Tuesday, March 31, 2015

The Story of Women

Brendan O’Brien
Travel Literature
Krik? Krak! Post

            Krik? Krak! by Edwidge Danticat tells the story of several different generations of Haitian women and their struggles. Unspeakable and horrible things happen to almost all of the women as they try to survive in a sexist country run by a ruthless police force and dictator. I was struggling to find the connectedness between all of the stories but Danticat waits until the Epilogue to reveal her final point: that the stories of these women, and all women, matter. She talks of her mother’s disappointment in her decision to become a writer. Her mother thinks it is too dangerous and that she should stick to household duties like the rest of the women in her family and in Haiti. But Danticat notes, “It was their whispers that pushed you, their murmurs over pots sizzling in your head. A thousand women urging you to speak through the blunt tip of your pencil. Kitchen poets, you call them. Ghosts like burnished branches on a flame tree” (Danticat 222). Danticat hears her mother and aunts complaining in the kitchen and stressing over the lives. As she grows older, Danticat inherits the same fears and worries as the women in her family but more importantly, she feels the overwhelming desire to write about them. Krik? Krak! is not a story about Danticat or her life but about the lives of any women and her main point in the story is that these women and their lives matter. She takes up the mantle and speaks for all of the women of Haiti to fight against their oppression.
            This is a common theme throughout all of travel literature. We have seen it a few times before earlier in this semester in the likes of Hau’ofa and Wendt as they attempt to create a Pacific literary culture and identity. Literature is one of the main ways in which those who are oppressed or misunderstood can reach out and touch virtually anyone.

            Women have made great strides in Western culture in terms of rights in the last century. While there is certainly still inequality in terms of pay and job opportunity, they are no longer considered lesser citizens by the majority of men in Western society. However, this is not the case throughout the entire world. There is the obvious example of women in the Middle East and specially in territories controlled by the ISIL group. These men and religious leaders forcefully subjugate women and take advantage of them. They are not equal in any sense of the word and like the Haitian women Danticat writes about, they too need a voice to help fight for their rights. Even a less noticeable level, throughout my travels in Thailand and Indonesia I noticed that any time I was with a group of women the men or women who interacted with us would always solely talk to and look at me. There are many cultures in which women still do not have the freedoms that many Western women have and literature is crucial to understanding this. By reading stories such as Krik? Krak! readers gain insight into the plight of women and come to fully understand the relevance of their story.

Krik? Krak!

Molly Erlanger
Dr. Ellis
EN 385D
31 March 2015
Krik? Krak!
            Edwidge Danticat’s Krik? Krak! details many stories about the different ways in which Haitian women have suffered and been forced to persevere in all sorts of situations. Though in different times and places, each woman deals with immense hardships brought about by a country that is constantly in turmoil. Each story tells of a struggle that not everybody can fully understand. There are stories of unspeakable horrors, such as a pregnant woman escaping across a river while her own mother is killed on the other side. In the case of Lamort, the readers are given an example of a girl who has been taught not to look into the eyes of the soldiers, because she knows this will ultimately get her hurt. They are all limited in their actions and choices, not only because they are women but because they are Haitian.
            There are multiple instances in the stories in which the privilege of being American is acknowledged, whether it is outright or not. The very first story shows that for many, it was better for them to die at sea while trying to make it to America than stay in their country. Even in “The Missing Peace,” Emilie thinks that having an American passport on her will protect her from the savagery of some of the soldiers.
            The moment that struck me the most was in the beginning of “Caroline’s Wedding,” when Ma essentially equates having a passport to being American. Grace and her mother are so excited that she had finally been granted citizenship, and is eligible for an American passport. Freedom is a basic American right, but I think sometimes we forget how much freedom we actually have. We are free to leave our houses at night without fear that someone might try to shoot us. Most of us can sleep at night without fear that some soldier might break into our home and beat us. More than any of this, we are free to travel outside of our country and know that we will be welcomed back. We have much more freedom to take charge of our own lives. An American passport symbolized protection and freedom to move about for Emilie because these are the rights we are granted as American citizens.

            Though I am aware of these rights, I think sometimes it is easy to take them for granted when that is all I have ever known. Thankfully, I have never known oppression and tragedy in the ways that these Haitian women have. Last year, while living in the UK, I was stopped at the border once and questioned endlessly about my reason for being there. They wanted proof of the university I was attending, my classes, and even went so far as to inquire how much money I had in my bank account. I was furious, as I almost missed my connecting flight back to Newcastle, and could not understand why they would waste so much time when I was clearly just a student. My program director later told me that they have had a bad problem with asylum seekers in the UK, trying to sneak into the country on student visas with US passports in order to escape their oppressive home nations and find work. Some of these refugees adopt these personas because they know the privilege that comes with the status of an American student. As Americans, we tend to travel for the cultural experience. We get bored of our American lives and want to see something different. Meanwhile, there are plenty of people out there who are either trapped in their own countries or being barred from entering ours.

The Resurrection and Kindling of the Feminine Spirit

Valentina Viscardi
31 March 2015
EN 385: Travel Literature
Krik? Krak! Danticat

The Resurrection and Kindling of the Feminine Spirit

            “When you write, it’s like braiding your hair.  Taking a handful of coarse unruly strands and attempting to bring them unit” (Danticat 20).  This quote is taken from the end of the collection of short stories that comprises the novel, Krik? Krat! by Danticat, in which despair of Haitians, mother daughter relationships and the power of women are illustrated.  Danticat artistically focuses in on the feminine condition in Haiti, in which some of her characters in the isolated short stories seem to overlap, the “unruly stands” of hair she is attempting to connect.   Her attempt to weave these women’s stories together mirrors that of Christ’s suffering and resurrection, especially in chapter, “Nineteen Thirty-Seven”.  In her portrayal of Manman as the Christ figure, we are exposed to the persecution of kindness and hope.  It is in this chapter that all women are united, and never alone.  It is through this discovery that hope never dies, and the feminine spirit is worshiped and maintained for generations to venerate.
            The imagery of Manman’s public humiliation is a powerful connection to Christ’s suffering.  It is in this moment that she is, “was like a snake, someone with no bones in her body” (39).  Her undeserved punishment stems from being selfless and watching over a friend’s colic baby.  Throughout the chapter, Manman is painted as anything but human.  The guards of the prison seem to elevate her womanhood by attributing her with almighty powers and yet, at the same time, devaluing her womanhood.
            The Guard’s uncertainty in the method in which they treat Manman is indicative of the power that women hold.  She and the other women are feared because of the rumored assaults on the spirits of children.  So:

The guards shaved her head every week.  And before the women went to sleep, the guards made them throw tin cups of cold water at one another so that their bodies would not be able to muster up enough heat to grow those wings made of flames, fly away in the middle of the night, slip into the slumber of innocent children and steal their breath” (37-38).

            In attempting to transform the women into men, the guards are fearful of the nature of women.  They attempt to shave the hair that is meant to be braided so that the woman can look in the mirror and, “remember thinking while braiding  [her] hair that [she] looks a lot like her mother. [Her] mother who looked like [her] grandmother and her grandmother before her” (219).  In essence, the guards are trying to obliterate the beautiful bond between a mother and a daughter.  More than that, they are trying to erase history.
It is interesting that the daughter of this section through her recollections proves the opposite of her mother’s perceived nature.  While the manipulation of the Madonna can be seen as a form of witchcraft, she is instilling hope into her daughters mind, as well as the other women by encouraging them that the connection between women is never far from reach.  Manman consoles her daughter that she will always have the Madonna to console her, even if no flesh is present.  Thus, it is through believing in the spirit, that the daughter will find comfort.   
Despite the pain and suffering that Manman withstands, she remains hopeful throughout her entire treatment and sentence.  She embraces her, “flight”, telling her daughter that she isn’t treated badly—even though she is malnourished and brutally beaten to death.  Manman’s daughter’s epiphany is when she realizes:

“We came from the bottom of that river where the blood never stops flowing, where my mother’s dive toward life—her swim among all those bodies slaughtered in flight—gave her those wings of flames.  The river was the place where it had all begun” (41).

Her mother held on to hope.  Her mother watched her own mother die in the river that her and Manman and her daughter morn every year, remembering and venerating her legacy, bravery, and hope for better conditions for her daughter and future daughters to live on through.  Manman’s daughter concludes, “We were all daughters of that river, which had taken our mothers from us.  Our mothers were the ashes and we were the light” (41).  It is in this moment that Manman’s daughter realizes that she is not the only daughter of Manman, but part of a community in which all her Haitian mothers and sisters are related not only through their suffering, but their undying hope.
            This hope and dedication to the women in their lives is the braid that keeps them together.  Manman’s story is carried through the generations in the chapter titled, “Caroline’s Wedding.”  Manman’s daughter continues to mourn the river where her mother rose victoriously out of the blood stained waters, “glow[ing] red when she came out” (49).  The novel comes to full circle with the beginning of the book, when the young woman who jumped off the boat with her stillborn baby is mentioned during the prayer service.
            The Haitian women in this collection of short stories are feared by the guards because their hope is undying.  Despite their suffering and their pain, they look upward toward their, “flights” and wish it upon each successive generation.  More than that, these women are the scribes of history.  Through their connections with their daughters and their riddles that demand attention and curiosity, they maintain their culture.  When the Guards attempt to masculinize the women in the novel, they hope to make them like the other men throughout the novel.  Most notably, the girl’s father in “Children of the Sea”, who allows his neighbor to be inhumanely attacked by the militant group.  It is his wife, and the girls mother who says, “you cannot let them kill somebody just because you are afraid” (17).  In the same manner, Lili, the mother of the little Guy who is so thrilled when her boy emulates a revolutionary leader because she embraces rebellion and change for what is right to her people and to her roots. 

            Thus, the women in Krik? Krak! are the backbone to Haitian society.  Their ability to hope through the darkest times and carry the weight of Haitian history on their hearts puts them at a level above humanity.  Reiterating the saying of Danticat, “When you write, it’s like braiding your hair.  Taking a handful of coarse unruly strands and attempting to bring them unit” (20).  These women are the hands that unify their culture, in which no soul is insignificant.  Their endless hope mirrors the life of Christ, but instead of calling out to the Father, they call out to their universal mother(s), who lives through strands of hair on their heads, and their traditional riddles embedded in their memories. 

Recognition through Travel Lit

Francesca Baldini

EN 385


            Krik? Krak! Centers around the various stories of Haitian women. While each story remains unique, there are commonalities between all of them. The opening story  “Children of the Sea”, relates the story of two young lovers who write letters to each other that will never be seen.  To me, the unanswered letters reminded me of the way a traveler records her travels in a diary or a journal, typically with no intended audience. The need to document one’s experience seems particularly relevant throughout Krik? Krak!. In the very beginning, the speaker explains “I also know there are timeless waters, endless seas, and lots of people in this world whose names don’t matter to anyone but themselves” (Danticat 3). The purpose of literature, especially travel literature, is to inform someone else about one’s culture or vice versa. Traveling calls forth our own need to document our experiences as well as our strong need for recognition.

            Throughout Krik? Krak!, many characters seek recognition. For instance, in “Between the Pools and the Gardenias”, Marie seeks recognition through the dead baby she finds. Although this seems very different from the kind of acknowledgement our two nameless narrators seek through their letters, the longing is still the same. Travel literature in general asks readers to find some part of themselves in the characters they read about. After all, isn’t the purpose of traveling and travel literature to bring people together? This novel does an excellent job of illustrating several very different stories that all center around the strong need to be recognized and acknowledged. Even in “Night Women”, the main character finds approval or acceptance through her various clients. Although these stories seem different in terms of content, the theme remains similar.

            Relating this to my own experiences with travel, I have always indulged in the differences between people. For instance, it is endlessly entertaining to ask my English flatmates what words they use for various items, even though all I’m doing is highlighting a difference between us. However, when traveling, it is always comforting to recognize something familiar to home. Travel literature asks us instead to find recognition among people rather than places. In this novel, readers are asked to find relationships between the various characters presented, which is similar to the role of a traveler in a foreign place. Instead of seeking the differences between cultures and people, travel authors seek to bring forth the way all humans are related.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Krik? Krak! Blog

Dana Stubel
Dr. Ellis
EN 385 D
30 March 2015
            Throughout Edwidge Danticat’s novel, Krik? Krak!,, the story travels through different places, time, and characters.  However, one thing that remains unchanged is the theme of the strength of women. Although the sections, “Children of the Sea”, and “Caroline’s Wedding” have completely different settings, the female characters all encounter hardships which they bravely endure.
            In the section, “Children of the Sea”, the reader is forced to travel to a place with unimaginable violence, heartbreak, and sadness. We travel from a corrupt and extremely violent 20th century Haiti, to an endless and dangerous sea. Three women, the female narrator, Manman, and Celianne, are all in terrible situations, yet hold strong. The female narrator in Haiti writes letters to her lost beloved, even though she can be killed if they are found, stands up to her father, and is forced to leave her home. Likewise, the strength of her mother, Manman, can be seen when she wants to save Madan Roger. Manman tells her husband, “you cannot let them kill somebody just because you are afraid” (17). Her husband disagrees and forces her to stay in hiding. We also travel with Celianne on the boat trip towards desired, but unachieved, freedom. We learn that fifteen-year old Celianne had gone through abominable situations in Haiti, such as rape and beating, and was pregnant. Instead of giving up hope, she leaves Haiti, and the male narrator comments, “I don’t know how she takes it” (10). Even when Celianne has a stillborn baby, she refuses to give the baby up. However, as circumstances get even more dire, she throws the baby and herself overboard. This should not be seen as a sign of weakness. Celianne had endured unthinkable travesties, and her decision to kill herself shows the love for her child.
            Contrastingly, “Caroline’s Wedding” takes place in Brooklyn, where there may not be as much political instability and violence as in Haiti, but the women face other types of adversity. Caroline’s mother must deal with her daughter marrying someone that she does not approve of, Caroline must deal with leaving home and her mother’s disapproval, and Grace must be the backbone for both of them. Although the women are encountering more emotional pain than physical pain, like the women in “Children of the Sea”, they all suffer, and finally come to peace with their struggles. For Ma, Caroline, and Grace, the resolution of their issues is marked by making bone soup and keeping Caroline’s bed in the apartment (215). All of their strength is tested, and they prove that they are capable of moving on with life.
            All of the women in Krik? Krak! experience unthinkable situations that are mostly foreign to us. However, even in today’s modern American society, women continuously show their bravery and strength. I see the strength of a woman every Monday at Tunbridge Charter School. The teacher I work with in the self-contained classroom is one of the strongest women I have ever met. She must deal with eight learning disabled boys, who are all at different grade levels, have behavior issues, and difficult home lives, all while being pregnant. Although it is clear that her students love and respect her, they still act out and get easily distracted. However, Mrs. Embry’s patience never wavers, and she always manages to calmly get the students back on track. I am always amazed by her level-headedness and forbearance, even though she is exhausted and stressed. When I ask her how she does it, she explained to me that she knows that most of the students have a much more difficult life than she does, so it would not seem right to always be yelling at them. She “travels” into their shoes and reasons that her classroom may be their one place of solstice, so she would like to make it as comfortable as possible for them. From my observations throughout the semester, it is obvious that Mrs. Embry and the students have a great rapport, and that the class feels more like a community. This is chiefly due to Mrs. Embry’s strength and patience, even through hectic and difficult times. Much like the women in Krik? Krak!, she experiences hardships, but she does not let them hinder her.