the outcome, she can’t fully accept it. That night, after painfully witnessing soldiers pulling a dead man on the ground, she knows that she can’t physically reach her mother. Instead, Emilie works on her mother’s quilt, which helps her internally with her mom, and she says, “‘I lost my mother and all my other dreams”’ (121). Although this saddens Emilie, as she knows that she will never find her mom, she also accepts her mother’s death.
Lamort helps Emilie overcome her grief by acting as a temporary mother to her. When they first converse, Lamort repeats to Emilie some wise comments that her grandmother told Lamort earlier. In addition, Emilie feels an instant connection as she tells Lamort that she sounds like a journalist. Later, Emilie mentions that her mother was a journalist as well. This connection strengthens between them, and later Emilie asks Lamort to stay with her during the night. Lamort agrees, “‘because I know you are afraid”’ (121). Lamort knows Emilie feels scared of sleeping without her mother in her dreams, so she replaces Emilie’s mother to help her with the transition of losing her mother.
Although Lamort transforms into a mother, she doesn’t completely feel like one until she changes her name. Literally, Lamort means “the dead” in French. Her grandmother doesn’t give Lamort her mother’s name, Marie Magdalène, because she blames Lamort for the death. Lamort doesn’t immensely care about her name because she thinks that her grandmother makes all the decisions. Once she acts as a mother to Emilie, and transitions her into accepting the death, she feels ready to live with that name. Thus, she approaches her grandmother after returning home, “‘I want you to call me by Marie Magdalène.’ I liked the sound of that” (122). She’s happy with her name and feels more connected to her mother as well. Her grandmother looks “pained” to call Lamort by her precious daughter’s name, yet she also knows that she must let go and satisfy Lamort (122). In this way, Lamort helps her grandmother, similarly to Emilie, with accepting her daughter’s death.
Lamort changes her name and acts like a mother mainly because she truly transforms into a woman. In the beginning of the story, Raymond tells Lamort, “‘I know I can make you feel like a woman”’ (103). He, like other men in the book, wrongly believes that a girl becomes a woman when she has sex. He pressures Lamort further and asks, “’so why don’t you let me?”’ (103). He still doesn’t understand how a girl truly becomes a woman. Instead, he tries to persuade her to have sex with him because he knows that she wants to feel like a woman. Furthermore, her grandmother says to Lamort, “‘See, you can be a pretty girl” (108). The grandmother hints that Lamort wasn’t pretty before, and she also stresses the fact that Lamort’s a girl. The American tourist is the only person who views Lamort as mature, helpful, and motherly. Emilie explains to her, “‘They say a girl becomes a woman when she loses her mother,’ she said. ‘You, child, were born a woman’” (116). Emilie lives in America, where girls who are Lamort’s age don’t act like a woman. She’s pleasantly surprised and acknowledges that Lamort is young, and yet, she still acts like a woman.
Similarly to Lamort, Emilie transforms into a woman through acceptance and motherhood. Although Emilie loses her mother, she doesn’t accept it at first, and thus withholds from becoming a women. Like a child, she also relies on Lamort to comfort and protect her in the night. In addition, she sews a quilt that her mother left unfinished. Through this process, she connects with her mother and replaces her, just like Lamort adopts her mother’s name. Furthermore, Emilie cares for Lamort like a mother and explains, “‘I didn’t get in a fight with them because I did not want them to hurt you”’ (121). She purposefully protected Lamort instead of choosing her natural instinct to fight. Once Emilie begins to act motherly, accepts her mother’s death, and connects with her mother, she realizes, “‘I became a woman last night”’ (121).
During all these personal transformations, the town’s moral changes as well. In the beginning of the story, Raymond tells Lamort to never forget the password when she’s in trouble. The password essentially serves as a common goal or moral: “peace”. This peace has no effect on Toto when he confronts Lamort and Emilie outside the graveyard. And Raymond explains to Lamort, “‘The password has changed,’ he said. ‘Stop saying ‘peace’”’ (119). The password that served as the main goal and holding everyone together turns nonexistent. There is no peace. Despite the missing peace around them, Lamort and Emilie feel calm inside. They are women, and don’t act anxious during hectic times.
Emilie and Lamort transform in different ways to ultimately become women. Because they both lost their mothers, they find unity and strength. They help each other in the process of becoming women. Both act motherly, overcome their immature weaknesses, and take on the role of their own mothers. They realize that becoming a woman is difficult and painful. Acting as a woman requires many responsibilities as well, including keeping posterity. The grandmother points out that keeping posterity is how a woman lives her life. Emilie wants to learn more about her mother for posterity. Yet, she doesn’t find any posterity except for herself. She realizes that she will have posterity from just living her life as a woman.
The ideas of becoming and acting as a woman from “The Missing Peace” echo throughout the whole book. Raymond, like other Haitian men, tried to turn Lamort into a woman by having sex. However, performing sex does not make a woman. Women comfort others in a time of need, live independently, and care for their children. Even if the world and their surroundings are violent, frightening, and chaotic, women remain peaceful and constant. Above all, they form an inseparable bond that can never be broken. They are the strength, peace, and comfort when all else fails.
The Natural Fear of the Extraordinary
The natural human response to evil is to react with evil. In many cases, the original evil is inspired by fear. This is often the case in the stories in Krik?Krak!. Two of the stories, “Nineteen thirty-seven” and “Between the Pool and the Gardenias”, demonstrate this fear of the incomprehensible which is often the use of magic. “Nineteen thirty-seven” is a story from the perspective of a girl whose mother has been imprisoned, by a broken Haitian Government, for being accused of having wings of flame. It follows her through her walk to the prison and then her discussions with her mother and some other inmates. Ultimately, the story concludes with her mother’s death and a recollection of the girl’s memories with her. “Between the Pool and the Gardenias,” takes place from the first person point of view of a housemaid named Marie who recently left her home in a small village. She left her old life behind to start anew because of a cheating husband and several miscarriages that ruined her life. One day while walking home, she finds a baby abandoned in the streets and decides to claim it as her own. She is later accused of killing the baby for magic, despite it having been dead since before she found her, furthering her maternal misfortune. The common occurrence in both stories is evil resulting from the fear of magic. The fear of magic’s evils actually causes true evil and leads to hatred.
Things that people cannot comprehend, more often than not, intimidate them because they don’t understand it. This is why people are often afraid of magic. In “Nineteen thirty-seven,” the girl describes her visit to her mother in prison. In the beginning of the story, while approaching the prison, she talks about the reason her mother is in prison: “the police in the city really knew how to hold human beings trapped in cages, even women like manman who was accused of having wings of flame” (35). There was no proof of her even having the wings because it’s not possible for humans to have wings let alone wings of flame. Despite this she was still thrown in prison by the brutal militia, the Tonton Macoutes. Not only was she wrongly put in prison, but she was forced to endure horrible conditions. When the two were talking, after her mother falsely tells her that she had not been treated badly, the girl based on her own knowledge states, “the guards made them throw tin cups of cold water at one another so that their bodies would not be able to muster up enough heat to grow those wings made of flames” (37). The guards are so afraid of human women growing mystical wings of flame that they make them throw cups of water on each other. To anyone reading or hearing about this it seems ridiculous, but this was seen as necessary by the guards in order to prevent these witches from using their powers. They were not just afraid of the women themselves but also of their corrupted spirits. The way the girl’s mother was treated in “Nineteen thirty-seven” represents how deep the fear of magic was in Haiti, and how when people can not comprehend something that fear of not understanding leads to evil acts.
So long as people are afraid of magic their fear will inspire and lead to deep hatred. Marie experiences the hatred from her own employers in “Between the Pool and the Gardenias.” When she is preparing lunch for them she talks about what they say about her behind her back. She knows that they say, “she is probably one of those manbos… She’s probably one of those stupid people who think that they have a spell to make themselves invisible and hurt other people… It’s that voodoo nonsense that’s holding us Haitians back” (95). The way they speak about this woman when they think she can not hear is an indicator of the irrational disdain they have for her. They accuse her of wanting to hurt other people and contributing to the demise of an entire country simply for her alleged belief in magic. Not only do they despise her for something they know nothing about, they do not even know whether or not she actually uses magic. The sole reason they hate her is because they are afraid of what they are unsure of. Similarly the fear of magic causes unnecessary hate later in the story. When the woman finishes burying the baby Rose, the pool boy whom she had once loved approaches her. He then asks her where she had taken the child from, but did not give her the opportunity to answer. The pool boy had already called the authorities, and had assumed she killed the baby for so called evil magical purposes. When she pleads with him telling him that he knows her and that she wouldn’t do that, the pool boy’s response is, “I don’t know you from the fly on a pile of cow manure” (99). The association most people have with cow manure is the awful stench of it. However, when you know and realize that cow manure helps to nurture the growth of beautiful flowers it does not seem the same. This is the same in that the pool boy shows such hatred towards the woman because he does not know who she really is, he is simply afraid of what she could be. In conclusion, the fear of something, especially magic, is the cause of deep and unwavering hatred.
Finally, the hatred, which is caused by the fear of magic, inspires horrible mistreatment of others. The guards in the prison in “Nineteen thirty-seven” display these abuses based on their hatred for the feared witches. When the girl describes her mother’s appearance when she sees her in jail she says, “Her teeth were a dark red, as though caked with blood from the initial beating during her arrest” (36). One key description that sticks out, is that she describes her mother’s teeth as caked in blood. The emphasis on the level of blood implies they are covered in blood, and rather not that there is simply a little blood. Another potential indication of her word choice is that the beatings have happened multiple times after the time of her first beating. The description of the beatings describes how the guards’ fear of these women caused them to physically abuse them. These beatings may have been the worst of the guards’ abuse, yet it was not the only. They also took actions to demoralize the women and essentially take their femininity. The daughter explains, again after her mother’s false claims of being treated well, that all the women in the prison face a specific abuse: “The guards shaved her head every week” (36). It was not enough that the guards beat the women, but it was also necessary to strip them of their feminine identities through their hair. The daughter later realizes this when she sees all the women in the yard, she thinks to herself, “ I realized that they wanted make them look like crows, like men” (39). The guards very much succeeded in their goal of stripping the women of their femininity, and their sole motivating factor, was the hatred they developed for these women because of fear. The heinous actions are often caused by pure hatred stemming from fear.
All things considered, true evils often occur because of hatred, induced by the fears of magic. Magic often frightens people because it is something they cannot comprehend. The people surrounding the women in “Nineteen thirty-seven” are a perfect example of being fearful of unknown anomalies. The fear of magic leads into hatred, which is shown by the way people act towards the woman in “Between the Pool and the Gardenias.” The hatred finally developed from the fear triggers horrible actions from people. When people face the incomprehensible it often scares them. In turn, when people are scared they form a hatred for the things that scare them. Hatred causes horrible things that happen however it all is a direct product of fear, and in this case the fear of magic.
The Thorns of Change: The Role of Ville Rose in Krik? Krak!
Krik? Krak! by Edwidge Danticat is a collection of short stories about Haitians in various circumstances, from being miserable due to extreme poverty to being forced into exile by a dictatorship. The fictional town of Ville Rose is the location of most of the stories, connecting stories that have almost no relation to each other except the occasional mention of characters. Danticat uses Ville Rose to represent the idea of change. Through this symbolism, Danticat shows that pain is a necessary part of change, but will lead to improvement.
In the first story, “Children of the Sea,” the female narrator undergoes significant change, not only emotionally, but also physically escaping to Ville Rose with her family. They plan to run away from the capital city of Port-au-Prince, where bands of macoutes do whatever they want to people, like raping and killing. The female narrator and her parents hear the macoutes beat her neighbor Madan Roger to death: you can hear madan roger screaming. they are beating her, pounding on her until you don’t hear anything else. manman tells papa, you cannot let them kill somebody just because you are afraid. papa says oh, yes, you can let them kill somebody because you are afraid. they are the law. it is their right. (17)Madan Roger’s beating causes significant anguish for the narrator’s mother, who wants to go somehow stop the macoutes from killing their neighbor. Her father has to justify to her mother in a twisted way that since the macoutes have the power, they have to allow them to do whatever they want or they will be hurt too. The narrator describes more dystopian descriptions of brutality in Port-au-Prince like forcing parents and their children to commit incest (12), dogs licking two dead bodies (19), and a soldier accusing a woman of being a witch. However, once the family gets to Ville Rose, the narrator does not experience these scenes anymore. Danticat uses imagery like comparing hail to “angry tears from heaven” (22) and at the end of the story, “behind these mountains are more mountains and more black butterflies still and a sea that is endless like my love for you” (29). This is very different the harsh, violent tone that the story has while still in Port-au-Prince, like when the narrator expresses how she hates her father and how she wishes “he would catch a bullet so we could see how scared he really is” (11). After moving to Ville Rose, the story becomes calmer and focuses on the characters’ relationships and how they have a new start instead of mainly being about the struggle for survival and how it affects people. By providing two contrasting settings in conjunction with a mood shift in the first story of the book, Danticat establishes Ville Rose as a symbol for change early on, leaving a first impression that the reader will think about throughout the book.
In addition to establishing the idea that Ville Rose represents change, “Children of the Sea” elaborates on this, with Danticat having the characters go through difficult transitions that eventually help them become better people and understand each other. The narrator does not have a good relationship with her father in the beginning of the story: “i shouted that i wasn’t a whore. he had no business calling me that. he pushed me against the wall for disrespecting him. he spat in my face” (11). At this point, the narrator and her father don’t really understand each other’s motives. The father is desperately trying to get his family out of Port-au-Prince and sees his daughter keeping the tapes as dangerous and would most likely lead to their family being tortured by the macoutes. Frustration and the need to force his family to do what it takes to survive, even if they don’t want to, makes him seem evil and abusive to his daughter. On the other hand, the female narrator is deeply in love with the male narrator and keeps the tapes to hear his voice, and when her father yells at her, she defends her love. Right before the drive to Ville Rose, the father apologizes for his actions, saying that “father should be able to speak to his children like a civilized man. all the craziness here has made him feel like he cannot do that anymore. all he wants to do is live” (19). Danticat humanizes the father and reveals him not to be a heartless abuser, but rather a man who just wants the best for his family and is willing to do whatever it takes to accomplish that. The narrator understands this too, and forgives her father, knowing that he does not hate his family. In Ville Rose, the narrator’s mother reveals to her that her father bribed the macoutes in order to save his daughter: they were going to peg me as a member of the youth federation and then take me away. papa heard about it. he went to the post and paid them money, all the money he had. our house in port-au-prince and all the land his father had left him, he gave it all away to save my life. this is why he was so mad. (24)The narrator is deeply grateful for the sacrifice her father made, saying that he is more than a father to her now that she knows what he sacrificed for her. Although the family was starting to fall apart due to the stress of living in such a dangerous place, the process of getting through to Ville Rose strengthened the bonds between them and taught the female narrator to be grateful for everything her father has done for her, even if it doesn’t seem like he cares for her.
The next story, “Nineteen Thirty-Seven,” further supports the idea that change is painful but will lead to improvement. The main character, Josephine, was born during the massacre of Haitians by Dios Trujillo, the leader of the Dominican Republic. Her mother escaped across the Massacre River, where “she could still see the soldiers chopping up her mother’s body and throwing it into the river along with many others” (40). This event would have been extremely bloody and traumatic for survivors like Manman, and the terror of narrowly escaping the Dominican soldiers and stress of giving birth right after deeply affected her. However, this allowed Manman to start a new life in a country that had similar people to her, and form relationships with fellow women who lost their mothers in the massacre. She also gave Josephine a chance to live, which would not have been possible if the Dominican soldiers caught and butchered her. After Manman dies in prison, a woman named Jacqueline, who went to the Massacre River with Josephine and Manman, comes to Josephine’s home in Ville Rose and notifies her that her mother is dead. They go to the prison in Port-au-Prince, where a guard tells them, “She will be ready for burning this afternoon” (46). Before this, Josephine did not have a very strong reaction to Manman’s death, but this assertion that her mother is truly dead shocks her: “My blood froze inside me. I lowered my head as the news sank in” (46). She is deeply affected by this because of her strong relationship with her mother, which was strengthened by going on trips to the Massacre River and giving thanks to the river for saving them. Josephine collects her mother’s pillow, which was filled with her hair, showing that she accepts the heritage that Manman has passed down to her. She comes out of this tragic event more aware of her own identity, and viewing her mother as the woman who flew out of the river instead of the sickly prisoner at death’s door.
In many of Krik? Krak!’s stories, the setting is Ville Rose. Each time a story takes place there, the main characters go through some kind of change that hurts them at first, but eventually helps them become a better person. The female narrator’s chance at a regime-free life and Josephine’s better understanding of her culture and mother, which both came at a sacrifice, provides insight into Danticat’s view of Haiti: although Haiti has been subject to numerous coups, periods of tyrannical rule, and natural disasters, it still maintains its unique blend of French and African culture, which has only gotten richer over time.