Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close…

I notice that no one else has blogged on the new book yet so if we didn’t have to, enjoy my random tangent, and if we did, here it is…

I love the way that the story unfolds itself like a sheet.  With each new rant and the turn of a page, we discover something new about a boy who lost his father, a woman who loved her husband but he loved her sister, and even a bit about complete strangers who all have sadness in them.  I couldn’t help but think that Oskar, by seeking out people with the name Black, he is creating memories with his father still.  His journey is the last Reconnaissance Expeditions.  We put together pieces of the puzzle just as Oskar does in his search for the lock to his key.

I find particularly interesting Oskar’s “heavy boots” depending on the situation.  I haven’t quite nailed down a literal meaning, but I imagine it has something to do with becoming a man, losing innocence, or some other romantic notion about carrying life’s burdens.  A poignant image for me while reading the book is of a small boy filling himself with knowledge in an attempt to be more like his father and listening to the adored man’s last phone messages.  It’s as if he is one of those elephants listening to a recording of a dead loved one’s voice.

In my ENGL 396 class, Memory Theater, we have been discussing balances in life: walking, eating, and love versus hate.  I think of that balance when I think of the yes and no tattoos and also of the man’s inability to speak.  Why does he lose words?  I have a lot of questions, but since I’ve only begun reading, I will wait for the answers.

The Dew Breaker – Blog 2

I think the most striking thing about The Dew Breaker is the way in which the entire story is put together.  By bringing together different scenes told from different viewpoints, the reader is allowed to see through the eyes of different narrators and therefore works to bring the story together for themselves.  Danticat plays with this format, carefully controlling what information is released when.  For example, the reader learns about the death of Anne’s younger brother at the beginning of the book, but it isn’t until the last story that the reader realizes through the narrative of Anne’s stepbrother that Anne herself caused this death.
 
By selectively releasing information to the reader, Danticat allows the many layers of the characters in her book to be peeled away like an onion.  The reader is constantly going further into the psyche of the characters and at the end comes away with a better understanding of not only who they are, but also why they are the way they are.  This selective release of information also mimics the way in which some of the characters themselves discover things.  For example, Ka grew up unaware of the fact that her father was a prison guard and, therefore, did not really know who her father was until she was told.
 
The final story in the book also sets up Ka’s parents as unreliable narrators.  They refuse to address the death of Anne’s stepbrother, the preacher, in honest terms.  “He endorsed the public story, the one that the preacher had killed himself.  And she accepted that he had only arrested him and turned him over to someone else.  Neither believing the other nor themselves” (241).  The event of the preacher’s death is central to most of the events that occur in the book, and the fact that Ka’s parents cannot openly acknowledge the truth to each other or anyone else leads the reader to wonder what other things they cannot acknowledge.

The Dew resolutions

Finishing the book, I keep thinking about time and how great a role it plays in each of the characters’ lives. In “The Dew Breaker” we learn the circumstances under which Anne meets her husband. It seems that, like most of the other pivotal scenes in the book, timing and what is said and not said is crucial to how Anne and her husband interact. Anne’s reliance on miracles and home remedies to explain things in her life was further explored in “The Dew Breaker.” Everyone in this book is grasping for some sense of understanding or control in their life, like Anne with her remedies. The last chapter the discrepancy between what is expected and what is reality continues to play out. The book does not have a neat, clear ending and I did not expect it to. It comes back around to how the first chapter ended. It seems like everyone in the book gets close to understanding, knowing or explaining some truth about their life but gets cut short. It is very much how we as readers may feel about the connections or lack thereof between the individual stories in The Dew Breaker. There are connections but what do they mean? What does the last scene mean? How would we read the previous chapters if we had known all that is revealed in the last chapter? I feel that we are supposed to have questions and we are supposed to feel somewhat lost. As much as I hate to reference it, it reminds me of House of Leaves in that I feel we are supposed to “get lost” with the characters to a certain extent. In all the books and stories we have read this semester the authors have made a great effort to involve the reader to feel a sense of what their characters are going through. Danticat could have tied everything together in the last chapter and made resolutions in her characters’ lives but it wouldn’t ring true at all.

Final Dew Breaker Blog

  I am traditionally a big fan of the connected short story format of The Dew Breaker, Cane and Winesburg, Ohio.  This method facilitates the telling of one story through several different perspectives.  The stories in The Dew Breaker don’t seem to outwardly connect with the same location, point of view, etc., but tone, content and various motifs are found throughout all of the stories.  The most broad theme throughout the stories is a modern view on the lives of Haitian-american immigrants.  All stories reveal elements from the loosely related lives surrounding the actions of the “Dew Breaker”.  Danticat’s use of the “short story” style chapters juxtaposes the lives affected by the Dew Breaker causing Dany, as well as the reader to recognize and ask “why one single person” can posess the “power to destroy his entire life”.  The Dew Breaker is more than just a man who tortured prisoners a long time ago in Haiti.  He and his actions are a focal point of the past that links together the other characters.  He represents regret, change, remorse, and all other potential sentiments associated with a look back on past actions.  He is a personification of the killings and injustices committed by all governments on their people, and these connecting stories show the depth of his influence on the lives in the future.  The main purpose of The Dew Breaker is to show that the past is not really past, and the influence of one persons actions linger and magnify with the change in perspective created by time.

Closure and Resolution in “The Dew Breaker”

While some readers might have desired a stronger sense of closure or resolution from the ending, I found the phone conversation between Anne and her daughter to be satisfying not only because it is true to life, but more so, it is true to the characters and the novel itself.  The women’s phone conversation is marked by both tension and avoidance, which seems only natural when you consider how little time has passed between Ka’s father’s confession and her conversation with her mother.  Ka is still digesting her father’s words when she speaks to her mother, and much time and reflection are usually required for forgiveness and acceptance of this magnitude to occur.  In addition, one might not expect a rebellious, artsy daughter and her devoutly Catholic mother to always see eye-to-eye on various issues (for example, their views on religion) due to differences in their personalities and personal values. 

 The conclusion remains true to the novel itself because it reiterates the themes of parental avoidance and secrets that we have witnessed between Nadine and her family in Water Child, and elsewhere.  Therefore, Ka and Anne’s strained, incomplete communication echoes the novel’s portrayal of parent/family communication patterns, and a successful communication between this mother and daughter — or even a heartfelt conversation— would have seemed entirely out of character for The Dew Breaker. 

After finishing the book, the idea that I mentioned in my first post, of the importance of context, now seems to be tied closely with the central theme of redemption. Actually, I think one of the reasons for the book’s various points-of-view may be found here; we are shown some of the characters, especially Ka and her mother and father, from different angles, and in terms of what effect they have had on the lives of others.

Redemption, or some of it at least, in this book seems to come mainly from a change in circumstance. The most obvious example of this is of course, the Dew Breaker/barber and his and his wife’s flight to New York. Freda and her friends have appearantly also tried to do this, although perhaps not as successfuly in Freda’s case. For the most part, each ignores the past when it is possible. There is for example, the barber and his wife’s tacit agreement not to delve too deeply into their pasts, even though each knows that he was the one who killed her half-brother the preacher.

Beatrice, on the other hand, cannot seem to escape her past. In spite of constant changes in location, she cannot be redemed because unlike the barber and his wife, she cannot accept it as past, and must keep reliving it. For me, there is stil some question as to whether Danticat is suggesting that the past must be faced before it can be accpeted. Dany apparently has the same problem with reliving and obsessing over his past. He, on the other hand, is able to let it go; he begins to think of the barber not as an object of revenge and obsession but as simply a force in his past. His acceptance seems bound up with his night talking. In his case, redemption is found by facing the past first, and only then being able to accept it.

The Broken Dew

So, as a preface: I do not have a raging “hate-on” for The Dew Breaker as I did for Dream Jungle (in no small part because Dew Breaker isn’t composed in half of flagrantly plagarized material from a copyrighted work, but that’s not the focus on this blog post). Indeed, if anything the two works offer a stark contrast in one aspect in particular: shifting viewpoint.

In Dream Jungle, the jumping of the narrative camera occured almost without rhyme or reason; there rarely seemed to be a linking thread between the various jumps. Dew Breaker is practically the opposite: starting with a few “establishing” chapters in the beginning of the work, we then follow the narrative path of those characters who appeared as brief flashes in previous chapters, and learn something more of the characters themselves and the world-view which binds them all together. Ka’s story introduces her father, who’s life slips in and out of the narrative all the way through… until we get to the end of the story and understand, fully, why he became what he did. We not only understand it directly from his narrative – we understand from “Night Talkers” the kind of young life he came from, we understand from “Funeral Singer” the frustrations of integrating into a strange land, we understand from the start how his daughter was fundamentally different due to growing up in America – and thus never carried the burdens that he did, and allowed her to be his “good angel”. Every single short story segment is placed just so that it elaborates on what has been said before, and informs what will immediately follow.

It’s something the author of Dream Jungle would do well to read herself.

The Dew Breaker Blog Dos

    I am not too sure how I feel about this novel. I enjoyed the last chapter, but im not sure the payoff was enough. The novel doesnt really go anywhere. It consists of these seemingly disjointed stories, that do eventually connect, but basically just by coincidence. There just isnt a whole story here. It attempts to be a full s, but the connections arent enough. For example the first chapter of the book is about the barber and his daughter going to sell a piece of her art work to a movie star; by the end of the novel i had just about forgotten about that story and the two following it becasue it really didnt matter in the end.

     Another thing about the book that bothered me, that is along the same lines as what i stated before, is the story “Seven.” It seems like the only purpose that story was to introduce charactors who later in the novel had chapters dedicated to them. And maybe im not as smaryt as other peoplen who read this book but what is the point of the “Bridal Seamstress” chapter. To me, i think the book could have done just as well without it, but maybe i didnt catch the connection made in the story.

   Maybe the whole book is just supposed to be a story of revolution in Haiti. Maybe the connections arent that important, either way it didnt work for me. I really didnt care about the charactors becasue not enough time was given to them. Therefore the stories seemed to me to be pointless. Maybe i just didnt get it.

      

The Shame Plant

In the “Dew Breaker” chapter, the torturer dreams of his mother demonstrating for him how the leaves of a mimosa branch curl into themselves when touched but gradually open up again after a period of time.  He continues to tap the branch to receive the effect, and his dream end with his mother handing him a sprig and indicating that he should hold onto it.

Throughout most of the novel, this is the way that Danticat shows her characters dealing with shame.  Ka’s parents are both shut up with shame until they are ready to open up and reveal to their daughter the truth of their past.  The dew breaker has held onto the lesson of the shame plant in other ways throughout the novel.  In the chapter “The Book of Miracles,” the reader learns that Ka’s parents have led a largely inconspicuous life as a reaction to the shame that their shared history places upon them.

The discussion on hidden pasts can also be linked to the symbol of the shame plant.  While hidden pasts can be linked to, as Ka puts it, a sense that they could go on living their lives perfectly fine without knowing, the characters’ pasts generally have an element of shame to them as well.  The husband and the wife in “Seven” know little about each others’ lives while they were apart – that they have been unfaithful to one another is a source of shame that leads then to shut themselves off from each other.  Nadine, in “Water Child,” hides her true reasons for her lack of communication with her parents.  Shame would most likely be turned toward her by her parents if she were to tell them about her aborted child, the product of an affair with a married man.

Can other instances like these be explored? Sure. Are they sometimes a stretch? Maybe.  But is there are reason that Danticat included this piece about the shame plant? I’d say most definitely.

The Dew Breaker-Blog 2

My favorite of all the stories has to be the title story “The Dew Breaker”, where Danticat attempts to connect the pieces from the other stories. When I first started reading the novel, I speculated that all the stories were actually about Ka and her family. I can now say that I have been successful in figuring out some of the connections. One of the major themes that we discussed in class and was mentioned on a few of our previous blogs was “hidden pasts” or “secrets”. The last section of “The Dew Breaker” reveals that Ka’s fathers last prisoner and Anne’s stepbrother were actually the same person. Anne and her husband understand that her brother was killed by him but she neglects the mention of the issue. They continued their lives with describing his “last prisoner” and “my stepbrother” as two different people.

“He referring to his “last prisoner,” the one that scarred his face, and she to my “my stepbrother, the famous preacher,” neither of them venturing beyond those coded utterances, dreading the day when someone other than themselves would more fully convene the two halves of this same person.” And the person who discovered that the “last prisoner” and “my stepbrother” was Ka. Immediately upon learning of the secret Ka questions her mother regarding her love for her father. Anne and her husband understand that it wasn’t actually love, it was a relationship that was merely based on the need of survival. Anne was a alone after her brothers arrest and Ka’s father had just killed a man and they both needed each other support. Therefore, Anne and her husband decided to get married and forget the prisoner and her stepbrother. Anne agreed that the preacher killed himself and continued to live her life.

 

Danticat appears to be indicating that the vulnerability of the characters lead them to make their decisions regardless of the fact that Anne’s stepbrother was actually killed by her own husband. Danticat also shows similar personalities of the characters in “Seven”. Even though each character has had a secret life before their reunion, they refuse to mention it to each other and continue to lives together. I think that Danticat is attempting to demonstrate that sometimes relationships can be formed due to incorrect reasons. Anne and her husband are drawn to each other because of their vulnerability regardless of their relationship to the preacher. Anne and Eric and his wife get married because Eric falls in love with her at first sight. She decides to marry him even though she is in love with someone else. I think Danticat blends the stories were efficiently and tries to provide a portrait of the many characteristics of humans. She might also be indicating that people from different boundaries have many commonalities such as “hidden pasts” and “secrets”.

Bigger isn’t always better

My main goal while reading the end of the text was to come to some sort of conclusion on my feelings towards “the dew breaker” a.k.a. “the barber.” By the way, do we ever learn his name? I can’t find it, but maybe I’m just blind. I read the last chapter hoping to gain cosure on the identity of this contradictory character. After reading I found a specific aspect of the chapter which allowed me to believe that the dewbreaker had, in some way, been redeemed.

I was awestruck and disgusted by the dewbreakers rise to power and lack of remorse. One passage which really affected me was on page 196: “he enjoyed watching his body grow wider and meatier just as his sense of power did.” He was not just gorging on food, but also on his own people. He fed off of their hope and fear. He enlarged himself in order to feel like God (199), but he ended up seeming more like a devil. I really didn’t want to like this guy, but then something happened to change my mind. After killing the preacher, he had a strange reaction: “It was only then that he emptied his stomache and once he’d begun, it seemed as if his retching would never stop” (230). He was a pro at killing and torturing, so the reader is forced to see the importance of his reaction to this moment. He made an attempt to purge his sins, and I think the reader is supposed to understand that his purging will be a lifelong occurence, hence “his retching would never stop.” As much as I want to hate him, I can’t because he really does seem to attempt redemption. Or maybe we are supposed to understand that an external agent is at work, causing him to purge. Either way, I’m glad he took off the pounds. 

the dew breaker blog 2

After reading through the entire novel, I felt as though I were right back at the beginning again.  Though every chapter reads like a separate story, each story contributes to the whole of the novel and of  the people’s history, creating a web-like effect where everyone is tangled up in one giant weave of their past.   In each chapter Danticat shines a glimpse of light on the past and to the purpose of one of the other chapters and how it pertains to where the entire novel is going.   However she also attempts to leave some sense of mystery about the past unsolved until the very end of the book, which is symbolic of life, having seemingly unknown deep connections with people. 

I was struck most powerfully by the ending, of discovering the prison guard’s wife’s identity.  As Danticat tells her story in The Dew Breaker she reflects, “There is no way to escape this dread anymore, this pendulum between regret and forgiveness, this fright that the most important relationships of her life were always on the verge of being severed or lost, that the people closest to her were always disappearing.” (p.242)   The image of a pendulum swinging between regret and forgiveness is represented by almost every character in the novel.  Each person has this deep-rooted, troubled, and sometimes dark history that seems to always revert back to feelings of regret and a need to find forgiveness, sometimes for themselves and sometimes for others. 

As Danticat shifts between stories, that of the Haitian background and of the New York City present, the effect is that the reader gets to experience the how and why a specific people and their culture emerged in the United States.  The past is so easily forgotten, there being millions of immigrants in this country, each with their own unique history.  But Danticat reminds us that there is a reason for everything and for everyone involved here.  Danticat exposes how some people seek refuge from the political and civil unrest in Haiti to find a better life with greater opportunity in America, whereas others escape to America in search of protection from the horrors they committed in Haiti.  In the end, there is an over-all sense that everyone wants to forget some part of their past, to escape history.          

By leaving the reader with Dew Breaker and connecting the end with the beginning story of Ka and her father, it seems as thought the point of the entire novel is that history is like a giant spider web that we are all bound within.  There is no escaping the past, regardless of how many regrets or need for forgiveness a person has.  There is only life and continuing on, and remembering the past is inevitable because as Danticat portrays, every individual story is connected by another’s story and this chain of lives continues on.          

Fathers in Dew Breaker

The last section of this book was by far my favorite by all of the amazingly ironic connections that we all waited for and got in the end.  I also found intriguing the layers of parenthood and communication between them.

Michel says, about his own father as well as of the father of his previous nation speaking to his unborn son, “I knew she meant the dictator father of the dictator son, but somehow I wanted to offer her an opening into a conversation that even then I knew we’d never have” (162).  So much rests in that one sentence.  Michel knew who his father was, but neither his mother nor father would recognize their connection.  He alludes to a time when Haitians placed a religious connotation to the political father of their nation.  He also speaks to the significant silence about his family relations, much like the silence in the other families: Ka and her parents’ secrets, that between Eric and his long distance wife, Nadine and her parents’ disconnectedness, and other characters’ personal quest for validation or justice.

To speak further on this religious placement, I must first quote the people’s prayer: “Our father who art in the national palace, hallowed by thy name.  Thy will be done, in the capital, as it is in the provinces.  Give us this day our new Haiti and forgive us our anti-patriotic thoughts, but do not forgive those anti-patriots who pit on our country and trespass against it.  Let them succumb to the weight of their own venom.  And deliver them not from evil” (185).  I’m not even religious, and this speaks to me.  The people compare the “father” of a country to the ultimate Father; he now has absolute people because they have given it to him.

How interesting the author pulls together personal, national, and religious fathers in the end of the book that makes us think of right and wrong v. forgiveness.

You have failed yourself, and you can’t runaway from that.

As I was finishing The Dew Breaker, I found myself feeling very conflicted. On one hand, the book is so well written and inter-twined, and I did not want it to end. On the other, it’s so profoundly sad and tormented that I felt like dying a little every time I put it down. Danticat writes characters that are so compelling, that even in their most despicable moments I can still empathize or feel pity for most of them.

I assumed there was going to be some dark twist at the end that involved the family, and I was not disappointed, but I was surprised that I didn’t get much of a resolution from it. Having Anne’s daughter hang up on her while they’re on the phone ends the novel on such a bitter note. The only conclusion I can draw from the final chapter is that the family’s stories had all been told, their shame re-lived, and their punishments (both emotional and literal) examined. I feel like I am missing something, and I can’t put my finger on it. Maybe it goes back to the idea of who do we really know, and can the people we are closest to really be the ones who know us best? Or perhaps, you can try to escape your torment, but no matter where you go, it’ll stay with you.

Aside from being thoroughly depressed after reading, I also came to see all the connections among the vignettes, and I can see the book as one long narrative and not a collection of short stories. I love how the ending makes a full circle of all the character’s journeys. The final chapter makes it clear to me why all the relationships between the characters are strained, and why trust is so hard to achieve.

Escape and Start Anew

The characters featured in Danticat’s novel have all escaped from their pasts and started new lives. The characters I want to focus on are Ka’s father, Constant, and Claude. They have all done something bad—Ka’s father was the torturous prison guard, Constant was a member of the Volunteers, and Claude shot his father. But they have all escaped from their unsavory pasts by leaving the place that they committed these deeds.
Both Ka’s father and Constant left Haiti to start new lives in New York City. There, most people do not know about their past lives and the evils they have committed. They keep these lives secret; we can see this when Ka does not even know about her father. Ka’s father feels bad about what he has done; he turns over a new leaf and starts a new life as a family man and a quiet citizen. We do not know if Constant is repenting for his crimes, but he also has his new life as a new person where no one associates him with his past.
Claude is another example of a character who committed an evil deed but has escaped from it and is living a new life. But his situation is reversed—he committed his crime in New York and is now back in Haiti. The people of the village that he lives in know that he has committed this crime, but they either do not care or know there is nothing they can do because they take him in and treat him as if nothing has happened. We know Claude is, if not repenting, at least coming to terms with what he has done. On page 103 he tells Dany “I came around; I can honestly say I was reformed in prison”. This act of being reformed makes him want to live a better life. He expresses this clearly when on page 119 he says “I’ve done something really bad that makes me want to live my life like [an angel] now”.

Changing locations for these three characters allows them to bury their pasts and start over. By doing so, both Claude and Ka’s father forgive themselves for what they have done and allow themselves a new life. This theme of escape and starting over that runs through Danticat’s book is expressed clearly through these characters. This theme is also seen in the setup of the book. We start one story and then escape from it and start over with another one

it’s funny as hell but no one laughs when they get there; you can’t see the thin air so why the hell should you care?

This is hardly a choice, between the Macoutes and the Atlantic, Haiti either disappears or is disappeared one father, one brother at a time. Danticat writes the prisons as dark and unknowable as the ocean at night. Both entities swallow men entire without apology, explanation, or remainder. Neither the waves nor the gendarmes yield to reason, right or pity and both operate in a manner seemingly indiscriminate, unfathomable.
This connection is most strongly drawn in the last chapter, “The Dew Breaker”. Anne slipped into an epileptic episode on the beach while her younger brother was devoured by the water. She was his ward when he disappeared. The preacher’s wife was murdered as a warning to her husband, the effect of inflammatory words. Though neither brother nor sister is to blame both share a sense of guilt.
The ocean seldom offers up a body to mourn, most of those who go “across the waters” (173) are grieved in absentia. They do not die so much as stop; they do not continue to exist somewhere else, their existence is erased by insistent salt water. The sea returns empty fishing boats and nothing else (177). The ocean took Anne’s younger brother like this. The prison disappeared her other brother, the preacher, and also left nothing. The younger brother’s body slipped forever below the brine; the older brother burned.
When Anne first encounters the Dew Breaker himself, bleeding and reeling out of the prison, when he lets her believe he’s escaped, she immediately flashes on an image of her brother returned from the ocean, grown gargantuan on salt water and seaweed (238). Danticat holds up the prison in one clause and the ocean in the next. The reader has to look at both together and try to negotiate their significances. The ocean has no intention. Should the reader then understand the Duvalier regime to be not cruel but primal, a force that destroys to no purpose? Does this comparison, pairing of unstoppable forces, push the Dew Breaker any closer to absolution? Perhaps this is one of those forceful images that questions but does not answer. The comparison exists, one more connection to consider.

Finishing the Novel

After finishing the book, I have come to appreciate the different chapters as different stories.  As a reader, it keeps me interested and not knowing what part of the story is going to come next.  Also, having the chapters not necessarily connect like a usual novel made me think more about the story.  I wasn’t always told who exactly the characters were, instead, I had to make the connections on my own.  Also, often the time frame of the novel jumped around.  Some chapters take place in more modern times, while some take place a few decades back.  By doing this, the author has created a dynamic that at first may be confusing, but then comes together to keep the reader interested.

Another aspect of the novel I thought was really well done and interesting was the Haitian culture.  Incorporating actual cultural issues into the novel makes it that much more real.  Even simple things such as description of food and music pulled me into what the lives of the characters were like.  Relationships between the characters were important as well.  Each one had a unique way of communicating with other people.  I thought maybe this had something to do with their culture and I could imagine these people in my head as I was reading about them.  Throughout the novel, there was also an element of danger.  It seemed like for all the characters, a dangerous situation wasn’t too far away.  They all seemed to live on the edge a little bit.  In my first blog post, I was pretty confused as to where all the characters fit in the book.  After finishing the novel, however, I can see the different themes that pop up and how the characters all connect with each other.

Tremendous, Secret Agonies

One of the things that Danticat does exceptionally well is highlight the internal struggles that the characters go through.  Most of the women in the novel appear to the outside world as strong, independent, and capable:  There is Ka, the rebellious artist; Anne with the strong religious backbone;  Nadine, the independent nurse who gives monetary help to her parents; Michel’s mother, who raised Michel with no help from his father.  Each of these women has their own occupation, most of them are not in relationships, but all of them face a tremendous struggle.  Ka and Anne must both confront the sins which their father/husband has committed.  Anne comments twice that her life is a “pendulum between forgiveness and regret” (86) and she carries “this fright that the most important relationships of her life were always on the verge of being severed or lost, that the people closest to her were always disappearing” (242).  Nadine puts up a tough face at the hospital where she works, but weeps in private.  Michel suspects that his mother died from her “heart shattering into little pieces because, unlike [him], she had loved Christophe and suffered quietly from his not loving her back” (164).  I find it interesting that so much attention is paid to developing the many facades these women produce for themselves, that they quietly suffer their whole lives, unable to escape their loneliness, regrets, and fears.  Indeed,  Danticat reminds us that there are people “whose tremendous agonies [fill] every blank space in their lives [. . .] men and women chasing fragments of themselves long lost to others” (137-138), and readers walk away from Dew Breaker affected by the haunted pasts and suffering of her complex, well developed female characters.     

  

Searching for Resolutions in The Dew Breaker

While I enjoyed The Dew Breaker  very much, I feel that it lacks any real sense of resolution. Much like Dream Jungle, this novel follows several characters and their individual stories, yet none of them really end with any kind of resolution. Instead, their stories just stop. The last chapter was interesting, however, in how it alternates between The Dew Breaker and Anne. We learn how he got his scar on his face as well as his last assignmetn as a Dew Breaker and how he ultimately meets Anne. Maybe I was expecting some sort of climax or for the Dew Breaker to finally find redemption for his crimes, but that is why I felt the novel lacked any sort of closure. I doubt that Danticat simply ran out of ideas. Perhaps the lack of closure is meant to reflect a more realistic look at life, how few things really have closure and not all can find peace or redemption for their crimes or sins. On the other hand, maybe the real ending and closure is actually in the first chapter of the novel, in which the Dew Breaker finally finds the courage to confess to his daughter his terrible past, not as the victim she both pitied and loved but rather the torturer. Together, his daughter and wife serve as “his kas, his good angels, his masks against his own face.” Perhaps it is here that he finally finds redemption, finally is able to mask the scars, both physical and psychological, of his past. However, I can’t help but wonder if perhaps a victim of his past, perhaps Dany or someone else, might try take revenge for his terrible acts.

The Dew Breaker: Blog 2

The themes we touched on in class were:

1)      hidden pasts

2)      secrets/confessions

3)      role reversals

4)      mistaken pasts

5)      atonement/redemption

6)      narration

7)      burdens

8)      communication

9)      parental distance or avoidance

 

The two final chapters of the book were The Funeral Singer and The Dew Breaker.

In The Funeral Singer, I must admit I liked the fact that there was a chronology separated by weeks as the story is told.  As most of the book is a fragmented and hard to follow piece.

What I am going to focus on is The Dew Breaker chapter.  I think what happens in this chapter is so realistic and gruesome it seems that this chapter alone overshadows the rest of the book.  The scene I am talking about is the torture scene and the specific detail encountered at each step of the way until the Preacher’s death.  I suppose some of the questions that come to mind is did the preacher’s death have anything to do with the death of “the father” of the early characters in the novel?  When the other characters had mentioned “their father” had died for a political reason.  Overall, however, the systematic process by which the preacher was tortured to death seemed to overshadow the rest of the novel in terms of importance.

Another part of The Dew Breaker I need to confirm is the ending.  Concerning the fat man in the prison, the man who tortured the prison inmates, I would draw a correlation that he is spoken about throughout the novel as we learn that he has gained a lot of weight.  It was mentioned earlier he liked getting bigger as it made him “more powerful” both mentally and physically.

The part I do not quite understand is how the woman at the end of the novel, if and why she falls in love and marries the prison guard who tortured the inmates.  They never questioned each other nor believed what the other had to say regarding that night or the preacher’s death.  It was almost as if they were afraid to dig deeper into what exactly happened that night.

Concentrating on one of the themes, parental distance or avoidance we see this at the end.  When the woman was talking to her daughter on the phone, we see the avoidance, when the daughter did not want to hear anymore, she hung up the phone.  In addition, another confusing part about this novel is unlike The Man in My Basement, is when you are looking for the character’s names, you often have to backtrack.  They are infrequently named by their real names and then when the story is being told, it is “he” or “she.”  Where with The Man in My Basement, we have Bennet or Charles said this or that.  This made parts of the story a little confusing.  Coupled with the style of narration, the stories in the novel are comprehendible but the story overall is difficult to follow, if one exists.

“The Dew Breaker” Blog 2: Escape?

Throughout “The Dew Breaker” Danticat explores all the ways that characters try to escape oppression by leaving Haiti.  It becomes clear, however, that they cannot entirely choose what “baggage” they take with them when immigrating.  It is slightly unsettling, after all, to think that despite all the trouble certain Haitian immigrants went to by fleeing from the dictatorship and torturers, that they could run into the very people whom they were escaping from down the street from them in the United States. 

Danticat seems to question the entire dynamic of escape because none of her characters is truly able to break free from his past while living in the make shift American community she creates.  It seems as though “The Dew Breaker” discloses Haiti’s tumultuous past to reveal how generations of Haitians still live in constant upheaval no matter how far from Haiti they travel.  In “Night Talkers,” for instance, Dany travels back to Haiti to visit his aunt after immigrating to America.  In “Monkey Tails,” Michael recounts his friend’s escape from the country during the riots.  Further, in “Seven,” another roomate investigates how the time apart from his Haitian wife and the cultulral change has altered their relationship.  In all these stories the characters travel back and forth between New York and Haiti, between the new hope they hope to find in America and the disillusionment of Haiti from which they all try to escape.  No matter how hard they try or how far they travel, however, it seems as though they cannot escape what they have endured in the past.   

This question of what it means to escape is prevalent throughout the text and raises important questions about the Haitian-American experience: unfortunately for most of these characters their new American community seems to represent a society that merely mirrors that of their native Haiti.  Though the Bridal Seamstress has established herself in America, for instance, she still lives with “tremendous agonies” of her past torture that fill every blank space in her life.  It seems, therefore, that the horrors inflicted on these characters by the “Dew Breaker” do not exist in a vacuum, but rather follow these people to whatever community they may go.  Once again, the dynamic of what it means to truly escape is brought into question because Danticat’s characters face problems when trying to escape the emotional baggage they bring with them when they immigrate. 

Dew Breaker Blog Post 1-Context and Perception

Context seems to be rather important in many instances. For example, when it occurs to her that her father may be trying to tell her he is dying, Ka goes from being furious with her father for throwing her sculpture into the lake, to making frantic promises and plans for things she would do if he were. At first her view of her father completely changes after his confession, as she comes to view him in a completely different light. He soon reminds her, however, that he is a different person now, and she begins to think of him from both sides, as she said, “maybe his past offered more choices than being either hunter or prey.”

There is also the separation that the protagonist of the second section feels from his wife. It seems that they have both changed from the people they used to be, and the people they were in their relationship’s “many dream-rehearsed endings.” The narrator talks about how the laryngectomy patients would wake up and forget that they would be unable to talk after the operation; where once they would have been happy just to survive, they are now devastated and angered by the loss of their voices.

The appearance of the supposed Emmanuel Constant in the middle of church intrudes on and changes the context for Ka and her parents. Because Ka does not know at this point about her father’s past, her reaction to the man is very different from her parents’. Anne seems like a perfect example of a person lost in her own context. She seems to have a lot of trouble interacting with, understanding and being understood by her daughter and husband.

Hiding Behind a Mask

In the first few parts of Danticat’s The Dew Breaker, there is a constant search for truth. Similar to Hagedorn’s Dream Jungle, the narration jumps from person to person. I am intrigued by Ka; her name itself and its meaning was very interesting. Ka’s personality seems to be one that is complicated. She doesn’t have close relationships with either her mother or father, which in turn seems to have forced her to become passive, distanced, and yet eager in seeking for approval. Ka adores her father – his mystery (how he lies about where he is from everytime he is asked), his scar (which scared her when she was little), and she accepts her mother for who she is (one to go to mass every day and not go to work if she didn’t have to). Ka seems okay with her parents decisions, eventhough she doesn not know the real meanings behind the way her parents live their life. When she is told the secret that has weighed her father’s heart for many years, she is more hurt than anything; her father had been living a lie. Every since childhood, Ka has had a specific image of her father being this particular man that he is through the life he lead. Ka’s fathers’ “prison nightmares” were accepted as part of life and she embraced him and his scar. When the truth is revealed that her father was one of the bad guys (which she thinks he had other options in life) this image of her father was shattered. Her whole life of art was devoted to understanding and expressing her father as a subject and an object, and all along she was not scultping her father.

In the chapter titled “Seven” Danticat does a great job representing the eagerness in the husband’s voice. I was saddened when I read that his wife’s gifts were all torn to pieces and thrown away – all that consideration and love/care put into those gifts, only to see them wasted. But the wife seems to not care – she has her mind on only one thing – rushing over to be held in her husband’s arms. I was okay with this flashback and change of characters, it helped add some background information on the father’s side. When we run into Nadine’s character, I am overwhelmed by her problems. Ms. Hinds, her parents, and Eric seems to be engulfing her life from being normal or social at the least.

Dew Breaker so far has been interesting – I am eager to see where and how all these characters mesh together. I am also interested in finding more about Ka’s father and the role her and her mother play as his mask from the world. The characters at this point seems to all be hiding something, and the reasons to why must be buried within thier relationships to other people and themselves.

A song for someone who needs somewhere to long for

Perhaps one question indirectly posed throughout these early chapters of The Dew Breaker concerns what it is to know someone. The title refers to a man who we see so far only through those around him: his daughter, his wife, his tenants. He is afraid of being known. He destroys the sculpture his daughter carved from what she knew of him. A man trys to know his wife of seven years after seven years apart. He doesn’t know the neighbor who drew away her shyness. She doesn’t know the nurse he brought home form the dance. The dew breaker’s daughter disrupts Christmas Eve mass because she knows a man three rows up from a wanted poster. She doesn’t know her parents. A nurse builds a shrine to her aborted baby. She never knew the father well enough to know he was married. She can’t know the struggle of her patient who’s laryngectomy has taken her voice, but then, her patient won’t really recognize its extent until she starts to forget the sound of her lost words. The nurse is known as historically unknowable. But everyone knows Gabrielle Fonteneau from TV.
I think this notion of knowing is important when considering the title character. I don’t expect to find a chapter in his words. I don’t expect to hear his voice except through the ears of his family or his wards. I imagine that the import of this inquiry into knowing finds application in the knowing of the dew breaker. Is he the torturer, the hunter, the murderer? Is he the devoted father and devotee of the Brooklyn museum’s Egyptian wing? Does the one preclude the other? By examining the different situations of knowing, knowing partially, and not knowing I think Danticat underlines these questions and poses them to the reader. I doubt she’ll answer them for us; I wonder if she’ll even answer them for her characters.

The Dew Breaker Post 1-time

One theme that appears in all of the different narratives so far is time. There are many references in each individual story relating to the past and to Haiti, but there is also a hightened awareness of time in the present sense. In the first section Ka stresses about her father being gone and the distance of the car trips with him. Eric’s section “Seven” is obviously very centered around specific times, and the meanings he assigns to them. He even notes the exact time that his wife reached out to hold his hand. Nadine thinks about how her baby would have been born “that day” if she had not had an abortion. Anne says Christmas Eve is her favorite sixty seconds of the year and expresses how great of a gesture it is for her husband to make the 40 minute drive to pick up their daughter. In each section there is also a feeling of lost time, being stuck in a certain time, and hurriedness. Another connection I saw throughout was the idea of silenced voices. Each time that the connection between characters was revealed, I was suprised. I think it is mostly due to the fact that I have enjoyed the reading so far and wasn’t really looking for the connection. Each narrative was interesting on its own, unlike some other books where I find I pay more attention to certain characters. Also I didn’t expect it to be so closely related from one section to the next.