More Than Hunter or Prey: Duality and Traumatic Memory in Edwidge Danticat's the Dew Breaker

By Bellamy, Maria Rice | MELUS, Spring 2012 | Go to article overview

More Than Hunter or Prey: Duality and Traumatic Memory in Edwidge Danticat's the Dew Breaker


Bellamy, Maria Rice, MELUS


In The Dew Breaker (2004), Haitian American writer Edwidge Danticat continues her engagement with the troubled history of her homeland, investigating how this history affects the Haitian people both in Haiti and in diaspora. This short story cycle focuses on the aftermath of the brutal reign of dictator Frangois "Papa Doe" Duvalier, which lasted from 1957 to 1971. The fragmented form of the text mirrors the fragmented and scarred Haitian people, whose nation has been fraught with political instability and violence nearly since its founding in 1804. However, Danticat writes beyond Haiti's historical victimization to model alternative ways of responding to the nation's troubled past. "The Book of the Dead," the opening story of this work, offers a metaphor for the crisis in Haiti's historical representation. A father, exiled from Haiti, uses a traditional proverb to confess to his American-born daughter, Ka, that he was not a victim of Duvalier's state-sponsored violence, but was a perpetrator, a Tonton Macoute (1): "We have a proverb.... One day for the hunter, one day for the prey. Ka, your father was the hunter, he was not the prey" (21). This proverb articulates a dichotomy between those with the power to inflict harm and those vulnerable to receive it. The father indicates with remorse that he once aligned himself with the predatory Duvalier regime in opposition to his people. Nevertheless, underlying this proverb is the possibility that one day the oppressed may have the upper hand. (2) Although the father may see that day of reversal as a day of reprisal for his past actions, this interpretation of the proverb suggests a fluidity in the dichotomy, causing Ka to wonder if her father's "past offered more choices than being either hunter or prey" (24).

While the full text of The Dew Breaker presents the enduring impact of one man's violent career on the lives of his victims, three stories focused on the Bienaime family--the former Macoute, his wife Anne, and his daughter Ka--explore how the reformed torturer and those closest to him work through and develop alternative means of addressing their traumatic history. "The Book of the Dead" opens in the present moment of the larger text on the day of Ka's father's confession. The fourth story, "The Book of Miracles," depicts the family in the recent past and explores the challenges and cost of keeping the father's secrets. The text ends with the eponymous story "The Dew Breaker," which gathers the fragments of Ka's parents' past to create a textual body that coheres and re-members the family's traumatic history from their origins in Haiti to the day of the father's confession. The story cycle ends where it begins, but between these terminal points, it reveals how Bienaime and his wife create twin narratives to hide their experiences from their daughter. It further demonstrates how crucial their willingness to narrate and bear witness to their traumatic experiences is to healing the wounds of the past and making meaningful connections to their daughter. When Ka, a child of postmemory who suffers the trauma of being raised by traumatized parents, finally hears her father's confession about his history in Haiti, her life-long quest to understand and represent her father's tortured past is renewed and possibly redirected. The text ends with a representation of that troubled past that goes beyond the dichotomy between hunter and prey to reveal a third option, a model of righteous resistance to oppression that reimagines Haiti's history of victimization.

Ka's relationship to her parents' traumas is best understood as postmemory, a concept Marianne Hirsch conceived to explain the experience of people like herself: those raised by Holocaust survivors whose lives have not been touched literally by that trauma but have nevertheless been dominated by it due to their intimate connection to parents who pass residual traumas on to their children through verbal and nonverbal means. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

More Than Hunter or Prey: Duality and Traumatic Memory in Edwidge Danticat's the Dew Breaker
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.