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Edwidge Danticat

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Krik? Krak! is a collection of nine interconnected short stories, namely: “Children of the Sea”, “Nineteen Thirty-Seven”, “A Wall of Fire Rising”, “Night Women”, “Between the Pool and the Gardenias”, “Seeing Things Simply”, “New York Day Women”, and “Caroline’s Wedding”. All the stories talk about Haitian women who are trying to understand how they relate with their families and Haiti. As suggested in “Women Like Us”, all these women are related. The unnamed narrator in the epilogue, possibly Danticat herself, realizes that she shares similarities with her mother, as well as female ancestors. According to the tradition, women cook to express their sorrow, but the narrator decides to write instead (Danticat 23). Because Haitian writers are regularly killed, the narrator’s mother disapproves of her writing. The female ancestors of the narrator are unified in death, and she uses posterity to keep their history alive.

Theme

Several different themes are discussed in Krik? Krak!. However, in this analysis I will focus on the diversity of suffering. In one way or another, the characters in this novel have experienced suffering. Though they emanate from diverse backgrounds and have different experiences, to some extent, all of them share similar pain. For instance, the despair of Célianne in “Children of the Sea” pushes her into throwing herself into the ocean. She is living under extreme conditions of hunger, violence, thirst, lack of hygiene etc. She “stares into space all the time and rubs her stomach” (Danticat 10). Grace’s mother in “Caroline’s Wedding” also undergoes similar pain when she attends a mass for refugees who died in the sea, just like Célianne. These diverse sufferings experienced by the different characters draw various reactions. For example, in “New York Day Women”, the mother finds a new life in the United States, but she still cannot seem to forget the suffering that she left behind. Danticat explains that the Haitian experience is not universal, since those who suffer are individuals.

Characters

In all the nine stories, Danticat uses various characters to convey her message to the reader. From the stories, we see the various characters evolving from poor, naive, reserved, uneducated people to courageous and strong-willed people with hope to have better life for themselves and their families. We will look at the way two characters change in the book.

Lamort in “The Missing Peace”

Lamort is a teenage young woman who disobeys her grandmother and sneaks out to take journalist to the cemetery. She is uneducated, naive and has low self-esteem, making her worry less about herself. Though she hates her grandmother for blaming her for the death of her mother, she desperately seeks for her approval. She tries to live to her grandmother’s decency standards and yearns for intelligence in order to be approved. Lamort admires Emilie, a woman she considers independent, and feels important when she lends a helping hand to her. Despite the violent, risky state of her world, we see Lamort developing courage to defend Emilie from Toto, the soldier who prevents them from going to the churchyard. Emilie’s compliments encourage Lamort to be brave in her personal life.

Princesse, “Seeing Things Simply”

Princesse is a young female student who poses naked to a foreign photographer. Despite of being reserved, Princesse is very confident of herself. She knows that Catherine paints her because of her willingness to be naked, not because of her beauty, but it does not bother her. Just like Lamort, Princesse also admires Catherine because she is sophisticated. Her standard of living doesn’t differ from the other characters in the novel, but she is fascinated by the beauty around her and is excited to learn more about the world. Her willingness to pursue art is evident, as she draws on her shirt using her blood (Danticat 78). Catherine’s painting of her inspired her and made her feel special.

The Cultural Aspect Presented in the Book

Krik? Krak!, the title of the book, depicts the Haitian tradition and culture of the narrator calling out ‘Krik?’, and the gathered listeners answering, ‘Krak’. Krik? Krak! provides an interesting approach to the Haitian culture and tradition of telling stories.  All the stories in the novel present interesting cultural aspects of Haiti, but in this analysis I will focus on the cultural identity depicted in “Caroline’s Wedding”. Grace feels neither fully Haitian nor American. Though she lives in the United States, she still has a strong connection to Haiti. Her adoption of the American culture makes her feel guilty, since it’s the reason she defied her mother’s superstition. As she finally gets her American passport, she cannot hide her excitement and sense of belonging, saying: “For the first time in my life, I feel truly secure living in America. It was like being in a war zone and finally receiving a weapon of my own, like standing on the firing line and finally getting a bullet-proof vest” (Danticat 213). As an American citizen, she feels safe enough to embrace the Haitian customs that she once defied by assisting her mother to prepare bone soup.

The Use of Figurative Language

Analogy

The use of analogy in the book is seen in “Caroline’s Wedding” in the statement, “You remember while braiding your hair that you look a lot like your mother; your mother who looked like your grandmother and her grandmother before” (Danticat 219). This is a depiction of the significance of sisterhood in the Haitian culture, where traditions are passed from grandmother to mother, and daughter, and the lineage continues.

Metaphor

The use of metaphor in the book is evident in “Women Like Us”, where the narrator compares the sound of her writing to that of the crying. The narrator uses writing to express her suffering and pain, and that of her ancestors. To her, writing is a form of crying.

Symbols

Crying is used in the book to symbolize life, which is marked by pain and suffering in Haiti. As long as the Haitians live, they experience suffering and therefore, they cry to express their sorrow. In “Children of the Sea”, Célianne’s baby does not cry because it is dead. Also, Josephine’s mother makes the statuette cry to symbolize that her anguish is not dead yet; she needs to show it in one way or the other. The narrator compares the sound of her writing to the sound of crying. According to the writer, writing is a way of crying; through her writing she expresses her suffering and that of her ancestors, in order to keep the memory of their painful stories alive.

In the epilogue, the author says, “When you write, it is like braiding your hair; taking a handful, coarse, and unruly strands, and attempting to bring them to unity” (Danticat 220). She uses braiding to symbolize writing. The narrator explains that writing is like braiding, since it uses separate elements to make one unified meaning. Though Danticat acknowledges that braiding can be a challenge especially when the hair is not cooperative, she says that there is something comforting about the process; that is the regular performance of the skill that is both a routine and a challenge (Danticat 100). Though the narrator’s mother does not accept her writing, it is the tradition of storytelling that she passed down to her, that has formed the foundation of her writing. She maintains her Haitian tradition by writing, or braiding in her own way.

The use of visuals in the book helps to remind the reader of his or her underdeveloped potential for human existence. It helps us connect with the suffering of the Haitian people, feel their suffering, which in turn provides an in-depth understanding of the author’s message to the reader. The author’s picture on the cover page of the book is also very beautiful and arresting; watching it makes one feel like knowing more about her and her story.

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