The brutal treatment the Haitian military metes out to the Haitian people is one of the driving forces of Krik? Krak!It breaks apart families, tears lovers asunder, forces characters to make difficult decisions, and causes them to question their allegiance to their mother country. The male letter writer in “Children of the Sea” is forced to abandon his love and flee to the United States because he fears the macoutes will torture and kill him. Those same macoutes brutally beat Madan Roger with the butts of their guns because of her son’s connection to an anti-Duvalier radio show. Madan Roger’s neighbors keep silent while she is beaten, even though it “sounds like [the soldiers] are cracking all the bones in her body,” because they fear becoming the target of such violence themselves (Danticat 14). These are two clear examples of how brutal acts are used to keep the Haitian people within the government’s control.
The brutality of the government and military is not only physical. It also has elements of psychological warfare. For example, Guy, from “A Wall of Fire Rising,” commits suicide and abandons his wife and young son because he can no longer handle living in a corrupt military state devoid of freedom and opportunities. Another harrowing example of the mental and emotional manipulation of the Duvalier regime is the forced copulation of immediate family members. In “Children of the Sea” Célianne is forced to watch as the macoutes make her brother have sex with their mother. This type of senseless brutality is what causes Haitians like the Aziles from “Caroline’s Wedding” to flee Haiti and question whether or not they should even go back to visit.
Because of the major and minor horrors and obstacles of daily life under the Duvalier regimes, the characters of Krik? Krak!continually oscillate between hope and hopelessness. Some, like Guy in “A Wall of Fire Rising” or Célianne in “Children of the Sea,” succumb to the hopelessness of their situations and seek out freedom in the form of death. Others, like Lamort from “The Missing Peace,” rally in the face of violence and maintain their hope. The source of this hope comes in different forms. For Lamort, her hope stems from her ability to finally claim her mother’s name as her own. For Suzette in “New York Day Women,” hope comes in the form of her stoutly Haitian mother learning how to navigate and survive in New York City.
Hope is also a weapon the Duvalier regime uses against the Haitian people. In “Children of the Sea” a rumor is circulated that the old president is returning. Thousands of Haitians flock to the airport to greet him, only to be gunned down and arrested by the macoutes. In a world where violence happens as quickly as taking a breath, hope can be a dangerous emotion to have.
Questions and conflicts about national identity permeate all of the stories in Krik? Krak!Because of the injustice and terror the Duvaliers mete out to the Haitian people, some Haitians flee to the United States in search of safety, freedom, and opportunities. Once there, they grapple with the cultural differences between Haiti and the United States, and cling to some facets of their old lives despite their new surroundings. For example, Suzette’s mother in “New York Day Women” refuses to go out to dinner, and prefers to cook meals at home. In “Caroline’s Wedding,” Hermine bemoans the fact that her daughters think and act “so American” and have “no taste buds” by her Haitian standards (Danticat 140). However, when Grace successfully becomes a naturalized citizen, Hermine is overjoyed, because it feels like the hopes and dreams she and her husband had of a better life in the United States have finally come to fruition. The desire to assimilate to American society while also maintaining their Haitian roots is one of the major conflicts facing the characters of Krik? Krak!
Furthermore, conflicts over national identity are not limited to exchanges between Haitians and Americans in Krik? Krak!Haiti has a tumultuous history with the Dominican Republic–a history that is heavily alluded to in “Nineteen Thirty-Seven.” The murder and forced removal of Haitians from Dominica made many people question where their true home was, and what their real nationality was. Another example of this facet of struggles with national identity is found in “Caroline’s Wedding.” Hermine is deeply troubled that Caroline will marry Eric, a Bahamian, instead of a Haitian man. Although Eric is also from the Caribbean and an immigrant, the cultural differences his national identity represents are problematic to Hermine.
The enduring power of love appears in many forms and from a plethora of sources in Krik? Krak! The love between lovers, of a father for his daughter, a mother for her son, strangers for strangers, etc. add an element of hope in the face of the trials and tribulations the characters must endure. In “Children of the Sea,” the love of the two letter writers is shown in their commitment to write letters to each other, although they know those letters will never be sent or received. Also in “Children of the Sea,” the father of the female letter writer forfeits all of his assets, his entire inheritance from his ancestors, in order to save his daughter from the macoutes. This type of sacrifice is also a form of love. The night woman in “Night Women” fights to shield her son from the truth about her status as a sex worker, because she wishes to preserve his innocence. This is also an act of love. Finally, the love strangers can have for strangers is apparent in “Between the Pool and the Gardenias,” when Marie “adopts” Rose after finding the little baby girl abandoned near a sewer. Although Marie is in part motivated by her inability to have her own child, she still shows a willingness to nurture a baby who was cast out by its true parents. The love Marie harbors for Rose hints at the idea of a universal love Haitians have for one another.
The relationships between mothers and daughters are at the crux of most of the tales in Krik? Krak!Mothers sacrifice themselves for their daughters, sometimes giving their lives for their daughters, and other times making difficult decisions so their daughters can have better futures. In “Nineteen Thirty-Seven,” Défilé’s mother is a prime example of a mother that sacrificed herself for her child. During the mass execution the Dominican Republic carried out against Haitians at the Massacre River Défilé’s mother stayed behind so Défilé and her unborn child, Josephine, could escape. Défilé was forced to watch from the other side of the river as El Generalissimo’s soldiers cut up her mother’s body and threw it in the river. Later that same night, Défilé gave birth to Josephine. Rather than be traumatized that her mother’s death is so clearly linked to her daughter’s birth, Défilé tells Josphine, “at least you came out at the right moment to take my mother’s place” (Danticat 36). It is evident from this quote that Défilé sees her mother and her daughter as two entities cut from the same biological and emotional cloth. Though she has lost her mother, she now has her daughter to fill the void in her life that her mother left.
The act of fleeing Haiti for a better life is also an example of a mother’s sacrifice for her children. In “New York Day Women” and “Caroline’s Wedding,” we are presented with two older Haitian women who have varying degrees of difficulty adapting and assimilating to their new American surroundings. While these women undoubtedly fled Haiti in fear of the oppressive Duvalier regimes, they also left because they wanted to provide lives of opportunity for their daughters. This is felt most strongly in “Caroline’s Wedding,” when Grace finally earns her American citizenship and her mother rejoices at the “boundless possibilities” her daughter now has (Danticat 139).
Of course, the mother-daughter relationship is a two-way street. Daughters sacrifice for and nurture their mothers, while also challenging the long-held beliefs of the earlier generation. In “Nineteen Thirty-Seven,” Josephine frequently visits her mother in jail despite the emotional pain it gives her and the danger of also being accused of witchcraft. In “The Missing Peace,” Lamort fills the void her dead mother left in her grandmother’s life. This is a clear parallel to Défilé and Josephine’s situation in “Nineteen Thirty-Seven.” In “Caroline’s Wedding,” Grace and Caroline provide for their mother’s livelihood, while also challenging her traditional Haitian beliefs by questioning the restorative powers of strong bone soup and marrying a non-Haitian man. Throughout Krik? Krak!mothers and daughters (and grandmothers) perform roles in each other’s lives that no one else could satisfy. The matrilineal lines and connections in Krik? Krak!run deep and strong.
Freedom is an elusive idea and state of being in Krik? Krak! For some characters, like the male letter writer in “Children of the Sea,” freedom means safety from political prosecution and the right to intellectual freedom. For the female inmates in “Nineteen Thirty-Seven,” freedom means the end of their incarceration and the physical release of their bodies back into society. For Guy in “A Wall of Fire Rising,” freedom means living life on his own terms and leaving behind a memory of himself he can be proud of. In all of these examples, the characters at first try to seek out freedom in the land of the living: the letter writer embarks on a dangerous exodus via boat in search of political asylum in the United States; the female inmates try to survive and scrape out existences for themselves while behind bars; and Guy tries to make the most of his life with his wife and son, often taking degrading jobs in order to support them. But despite their efforts, for all of these characters the type of freedom they seek is impossible to achieve. A sinking ship, disease, starvation, personal demons, etc. all bar their paths to freedom. So, in various ways, all of them succumb to death and find a different sort of freedom.
Elements of mysticism and the supernatural pervade almost every story in Krik? Krak!Sometimes there are direct references to magic, such as the female letter writer in “Children of the Sea” wishing she had wanga magic to use against the macoutes. Other times, the mysticism is present in the overall atmosphere, mood, and tone of the story. This is true in “Between the Pool and the Gardenias,” when Marie is so transfixed at the thought of having her own baby that she ignores Rose’s lack of life. As readers, we are left to wonder for most of “Between the Pool and the Gardenias” if Rose is actually still alive, or if Marie is hallucinating or performing magic that animates Rose. It is not until Marie remarks on Rose’s increasing smell that we realize the baby is indeed dead. This inability to discern between life and death adds to the mystical, supernatural vibe of Krik? Krak!
At times the mysticism of Krik? Krak! is matter-of-fact and treated as mundane, while at other times it is a source of fear and persecution. For example, in “Seeing Things Simply,” when a man buries his dead rooster as a sacrifice to his father, no one is alarmed, aside from remarking that he just wasted good meat. This wildly contrasts with what happens to Josephine’s mother in “Nineteen Thirty-Seven,” after she is accused of being a Lougarou. The difference in treatment of men who actually practice Voudou and women who are only suspected of practicing it reveal a gender bias and inequality vis-à-vismagic and mysticism in Haiti.
Krik? Krak! Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Krik? Krak! is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.