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Reconstituting Female Subjects in Haiti and the Diaspora

  • Donette Francis
Chapter
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Abstract

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.

Keywords

Sexual Abuse Sexual Violence Fairy Tale Sexual Trauma Cane Field 
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Notes

  1. 2.
    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
  4. Jana Evans Braziel, “Daffodils, Rhizomes, Migrations: Narrative Coming of Age in the Diasporic Writings of Edwidge Danticat and Jamaica Kincaid,” Meridians: Feminism, Race, Transnationalism 3, no. 2 (2003): 110–31Google Scholar
  5. Dorsia Smith, “A Violent Homeland: Recalling Haiti in Edwidge Danticat’s Novels,” in Narrating the Fast: (Re) Constructing Memory, (Re) Negotiating History, ed. Nandita Batra (Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars, 2007), 133–40.Google Scholar
  6. 8.
    Mary Renda, Taking Haiti: Military Occupation and the Culture of U.S. Imperialism, 1915–1940 (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2001), 10.Google Scholar
  7. 17.
    Terry Rey, “Junta, Rape and Religion in Haiti: 1993/94,” Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion 15, no. 2 (Fall 1999): 79.Google Scholar
  8. 20.
    Judith Herman, Trauma and Recovery (New York: Basic Books, 1992).Google Scholar
  9. 25.
    I find instructive Caribbean literary and cultural critics Carolyn Cooper and Michael Bucknor’s discussion of body vibes and body memory in Caribbean women’s writings. They use it to link the oral and the written as a praxis deployed by Caribbean women writers and, for Cooper specifically, to maintain African cultural practices. My purpose here, however, is to focus on the traumatic histories women’s bodies contain and how recent Caribbean women writers have taken up the task of writing these political body histories. See Cooper’s Noises in the Blood: Orality Gender and the Vulgar Body in Jamaican Popular Culture (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1995)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Bucknor’s “Body-Vibes: Spacing the Performance in Lillian Allen’s Dub Poetry,” Thamyris 5, no. 2 (Autumn 1998): 301–22.Google Scholar
  11. 45.
    Becky Wangsgaard Thompson, “A Way Outa No Way: Eating Problems Among African-American, Latina, and White Women, Gender and Society 6, no. 4 (1992): 551.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. 49.
    Saidiya Hartman, Scenes of Subjection: Terror, Slavery and Self-making in Nineteenth-century America (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997), 51.Google Scholar
  13. 51.
    Griffin, Farah Jasmine. “Textual Healing: Claiming Black Women’s Bodies, the Erotic and Resistance in Contemporary Novels of Slavery,” Callaloo 19.2 (Spring 1996): 519–36.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. 61.
    Karen McCarthy Brown, Mama Lola: A Vodou Priestess in Brooklyn (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1991), 227.Google Scholar

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© Donette Francis 2010

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  • Donette Francis

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