Reconstituting Female Subjects in Haiti and the Diaspora

  • Donette Francis


The popular media often represents the sociopolitical history of Haiti as some combination of “first free Black Republic,” “nation marked by successive political upheavals,” and the “poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere.” In Breath, Eyes, Memory, Haitian American novelist Edwidge Danticat writes an intimate version of Haiti’s political history by focusing on women’s bodies—and the stories embedded there. Consistent with the corpus of Danticat’s writings,1 this 1994 novel grapples with the intertwined histories of gender and sexuality, migration and culture, and nation-building and empire in twentieth-century Haiti. In explicitly unromantic terms, Danticat makes public the social history of sexual abuses committed against Haitian females relegated to “silences too horrific to disturb,” and encourages readers to link issues of sexuality to experiences of citizenship.


Sexual Abuse Sexual Violence Fairy Tale Sexual Trauma Cane Field 
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    Edwidge Danticat, Breath, Eyes, Memory (New York: Vintage Books, 1994), 208.Google Scholar
  2. 4.
    Beverley Bell’s book, which gives the sexual testimonies of Haitian women, includes a preface by Danticat. See Bell’s Walking on Fire: Haitian Women’s Stories of Survival and Resistance (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2001).Google Scholar
  3. 5.
    Earlier critical interpretations subordinate the issue of sexual violence to the more generalizable process of migration and transculturation. Scholars, for example, explored how the novel’s depiction of daffodils and food/cooking serve as metaphors of diasporic resistance. See Valerie Loichot, “Edwidge Danticat’s Kitchen History,” Meridians: Feminism, Race, Transnationalism 5, no. 1 (2004): 92–116Google Scholar
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© Donette Francis 2010

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  • Donette Francis

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