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.