Mother-daughter Relationship In Breath, Eyes, Memory

Sophie Caco, in Breath.Eyes.Memory, quotes her own mother: “There are two things that a person can want, and there is also what’s right for them.” (72). Edwidge Daticat’s novel shows a conflict between Sophie and her mother Martine. Sophie wants to live in the great realm of Providence, but her mother has other ideas about what is best for Sophie. Sophie wants the world of Providence but her mother believes that she should be pure until marriage and study to become doctor. The narrative voice in Breath.Eyes.Memory conveys the way Sophie totally violates Martine’s conception of what is good. Sophie wants to leave Martine behind and finally get over her mother-in-law’s horrible past.

Martine’s horrifying history is one thing that binds them together. Sophie’s first impression of her mum is her tragic birth story. Martine ends Part One by telling Sophie, “A man grabbed from the roadside, pulled in a canefield and put me in your body” (61). Martine is now linked to Sophie by a single rapist. Sophie may not express it, but her narrative voice suggests that she feels increasingly distant from her mom whenever she sees her. Martine explains the revelation to Sophie in a calm tone, indicating that she does not want Sophie’s anger or sadness to show. She instead wants Sophie and her to become closer. Martine thinks that Sophie needs to know more about Martine and her past. Sophie does not agree with Martine. If there had been no six-year gap, the scene following the moment she learned of her mother’s abuse would have happened immediately.

Martine tells her daughter that ‘testing is important’. It’s a family tradition to keep the child pure and clean. She tells Sophie “When I grew up, my mum used to check if I was virgin. She would insert her finger into the very intimate parts of our bodies to see if anything would come out…The way that my mother raised me, a mom is supposed to test her daughter in this manner until she gets married. She has a responsibility to her daughter’s purity” (60-61). Martine, as Sophie’s mom, feels that it’s her responsibility to explain why she’s testing her. It’s for Sophie’s benefit. Martine is not concerned about Sophie’s dislike of the test, as it was necessary. It was necessary, even though her Tante Atie did not like it.

Martine, throughout the novel, tries her best to be a person who Sophie is trying to escape from. Martine is trying to bring Sophie closer, but she only pushes Sophie further away. Marc asks Sophie to describe her dream job. Sophie replies: “I want do dactylo. Be a secretary” (56). Martine insists on the fact that she is still too young for her to be able to answer. You will be a Doctor” (56), an indication of the tension that exists between mother and her daughter. Sophie and Martine have different goals. Sophie has never considered becoming a Doctor, even though Martine is adamant that her daughter will become one. Martine is not able to relate to Sophie as she’s too focused on raising the perfect daughter. It is clear from the narration that Sophie has a goal in mind: she becomes a secretary. Louise, Sophie’s mother, asks, “What did you do in America? What is the profession of your wife?” (99). Sophie replies “A secretary.” (99).

Martine is unable to get Sophie to fit the Marassas role, no matter how hard she tries. Martine says, “They walked, talked, and looked alike” (84) to describe how she imagines her daughter and herself. Sophie never thought she was Martine’s sister before reading this description. She sees Atie in the house of Martine with her mother. “I didn’t look like anyone else in my home,” she says. Not my mom. Not my Tante Atie. “I didn’t resemble my parents as a newborn and I certainly don’t resemble them now.” (45). She was not only raised by someone other than her mother, she also didn’t look anything like Martine. The narrative voice conveys to the reader that Sophie has a keen eye, but is not fazed by anything. There is hardly any emotion in her comments; it is just purely objective. It is clear that Sophie doesn’t care. Sophie thinks that the expression of the waiter is what makes her look different from her mother. She replies, “He stared at us for quite a while.” My mother was first, then me. I wanted to say to him, “Stop it.” It was clear that we were not alike. “I knew that” (55). Sophie’s tone shows her frustration. She accepts that her mother and she are nothing alike. It’s not possible to change it.

Sophie’s desire to escape Martine violates her mother’s idea of pureness. She compares Sophie’s situation to that of the woman who could not stop bleed. Though she knew it wasn’t good for the hymen of a woman to tear as much, Sophie felt there was no reason for her to continue living. She would be free of her mother’s testing if she could get rid of her. Sophie uses the pestle in order to get away from her mom.

Sophie’s mother would have never wanted her to run away and elope. Sophie has been able to escape her mother because she is determined to achieve the Providence she has not yet achieved. In the second part, Sophie leaves her mother’s home to live with Joe. She is once again following her heart even though her mother does not approve. She would live her life in constant fear of her mother and never be free from her past. In Haiti, her mother provided weekly income to support her. When she arrived to America, her mother was her only source of support. Sophie, who has now moved to Joe’s house, no longer relies on Martine and can be free of her.

The story is divided into parts that are separated by huge gaps of time. The story is now two years old. Sophie left for Haiti to follow her sense of Providence. This narrative style, where large sections of the timeline are left out, highlights how Sophie’s story is disjointed. Just like Sophie, we are taken suddenly from America back to Haiti after a simple letter and ticket from her mom. Sophie feels empty a lot of the time, and she felt that way when she grew up without her mom for 12 years. She says “It has taken me 12 years to piece the story of my mom together.” (61).

Sophie believes that she is free when she leaves her mother’s house, but she soon realizes her mother still has not. She realizes, when she’s with her sexual-phobia group, that Martine has not been able to free herself from the wrong she did. Sophie says, “I understood that her pain and mine were interconnected and if it hurt me, then she, too, was hurt.” (203). She realizes that her mother’s actions were not random and that, in order to be truly free, she must be free of her past. Her mother had raped her, and she has nightmares about it. She is able to “free her” from these nightmares but not from reality.

Sophie was devastated to learn that her mother had found a way for her to escape rape by committing suicide. Sophie was thrilled that for the first-time her mother had done what she wanted. Sophie also wanted her mom to do what’s best for Sophie, which is to go to Haiti where her mother was raped and confront it. This role reversal shows Sophie’s connection to her mum, as she feels the need to “free her” as well her mother. In the last scene, she claims that she “ran across the field, attacking cane.” I removed my shoes and started to beat the cane. I pounded the cane stalk until it bent over.

Sophie Caco goes on an adventure to get away from her mom, but she also manages to liberate her from her past. Martine wasn’t able to find the Providence Sophie was looking for, so Sophie was going to leave behind the rape that her mother committed by battling the cane stem in the last scene of the book.


  • ewanpatel

    I'm a 29-year-old educational bloger and teacher. I have been writing about education for about six years, and I have a B.A. in English from UC Santa Cruz. I also have a M.A. in English from San Francisco State University. I teach high school English in the Bay Area.