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Edwidge Danticat’s “Brother, I’m Dying” Themes

Introduction

In her memoir published in 2007, Edwidge Danticat tries to gather the whole picture of her broken family’s life: when Edwidge was four, her mother left the children with their uncle in Haiti to join her father in New York. At the age of twelve, Edwidge reunited with her family members in Brooklyn, struggling to accept the pain of their parting. Having analyzed Brother, I’m Dying, I suppose that themes of family love and its importance, reflections about the meaning of death, and the tremendous role of words that create the family’s story are the most essential in the memoir.

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Discussion of Brother, I’m Dying Themes

The Role of Family in a Personal Well-Being

Part One. The chapter “Have You Enjoyed Your Life?”, paragraphs 127-134: “Pop.” Bob rubbed his eyes with his balled fists….”Have you enjoyed your life?”… “Yes, you can say I have enjoyed my life.”

That passage describes Edwidge’s father’s view on his life accomplishments. He (André Miracin Danticat) mentioned that he failed to see many places and could not call himself glorious because he did not do many things. However, André is proud of his children and grandchildren and thanks to God for them. The conversation happened when the father recognized he could die of end-stage pulmonary fibrosis, and therefore he wanted to discuss the future of his family. Mr. Danticat knew from his doctor’s report that his condition is incurable but stayed optimistic because he used to protect his family from sad or frightening news. For example, in his letters, the father reproduced his emotions with caution, “avoiding too-happy news that might add to the anguish of separation, too-sad news that might worry” (Danticat, 2007, Chapter “Have You Enjoyed Your Life?”, para. 140). For many years his ability to show his tenderness to his daughter was limited, so other people, for instance, Marie Micheline, told Edwidge stories about his care (anecdote about cookies, Chapter “Heartstrings, Shoestrings”). In the stated passage, he finally reveals his feelings towards his family.

I agree with the author that the strongest bonds in the world are our bonds with family members. Even if we rarely tell each other about our love and pride, we still feel confident that somebody cares about us. I am amazed at how quickly Edwidge established the connection with her brother Karl when he hugged her: “It was, and remains, the best welcome I’d ever had in my life. It felt like love” (Danticat, 2007, Chapter “Gypsy”, para. 8). I almost feel the same when I meet members of my family who live far away from me. First, I feel estranged, but invisible ties take their toll, and warm feelings appear quickly. The knowledge that somebody is praying for my well-being, as Edwidge’s uncle prayed in forsake of his dying brother (Chapter “Brother, I Leave You with a Heavy Heart”), fills me with the confidence to overcome any obstacle and maintain hope. I believe that my children will become my “repozwa”, my sacred place to rest, as Haitians say.

The Death that Determines Our Lives

Part One. Chapter “Good-bye”, paragraph 50: “Death is a journey we embark on from the moment we are born… we wouldn’t weep, but rejoice, just as we do at the birth of a child.”

As a pastor, Joseph Dantica often saw death. In that passage, he shared his vision that death is just “another kind of birth” and that we all are dying from the moment of our birth. Joseph Dantica, Edwidge’s uncle and “second father,” was determined to make a change in people’s lives surrounding him and his thoughts of death possibly were the source of his strength. Maybe, his decision to stay in his homeland during the dark times of war and violence could be explained by his beliefs. Uncle Joseph said about his willingness to spend his life in Haiti that “someone has to stay behind, to receive the letters and greet family members when they come back” (Danticat, 2007, Chapter “The Angel of Death and Father God”, para. 19). His terrible death in the USA on a land that did not welcome him was heartbreaking. Edwidge Danticat says that her “uncle had clung to his home, determined not to be driven out” (Danticat, 2007, Chapter “Brother, I’ll See You Soon”, para. 37). Uncle Joseph was not afraid of dying and set an example of the correct attitude towards death for other people.

I think that embracing death by Uncle Joseph is related to the principle of “memento mori”. If we want to live a purposeful life, it is crucial to remember death. Life could be bitter, but death makes us equal, as was noted in one of Granmè Melina’s stories. “the Angel of Death doesn’t play favorites” (Danticat, 2007, Chapter “The Angel of Death and Father God”, para. 48). Death makes us think of our behavior and impact on other people. I suppose that the greatest impact that we can make is the contribution to the lives of our friends and family. Death is needed because it makes our lives a complete piece. In addition, we should not be afraid of it because we will live in our children as our ancestors continue their lives in us. When I was a child, I considered death to be horrible and unfair. However, nowadays, learning from my life experience, I see that death could be calming because we live when we are remembered by our beloved.

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The Power of Words

Part Two. Chapter “Transition”, paragraph 92-111: “Granmè Melina once told a story about a daughter whose father had died… For it is not our way to let our grief silence us”.

In this passage, Dantica describes Granmè Melina’s story about a daughter with a broken heart after her father’s death. A wise old woman who could travel between the worlds of the living and the dead decided to help her. However, the father was reluctant to return, saying that his home was “now here, in the land of the ancestors” (Danticat, 2007, Chapter “Transition”, para. 107). From that moment on, the grieving daughter decided to speak of her father and never let her tragedy silence her. Danticat admits that her father was not able to write eloquently: “Listening to my father …I used to dream of smuggling his words” (Danticat, 2007, Chapter “Have You Enjoyed Your Life?”, para. 135). As for her uncle, all his writings were burned by the gang when he was accused of collaboration. Therefore, Edwidge took on an important mission, stating, “I am writing this only because they can’t” (Danticat, 2007, Chapter “Have You Enjoyed Your Life?”, para. 149). Her work is an opportunity to assemble the puzzle of her life from fragments of the past and look at it from another perspective.

From my point of view, losing one’s voice is one of the most excruciating things that could happen to a person. In Danticat’s book, that disaster occurred to Uncle Joseph because of a terrible tumor. Therefore, he saw the getting of an artificial larynx as God’s miracle. Metaphorically, we lose our voice when we cannot protect ourselves, talk about our life, achievements, and sufferings, and share our feelings. Telling the story of our life and our family is one of the ways to understand ourselves and the world around us. For example, the story of the injustice as one that happened to the uncle of the writer in the Krome Service Processing Center could open other people’s eyes to the problem of racial discrimination. It’s great when people have the freedom to express their thoughts: this is how power works of art appear and then affect our lives and views. Such masterpieces could be studied at school, and people should re-read to absorb the experience and knowledge of previous generations and never repeat their mistakes.

Conclusion

In Brother, I’m Dying, Danticat raises the problems of maintaining a family in a period of political clashes, the meanings of death, and storytelling in our lives. The novel promotes human rights and analyses the consequences of living torn between different countries: Haiti with its corruption and violent gangs and the USA with racial prejudices. Observing such injustices, Danticat feels the need to speak out and realizes the power of words.

Reference

Danticat, E. (2007). Brother, I’m dying. Alfred A. Knopf, division of Random House.

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StudyCorgi. 2023. "Edwidge Danticat’s “Brother, I’m Dying” Themes." January 17, 2023. https://studycorgi.com/edwidge-danticats-brother-im-dying-themes/.

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StudyCorgi. (2023) 'Edwidge Danticat’s “Brother, I’m Dying” Themes'. 17 January.

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