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Ancestral trauma can be inherited in Black and communities of color. In Breath, Eyes, Memory by Edwidge Danticat, Sophie Caco is a Haitian woman who immigrated to the United States to be with her mother (Martine) after living majority of her childhood in Haiti without her. Throughout the text, Sophie describes various types of trauma that she, her mother, aunt, and grandmother all experienced. Sophie carries the thought of inheriting her mother’s psychological issues with her as she grows into a young adult, which is affected by watching her mother experience nightmares of rape, testing for virginal purity, and fears of experiencing violence all over again. The trauma Martine experienced affected Sophie because she developed a negative attitude towards her body physically and sexually. In Breath, Eyes, Memory by Edwidge Danticat, Sophie carries the burden of inheriting her mother’s psychological issues, which influences her development as a person who’s experienced childhood trauma (caused by her mother), feeling shame for her body, and experiencing no sexual desires.
Throughout the text, Sophie’s fear of inheriting her mother’s psychological issues affected her development as a person who experienced childhood trauma (caused by her mother) through the testing she went through as a basis for virginal purity. Testing, In the context of Breath, Eyes, Memory, was a way for a mother to make sure their daughter remained pure because it was her responsibility to keep her that way. In the book, Sophie discusses the first time her mother did this to her as a child. She states, “I closed my legs and tried to see Tante Atie’s face. I could understand why she had screamed while her mother had tested her. There are secrets you cannot keep” (Danticat 85). Here, the “secret” Sophie tried to keep from her mother was her relationship with Joseph. Her mother wanted her to focus on becoming a Doctor and not on love and the possibility of it being detrimental. This was something that Sophie knew she didn’t want, but couldn’t bear the thought of telling her mother. She wanted freedom and the ability to experience what being in love was like.
In the text, Sophie carried the burden of inheriting her mother’s psychological issues, which affects the feelings she has towards her body. In section three of the book when she travels back to Haiti with her daughter Brigitte, Sophie makes a comment about her body. Sophie states, “Even though so much time had passed since I’d given birth, I still felt extremely fat. I peeled off Joseph’s shirt and scrubbed my flesh with the leaves in the water” (Danticat 112). Here, the choice of words that Sophie uses to describe her body is concerning, not only because she had just given birth, but using those words are harsh and can have negative impacts on a person’s body image. Sophie continues to state that the stems of the leaves left marks on her skin and this reminded her of her mother’s testing and the large goosebumps it would produce (Danticat 112). I think this, in conjunction with the word-choice she uses to describe her body further proves that her mother influenced how she saw her body and the way she felt about it.
As a result of the psychological issues Martine dealt with, Sophie began to experience no sexual desires in her relationship with Joseph. In the text, Sophie notes of her experience after getting married and telling Joseph of the time where she tested herself as an act of freedom. She states, “I felt it was my duty as a wife. Something I owed to him, now that he was the only person in the world watching over me. That first very painful time gave us the child” (Danticat 130). Here, she’s discussing how she didn’t want to engage sexually with Joseph but she felt that she had to because it’s her responsibility to do so. According to societal standards, it’s a wife’s job to be able to give herself sexually for her husband. Also, this part reminded me of her mother’s situation (in a sense) with having Sophie. Although they were completely different situations, both were in pain sexually and became pregnant the first time. They both gave birth to their pain, but Sophie, in the end, makes strides to not pass her trauma on to their daughter.
Overall, Sophie’s fear of inheriting her mother’s psychological issues influences her development as a person who’s experienced childhood trauma (caused by her mother) through the testing she went through as a child. The burden of inheriting her mother’s anxieties and phobias affected how she felt towards her body. Also, her mother’s trauma impacted the level of sexual desire she had in her marriage to Joseph. Sophie experienced a lot of childhood trauma that was passed down from her mother and she had to watch her mother relive a lot of that every night with her nightmares. As a mother herself now, Sophie makes strides to free herself from those traumas she experienced as a child and wants to be better for her daughter and family as a whole.
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