The Dew Breaker – Themes, Motifs, Symbols

Edwidge Danticat

The Dew Breaker

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The Dew Breaker – Themes, Motifs, Symbols

Totalitarianism is the shadow that lies over all of the characters in this book, even though so many of them are living in Haiti’s post-totalitarian era. Some characters, like Ka’s father, have been corrupted by participating in the violent acts of a totalitarian regime. Others, like Beatrice, are haunted by the terrors that have been inflicted upon them in the past. While many novels about totalitarianism are written as dystopias, portraying the daily life of those under a repressive regime, Danticat’s novel explores the ways in which totalitarianism can be embodied by perpetrators and victims and continue to haunt subsequent generations even after the regime has fallen.

Fatherhood is a metaphor for political leadership in this novel, although Danticat is not necessarily saying that political leaders should be men. Ka’s father in his youth embodies the totalitarian dictator on a smaller scale, and the question is whether he can truly change and become a loving father. Ka’s relationship with her father, and her mother’s relationship with Ka’s father, parallel the relationship of the Haitian people to their nation’s government (even though the government, like Ka’s father, has changed). We see this difficult relationship echoed throughout the novel. Michel, for example, has very mixed feelings about his father, Christophe, and Claude killed his father. Michel has decided to prevent his own son from having such feelings by recording the truth to pass on to his son.

Danticat wants us to understand that the suffering of women is common in totalitarian regimes and that these regimes cause significant social fragmentation. Beatrice and Anne, for example, are both bereaved by Haiti’s horrible past. Nadine, meanwhile, is not directly affected by the regime, but she suffers due to the breakup of Haitian community and Haitian families caused by the regime. On the other hand, Danticat portrays women as playing a reconstructive role, often in community with one another. Aline and Ka both plan to work to portray the truth. Anne, while traumatized, works for redemption for her husband. The friends studying for the English diploma test share their stories of loss, and thereby work toward…

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