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  1. The Haitian goddess Erzulie is both a goddess of love and the Virgin Mary. What does this tell you about the Haitian culture and its ideas of love and religion? How does this differ from American and European culture?
  2. Martine's rape by an unknown man, possibly a Macoute, is the defining event in her life, bringing with it overpowering feelings of fear and self-loathing which she passes on to her daughter. Sophie's therapist even suggests that Martine undergo an exorcism. How does Sophie in her own way succeed in "exorcising" the evil events of the past? "It was up to me to avoid my turn in the fire" (p. 203), she says; how does she achieve this?
  3. When Sophie breaks her maidenhead with the pestle, she likens it to "breaking manacles, an act of freedom" (p. 130). What exactly does "freedom" mean to Sophie? Which of her other actions represent bids for freedom and autonomy? What does she accomplish when, at the end of the novel, she beats the stalks of sugar cane? What does the final cry of "Ou lib®r®" (p. 233) mean to Sophie? To Atie? Do you feel that Martine in some manner "liberated" herself by committing suicide? Or was her act one of submission?
  4. Do you believe that the three women in the sexual phobia group have comparable problems? Is the word "abuse" equally appropriate in each of their cases? How effective is their joint attempt to free themselves from their past? Is Buki's wrecked balloon a pessimistic symbol? Do you believe that the therapist's psychological tools are adequate to deal with the complex, culturally rooted problems of Sophie and Buki?
  5. When a new baby is born in Haiti, says If®, "if it is a boy, the lantern will be put outside the shack," but if it is a girl "only the mother will be left in the darkness to hold her child. There will be no lamps, no candles, no more light." (p. 146) How does this ritual, with its sense of sorrow rather than celebration, color Martine's feelings for Sophie, and Sophie's for Brigitte?
  6. What is the significance of Martine's "Marassas" story in the context of the relationship between Martine and Sophie? Why does Martine tell the story to Sophie as if she is "testing" her? Why is the theme of likeness, of identification between mother and daughter, so important to Martine? Why does Sophie resist it? When she comes to terms with her mother at the end of the novel, is it because she identifies with her mother or because she comes to feel independent of her? Or both? Do you sense that she has fully forgiven Martine for the hurt she has caused her?
  7. Violence and fear are important elements of this story. How does Danticat highlight the family's personal sense of violence with carefully chosen incidents of random violence in Haitian society? From the way Danticat describes rural Haiti, does violence seem an intrinsic element of the culture or does it instead seem something imposed from outside?

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