The Dew Breaker – Summary and Study Guide

Edwidge Danticat

The Dew Breaker

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The Dew Breaker – Summary and Study Guide

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides for challenging works of literature.  This 25-page guide for “The Dew Breaker” by Edwidge Danticat includes detailed chapter summaries and analysis covering 8 chapters, as well as several more in-depth sections of expert-written literary analysis. Featured content includes commentary on major characters, 10 important quotes, discussion questions, and key themes like Totalitarianism and Fatherhood.

Plot Summary

The Dew Breaker is a 2004 novel by Haitian-American author Edwidge Danticat. The novel focuses partly on life in Haiti under the totalitarian regime of Francois Duvalier and his son, Jean-Claude Duvalier. The Duvaliers were deposed in 1986 and the rest of the book—most of it, in fact—offers glimpses into the lives of Haitians and Haitian-Americans in the aftermath of the traumatic events under the regime. Some of these historical events are mentioned directly. Most of the time, though, historical events are revealed indirectly through the everyday lives of the characters as they cope with the effects of this history on their psychological and physical existence.

The title refers to the “dew breaker,” a nickname for the torturers working for the Duvaliers. As we learn in the novel, this nickname comes from the fact that these torturers arrived at the homes of their victims at the break of day, just as the dew appeared on the leaves. Often these torturers would take their victims away to one of two prison facilities in the capital, Port-au-Prince; other times they would simply execute them at home or in the street.

One of the main characters in the novel is a “dew breaker.” At the beginning of the novel, we find him in the United States as someone trying not merely to escape his past (and its potential legal consequences), but also to redeem himself for his crimes. In the final chapter, we learn his complicated backstory, which confuses our initial condemnation of his criminal past. The rest of the novel does not directly concern this character, but nearly all of the characters have crossed paths with him or other “dew breakers” in some way. The intertwining stories feature a range of other characters from both the United States and Haiti. The connections between the characters demonstrate the complex relationships between Haitians and Haitian-Americans, as well as the fragmented nature of life for the survivors of a period that left no one untouched or unharmed.

The themes of the novel include totalitarianism in the Third World, fatherhood, art, community, and family, among others. Recurring symbolic tropes include scars, doubles and double lives, the betrayal of women by men, and the complex intersections of individual lives.

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Chapter 1