Themes of ‘Memory’ and ‘Home’ in Edwidge Danticat’s “Sunrise, Sunset”

Question

Explore the themes memory and home in Edwidge Danticat’s “Sunrise, Sunset.” In what way does dementia alter the dynamics of the tightly knit Haitian family?

Answer

Introduction

Memory is among the essential things in human life. While memory helps one to keep their past alive as a way to fight for a better future, it could create a strong attachment about a person’s previous life that could hinder them from making progress in their lives.

This premise implies that memory has the capacity to build or destroy a home. On the other hand, loss of memory leads to dementia that will probably break the home. This paper will discuss the relationship between memory and home. Dementia, a health condition associated with memory, disrupts family cohesion because it interferes with Carole’s memory, leading to conflicts in her home.

Discussion

From Danticat’s story, the essence of memory is apparent. Carole’s family threatens to disintegrate because of her memory loss problems. The condition strains her relationship with members of her family. Carole’s husband is unhappy as a result of stress that emanates from her illness; Victor is stressed as he has developed grey hair and red eyes. Carole’s condition also hampers her relationship with her daughter, Jeanne. Even though Jeanne thinks her mother is hard on her, she later learns that Carole is ailing when she (Carole) nearly drops her baby from the terraces. Ultimately, Carole is separated from her family as she is sent to a therapeutic centre.

Danticat states that Carole’s life reflects the experiences of Haiti immigrants in the U.S. Because of the horrific encounters in the Haitian despotic regime, many immigrants still seem to be traumatised (“Edwidge Danticat on the Luxury of Creating Art”). Carole’s dementia may have resulted from her painful past in her native Haiti; her inability to forget contrasts her life to that of Victor, who chooses to let go of his past and enjoy every other minute in his life. Nonetheless, Victor’s happiness comes appears t be nearing its end due to his wife’s mental illness. This reveals that dementia is a hindrance to a cordial family relationship.

The aspect of memory is also evident in Carole’s perception of Jeanne. She attributes her apathy toward life to her upbringing. Because Jeanne is protected from bad memories of Haiti, throughout her childhood, her mother believes that she is oblivious about the dark side of life. Apart from ensuring that she did not hear any traumatic stories about Haiti, Carole worked secretly to ensure that Jean and her brother never lacked anything. In this respect, Carole believes that Carole takes everything in life for granted because she has no memory of their dark Haitian past.

Carole believed that painful memories of the past would interfere with her children’s normal development as such memories had burdened her throughout her life (“Edwidge Danticat on the Struggle of Haitian Immigrants | Need to Know”). This situation brings tension in the relationship between Carole and Jeanne. While Carole is genuinely concerned, Jeanne is convinced that her mother is bothersome. In relation to Jude’s christening, Jeanne believes that the move will change her mother’s attitude towards her; this explains why she (Jeanne) consents to Jude’s baptism despite being hesitant initially. Jeanne, surprisingly, does not discover that her mother has a mental dysfunction despite witnessing her strange behaviour previously.

Memory finally alienates Carole from her family. She (Carole) is rushed to a hospital when she almost drops her grandson through the terraces. James calls for emergency intervention, which culminates to Carole’s seclusion. With her dementia, she is a threat to her family given that she can easily engage in a dangerous activity such as killing her beloved grandson, Jude. With her deteriorated conditional, she has to be under professional care for an indefinite time, which could even be the rest of her life.

The family has a role to play in memory issues. There is a need for family members to undertake timely interventions in cases involving memory. Any prudent reader of Danticat’s story will notice that Carole’s family failed to seek medical intervention for her even after realising her memory problems. Victor, upon discovering her wife’s problem, opts to keep quiet. He keeps everyone else in darkness probably because of his ignorance about mental disorders. Even though he plans to send her “somewhere”, he procrastinates due to financial concerns.

On the other hand, Jeanne seems to be too lazy to act; even after her mother falls on her, Jeanne does not think seriously about her potential mental issues. Meanwhile, Carole’s son is so preoccupied with books that he is unable to notice the changes in her mother’s conduct. The cumulative incompetence in the family led to the absence of appropriate intervention that would have salvaged Carole’s situation.

Conclusion

From the paper, it is evident that the relationship between family and home has a close nexus with immigration. Haiti immigrants are traumatised not only the autocratic leadership that forced them to flee but also the natural catastrophes such as earthquakes, which claimed many lives. Without proper psychotherapy, most of those with firsthand experiences of these nasty occurrences are unlikely to lead normal lives. Carole is the embodiment of Haitian immigrants whose family lives are undermined by their painful pasts. The loss or distortion of memory is the main cause of family conflicts in Danticat’s story.

References

  1. “Edwidge Danticat on the Luxury of Creating Art”. PBS Newshour, 2019, https://www.pbs.org/newshour/show/edwidge-danticat-on-the-luxury-of-creating-art. Accessed 7 Feb 2019.
  2. “Edwidge Danticat On The Struggle Of Haitian Immigrants | Need To Know”. PBS.Org, 2011, https://www.pbs.org/video/need-to-know-edwidge-danticat-on-the-struggle-of-haitian-immigrants/. Accessed 7 Feb 2019.

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