Postcolonial novel is a genre that deals with studies which have the greatest influence, particularly silence that is voiced into speech sounds and words, a silence elucidated trough gender bodies that acquire resolutions, discoveries and thus, to women’s liberations through means of not only voices of “self” but also communal that connect “persona” with past and future generations. The point is that those writers are also testimonies of Diaspora for varied reasons, but mostly to set the identity free from swaying between past and present. Reasons vary; marriage, better life, seeking shelter or running away from punishment as in the case of the selected novel The Dew Breaker that gets free from a traumatic past and heal from oppression as within characters selected by Edwidge Danticat
Thus, it is better to bear in mind that those writings have no boundaries in both time and place while it is about to gathering victims of the same influence in patriarchal societies. In literary contexts, transgression appears in different kinds of subaltern characters, the marginalized who are ready to negotiate the norms of society or a family by occupying a kind of divergent position from which new energies could be created. The power of language, too, plays an important role when it comes to characterize and define human experience.
Essential to the exploration of the novel The Dew Breaker of Edwidge Danticat, when it comes to the world of voices and representation; different styles carry weight of suffering of all types of characters that reflect an impact each in the novel. Hence, the concern of this paper will fall over alienated identities in bodies abroad their former location, and how far immigration affects people’s sense of belonging to displacement, fragmentation and discontinuity
At its most crude, each of the stories in the novel communicates traumatic experiences that damage in a way what is considered to be a normal life. Characters live with an alien sense of self and attempt to belong to their new lives. So, in order to uncover the complexity of such feelings of loss, memory, melancholia, isolation and belonging, the researcher builds up the given research based on the following main research question:
Does immigration status affect people’s sense of belonging between cultures?
In which manner could a marginalized identity cope with the new social codes?
To what extent can home be a problematic concept in the process of healing?
How to deal with atrocities and respond to problems of forgetting or forgiving in the process of adaptation?
1.Edwidge Danticat’s Revolt
In societies where gender ideas are deeply rooted, female sex strives against major cognitive challenges in order to overcome “othering”, as a first example of such concept-patriarchal prism- is needed to be addressed and it is concerned with prioritisation of public sphere activities over the private realm and the basis of a power relationship between the two.
It is necessary to shed light on one of the most remarkable aspects of Haitian history, since Haiti is the only nation which saw the light thanks to the successful slave rebellion. The revolt lasted from 1794 to 1804. As an attempt to be free from France since the latter granted citizenship to the wealthiest affranchis, while at the same time Haiti’s European population disregarded the law1.
Hence, there has been a break out between Europeans and affranchis: the European attempted to appease the mulattos in order to quell the slave’s revolt, and the French assembly granted citizenship to all affranchis in April 1792. Here, the country was separated; Spanish colonists supported the eastern side of the island later called the Dominican Republic, and by the British troops from Jamaica
Edwidge Daticat’s novel which pictures the struggle of Haitian immigrants to The United States, is born in Haiti in 1969. Edwidge was raised in a Haitian family and stayed with her aunt while her parents left the country to immigrate to The United States. Her story witnessed harsh governance of Haitian Papa Doc and left-overs from Haitian tragedies and story-telling; something that enlightened her interest in writing. Dancticat’s works represent not only history and struggle of Haitian people but also reflect her personal story in her characters. The Dew Breaker is characterized by inbetweenness; getting into action between day and night, invading the victims in their safe houses. The scar comes from the dew breaker’s last torturing murder over a Haitian Baptist minister. The healing of the wound was achieved by the unwitting step-sister of the minister who later becomes the dew breaker’s wife and mother of a daughter, Ka. “The Dew Breaker” left Haiti to live in New York with his family, but the scar brings him always to his past acts and life, although Bienaimé (the dew breaker) stopped hurting people. Thus, the novelist is haunted by the past horrors she experienced, then the journey to accept the past through immigration helps the characters to build new identities, and that’s where the self confrontation takes place.
2. Abject Bodies Abroad
The use of transgression territorializes the natural relation between culture, place and identity of people who are displaced or in “the wrong place”. And by bringing this relation into focus, it is where transgression is aimed to subdue. Thereof, with no doubts, the term transgression rhymes unconsciously with doing something illicit, breaking a law as well as rebelling against societal norms. However, this term runs with deeper roots that constitute our identity as a pulse of stability, thus, the life of the Dew Breaker are respectably analyzed in terms of how far an immigrated, marginalized identity copes with the new standards of living and whether both body and mind create an ability either to survive, accept the change or stands in between in the selected short stories “The Book of the Dead” and “The funeral Singer”
2.1. The Book of the Dead
Ka Bienaimé is the daughter of Anne and the Dew Breaker (the prison guard). Ka has made a sculpture of her father without knowing his true story as he hides his true identity once he gets married to her mother and has her. In her journey to deliver the sculpture for a client in Florida, she knows the truth about her father and wonders how it is possible a woman can accept a man with such a past.
Ka’s father used to work for the Dictator in Haiti, he has never been named, whereas, he was a former soldier, a torturer and a macoute. His sins are marked by a scar on his face by a preacher he was going to arrest. The dew breaker gets attention from Anne who later becomes his wife and they both escape from Haiti to New York to become a caring father to Ka, a barber and a landlord. Anne and Ka are masks to his scar which is synonymous of his past. And Anne is the wife of Ka’s father, although she is aware of his past; she believes he is a different man, she argues that life sways between regret and foreignness. The short story is set in Florida where Ka and her father got closer to know about his truth. Ka is to deliver the sculpture to Gabrielle Fonteneau. Florida reminds her fatherof the weather in Haiti. Once in Florida, Ka’s father destroys his sculpture and then reveals his past as a murderer to his daughter.
The novel of Edwidge Danticat has been through numerous analyses through numerous scopes: psychological, dialectical, political and thematic as it will be in the following. The attempt is to analyze this part of the story from a Polaroid of culture, migration, mourning and healing, since the journey of isolation/migration carries changes at the level of personal being much more than external appearance.
The first chapter is attributed the name of ‘the Book of the Dead’; a name quoted from an Egyptian culture Ka’s father used to read and admires to an extent that he even calls his daughter “Ka”, since it is a reference of doublenness which leads through life and into the afterlife. Papa is gone (Danticat, 2004, p.03).2The story begins with the disappearance of Ka’s father. She asks the manager of the hotel (Flavio Salinas) and a policeman (Officer Bo) to look for him. Ka explains that she is born in East Flatbush, Brooklyn and wishes to visit her parent’s birth place, because it is one of the things she has always longed to have in common with her parents who are originated from there (p. 04).
The beginning of this story resembles something of a crime novel, since the disappearance of Ka’s father enters the reader into a wheel of mystery. It seems that the rest of this short story may be centered on Papa and the link which is behind the choice of Ka’s decision of sculpting her father to deliver it after to a Haitian actress in Florida. When the story begins, the revelations of Papa’s true identity are under light.
Just as the former victims of Haiti in the novel, the family of the torturer carries also a huge weight of their former lives in Haiti. In addition, the family is trying to go beyond the past and build new identities. The trauma of the past over Ka’s confrontation of her father’s revelations, as she isnot victim of the action of a torturer in Haiti, she never knew Haiti although it is the one more thing she has always longed to have in common with her parents, but comes from her father who in some ways knowing him personally can lead to serious damages. The roots are in America, but what Ka believes she knows about her past is what she used to build her own personality; i.e. her father is a former victim, not a torturer.
Going back to Ka’s description of her father, she declares; “My father has had partial frontal dentures since He fell of his and my mother’s bed and landed on his face ten years ago when he was having one of his prison nightmares” (p. 04). Furthermore, Officer Bo asks if Ka’s father suffers from any disease and Ka denies by replying that he is not senile (p. 05). In addition, the heavy past of Ka’s father in hold makes him detest taking pictures, thus, always puts his hands on his face to hide his scar:
My father has never liked having picture taken. We have only a few of him… standing between my mother and me, his hand covering his scar… He didn’t want any pictures take of him for the rest of his life, he said, he was feeling too ugly (p. 05).
Besides, this passage, hence, demonstrates that the act he was exercising had a great impact on him that it makes him ashamed of collecting memories with his family. This means that being in prison haunts the present time of the Dew Breaker, and this nightmare extends to Ka.This pushes Ka to sculpt her father as she perceives him as a survivor. Next, Officer Bo asks for the reason that Ka’s father left and suggests that it may be due to a fight which made him runaway, but that is not the case.
Alienation rhymes with a state of estrangement of a feeling or affection. Thus, as to avoid the feeling of isolation, the novelist pictures the way both characters behave to fill in the gap created by displacement reflected in Ka’s declaration of the absence of her father to the officer, mentioning that his absence is for another reason than bringing breakfast. After that, she comes back to the hotel room and tries to connect with her father by lying in her father’s unmade bed, “the sheets smell like his cologne an odd mix of lavender and time that she’s always though too pungent but that he likes nonetheless” (p. 08). Although Ka’s bed is empty and available, yet, she chooses to belong to her inner comfort in which the intimacy of her father provides a sense of belonging to her. In this perspective, it is noticeable that the Dew Breaker transgresses his past to pursuit something better. This is reflected in Ka’s vision towards the fragile side of her father; she is fragile in her turn to the nightmares her father used to have “because of what he did to others” (Danticat, 2004, p.23). As a means of healing from the heavy past, he-Papa- declares to his daughter that no matter what, he is still her father and that he would never do these things now (p. 24). The declaration shares the common point other Haitian’s decision to flee Haiti to build a new identity in their own ways each, for the Dew Breaker, he establishes with his supportive wife. Ka seems to estimate the effort of her father, not only she can define him by what he’s done in Haiti, but also the person he has become in America by the business he has and the rituals he lives in with his family hoping that the new standards adopted might count too, although the relation father-daughter is odd in the future.
In this chapter, Papa regrets his past acts and attempts to move on by revealing his truth to his daughter instead of leaving her in lies. More than that, he throws the sculpture that reflects the prisoner in the lake, not even taking into account that the sculpture may represent his actual being in America. The reason behind he never goes back to Haiti is his desire to disconnect from Haiti besides changing the location of the hometown on the island, thereof, Ka recounts: “… I thought he always said he was from a different province each time because he’s really lived in all those places, but I realize now that he says this to reduce the possibility of anyone identify him” (p. .28). The Dew Breaker’s wish to flee his past as much as the victims, not only because of the fear to be known but also because he carries his own scars.
2.2. The Funeral Singer
The story is about Rezia, a Haitian woman who owns a Haitian restaurant in Manhattan. The reason she left Haiti is because she was raped by one of the military Macoutes the moment she was sharing her living with her aunt who ran a brothel. Freda is the narrator; is the former funeral singer who escaped Haiti because her life was in danger since she refused to sing because the Haitian government killed her father after they released him from prison. She was forced by her mother to immigrate, and once in America, she made a vow to return to Haiti and fight the government to revenge her father’s murder. There’s Mariselle who left Haiti because her husband was killed after he painted a portrait of the Haitian president and the latter finds it unacceptable. The story thus, is settled in Upper West Side of Manhattan.
2.2.1. Setting Vows to Repress Trauma
“The Funeral Singer” is the eighth chapter that communicates the idea that despite the paralyzing power of trauma over the former characters. The past may be not completely forgotten, but repressed in a manner. Lambek and Antze have agreed that: “Remembering trauma may be personally empowering and sometimes leads to collective organizing. The inscription of trauma narratives may be a necessary, sufficient and compelling means of establishing recognition.” (Molitoris 2011 : 65). This relates the three women sharing one flat, same culture but distinct stories and causes of immigration to America embodied in the “Funeral Singer”, in which the healing process of common responses to trauma is empowered.
It is week one, Rezia is the owner of the Ambiance Créole, the sole Haitian restaurant on the Upper West Side of Manhattan (Danticat 2004 : 165). She, along with Freda, (the narrator of this part) takes English classes together. There is Mariselle who is shaped like a pencil even in her heavy French suit (p.164). The chapter is titled so because the narrator used to be a funeral singer once in Haiti before she is forced to flee from her country with the help of her mother to avoid being killed. The three girls challenge trauma by adapting a sort of therapy which incites them to share their pasts with each other, based on their Haitian nationality and thus help them move forward in the present, even within their studies.
The narrator carries memories of her father in the past, her career as funeral singer and memories with her mother. She almost sings when she is about to introduce herself in the English class:
I wish I could sing to introduce myself… I would sing ‘Brother Timonie’… I asked my father, who was Brother Timonie? He didn’t know. May be a fish that died at sea. Most of the songs he knew were about people who’d died at sea (Danticat 2004 : 166).
After that, when Flat Tit3turns to the introductory question into an inquisition “And what do you do?” Freda makes it clear that she has no job and is expelled from Haiti at the age of twenty-two: “I do nothing, I want to say. Not yet. I have been expelled from my country. That’s why I’m in this class at twenty-two years old” (p.167). This part explains that some people are ordered to immigrate due to the severe circumstances; a reason they cannot get rid of their pasts easily.
Freda comes back to her memories at frequent times; in week two, she mentions the play she shares with her mother after the death of her father: “My mother would look up at the clouds and say, ‘Look Freda, Papa’s listening to us up there. He’s eating coconut with God and he’s making a cloud for us with coconut meat” (p.168). When Freda exercised the funeral singing as a kid, she used to wear black only, and remembered that the colors exist only in the sea “Blue is the only color I was able to see whenever I was at sea with my father… Oh, I remembered yellow too, yellow like the sun almost going down” (p.168).
From this declaration, the two women living with her relate the yellow color to their own perceptions: “Yellow as sunflowers and marigolds”, Rezia observes, “Marigolds, the color of thousand lives”, Mariselle adds, “Yellow like my boyfriend”, Rezia says: “the man of a thousand lies” (p.169). In this respect, Freda is trying to forget about her dead spots (p.169), which means letting go wearing black and venturing to wear colors. She declares, “I used to wear only new black dresses so I could be in at the funerals where I sang. No I wear used clothes, ‘Kennedy’s’ in rainbow colors, and head band around my head, to brighten my dead spots” (p.169).
It can be assumed that Beatrice in “The Bridal Seamstress” and Freda in “The Funeral Singer” both reflect two significant life rituals in cultures: weddings and funerals, for the former makes it a new lifestyle abroad Haiti far from doubts and fear from being murdered, in addition to putting love to her work and transmitting it to her daughters in a country that is different from her mother one, while the latter gets rid of it to be open to new lifestyle, since funeral singing reminds her of her tragic past, her lost father and her struggles for a new lifestyle away from who she used to be; which is acted by immigration and wonder for change.
Moving deeper into this short story, one depicts the sorrow Freda has after she loses her father, although she wishes for a better living and circumstances. Before her father is arrested, the president of the republic would drive through her town on New Year’s Eve and throw money from the window of his big shiny black car (p. 170). Her father would stay home from the sea in case the president chooses to get out of the car and walk into their house to offer them something so they might be saying after years that he was long dead, that things were hard, “but we once had a president who gave me a sack of rice”(p.171), as if this sack of rice, this pounds of beans, this gallon of cooking were the gold, silver and bronze medals in the poverty Olympics (p.171).
2.2.2. Sequels’s Process of Healing
The story does not have an exact setting, whether Freda is referring to the period of Papa Doc or Baby doc, but it can be remarked that, in both eras, oppression and brutality were consistent of both regimes of the father and the son. In this respect, Freda starts the discussion with the girls by referring to her childhood, she says: “I used to play telephone with my mother… I forgot all colors except blue when I went fishing with my father… I was to sing at national palace…” (p. 170), believing that if she shares some of her truth about her life, it would inspire them to do the same and slowly they’d parcel out their sorrows, each walking with fewer than they’d carried in (p.170), and by this, the other girls declare the reasons they are brought to America.
In this respect, the narrator declares, “Mariselle left because her husband, a painter, had painted an unflattering portrait of the president, which was displayed in a gallery show. He was short leaving the show” (p. 172), thus, shares the brutal acts of the Macoutes at that period of time; killing was for the smallest reason, even a refusal for a dance, as Beatrice’s torturer makes her pay in an absurd manner.
Moreover, in order to repress the troubles of her past, the narrator of “The Funeral Singer” stops singing because she lost her family and her home, then, is forced to leave Haiti. However, she utilizes singing to keep that connection with her father by declaring:
In my head had spouted images of my father lost at sea, rousing father and father away until he became as small as a leaf bobbing on the crest of the most distant wave. This is when I began to sing, so he could hear me singing his songs from the crest of that wave (p. 173).
Thus, Freda is comfortable at her singing career and continues with her love of songs as if she dedicates her singing to him. In addition, her performance meets the sense of loss of all Haitian people. However, her refusal to sing for the palace is because the government broke the bond she used to have with her family by killing her father:
One day, one macoute come to take it [the fish stall he had at the market] over and another took my father away. When my father returned, he didn’t have a tooth left in his mouth. In one night he took his boat out to sea and, with a mouth full of blood, vanished forever (p. 172).
When Mariselle visits Haiti, she meets Jackie Kennedy who lost her husband too and her two children, she shares common point with her, but it seems that Kennedy’s wife made sadness beautiful (p. 176). Jackie’s husband was murdered before she marries another one who is Baby Doc’s friend. Mariselle’s husband paints a portrait of Jackie Kennedy (p. .177). When the narrator was little, and after her father’s death, she used to draw small figures in her book to keep her company in case her mother disappears (p. 178). This passage communicates the idea that being abroad the native country, and carrying a painful past, people create ways to deal with their pains. Instances are Mariselle whose hope to have a better life is related to the sad beauty of Kennedy’s wife, although the death of her husband, or when Freda used drawing or singing to comfort her sadness. Yet, the healing is incomplete since Freda twists the doll’s neck night after night (p.178).
The theme of religion is also apparent in this chapter; although Freda is far from being religious, but she lights candles with the girls to pray to Saint Jude, the patron of lost causes, as an attempt to help them pass the exam. They prayed for Haiti too. Haiti, according to Mariselle is not a lost cause yet (p.179). The idea of Haiti not being lost communicates the unbearable situation caused by the dictatorship and the way Diaspora carries hope, thus, women have the chance to have another life while being close to Haiti at the same time.
Last but not least, the three women wait for the result of the test they4 have passed. Meanwhile, Mariselle unpacked her suitcases (p. 179) for she got a job which incites her to sell her husband’s paintings at a gallery. Freda decides to go back to Haiti and join the militia and return to fight (p. 180), an act which pushes Rezia to point ask: “Who will sing at your [Freda’s] funeral?” (p. 180). As a response, Freda ends up to sing the song of her own funeral toasting for the aches of the past and the uncertain future. Singing her own funeral transmits another meaning of grieving her own funeral song for the uncertain death but a hopeful moment and redemptive.
To sum up, living abroad requires a new identity in order to belong to new standards of living that need to be taken into consideration, whether giving up a career to move on with life as Beatrice did, or suppressing past life to start developing a new sense of self like Freda. The latter, disconnects her identity from the trauma of the loss of her father and leaving her mother. This does not seem to be healthy but her willingness to share her past with friends who understand her allows her to establish a new identity and leads her singing to resurface again.
In week fourteen, the girls do not know if they have passed their English test (p. 179). Literally, this does not refer to the test only, but also whether they have had the test of experiences in life, even in doubt, the funeral singer is already taking steps forward. In this respect, “The Funeral Singer” and “The Bridal Seamstress” are narratives that focus on the identity of women based on their jobs, for the former abandons her work to become independent from her haunting past, while the latter embraces her past and moves on. However, there is not sure evidence that Beatrice may find internal peace after her retirement since Aline subsequently characterizes Beatrice as one of the people “whose tremendous agonies filled every blank space of their lives” (p. 137). So, this does not seem entirely promising.
Besides, once in America, unlike Beatrice who surrenders to the horrors of her past which makes her retire from what she loves, Freda leaves what she loves but decides to return to it at the end. The purpose behind mentioning the weeks in this part of the short story is nothing but a process to healing, since there is not the success of English class through this period of time, but also healing from the past. The same thing Beatrice believes in, she takes time to do anything. Freda’s interaction with the girls transforms her from a funeral singer who wears black to an ongoing woman wearing colors.
Thus, having a good relationship and sharing things in common can be the catalyst to maturity, even to become able to deal with the past. Before the three women created the bond, Mariselle is always pulling her chair away putting a few inches (p. 170) between herself and others, which means that the divide is beyond physical because the past stories shared between each other did not exist yet. Mariselle encourages the pursuit to change for better and go beyond her past, in Danticat’s quote. Mariselle tries to comfort Freda by saying: “You have much time ahead to redo these things, retake these texts, reshape your whole life” (p. 174). The truth is not about getting the test only.
On the other hand, and even if the future of Freda is “uncertain” (p. 181), there’s room for hope as the girl is full of potential and ends up getting back her power through singing. Her decision about her return in Haiti is, although followed by laughers from the remaining girl, the funeral singer meets herself again as she struggles to return to her true identity. Besides, Beatrice may be tired of struggling as she is advanced in age, whereas Freda is only twenty-two years old, i.e. she still has time to cope with her past and adapt a new lifestyle. It is to this sense that Edwidge Danticat’s strategy to move forward is to face trauma of the past if someone hopes to have a better future.
The past cannot be escaped; characters challenge postcolonial dilemmas and that latter lead them towards alienation and identity crisis because of the numerous cultures, regional and Western. Characters are stuck in a state of confusion, and finally find themselves incapable to relate with what surrounds them, since their confrontation with the colonizer erases their own identity and leaves them living in confusion. While this confusion confronts the protagonist to achieve a stable identity, this confusion, ultimately, leads a person towards a distant and isolated place where he or she becomes alienated and stranger. The point is that transgression appears when there is a mixture of cultural elements carrying distinct origins in addition to the aspect of unbelonging, i.e., being at home but in mixed cultural settings
There were multiple attempts by scientists who tried to generalise how the term alienation functions within different contexts in which it is employed, its various uses and common features. In this respect, Arnold Kaufman for instance, affords the following general analysis: “To claim that a person is alienated is to claim that his relation to something else has certain features which result in avoidable discontent or loss of satisfaction”.5
There is a will to fully recognise postcolonial context beyond colonization and exile, referring to diasporic novels in which postcolonial themes and scope expressed in racism or sexism, oppression or transgression, is necessary since diasporic characters are recognition of swaying identities between past and newly adopted present life. Thus, the work under analysis affords beyond traditions and novels recognition that prevails stories in societies; as an attempt to create an adequate atmosphere to find peace and authorship of one’s identity, in addition to creating or building an environment able to share experiences with others. To conclude, identity wandering through analysis within the selected novel offers two alternatives; either the end of life, or hope for life. This is to be considered as a gate for future researches when the subject is the postcolonial scope of study on the identity reformation to healing from trauma, acceptance and living.
Fragmentation and connexion are prevalent themes in this paper. It is from this basis that this research