Analysis of “Claire of the Sea Light” by Edwidge Danticat
Claire of the Sea Light by Edwidge Danticat is set in the country of Haiti and demonstrates the way of life of the Haitian people.
Written by someone who lives in New York but a native of Haiti, the novel is an exemplification of how one’s background can influence the way they view life in general (Sontag 1). Danticat writes vividly about the life in Haiti even though she herself is a resident of the progressive developed and modern city of New York. She left the country when she was still a little girl, but still remembers the way of life, the struggles and the problems that the people of Haiti face in their daily lives. The purpose of the current essay is to discuss how an author’s homeland or native country can impact immensely on their identity and the views that they develop towards life.
Danticat’s understanding of the struggles of the people of Haiti seems to be genetically imprinted, given that she herself had not experienced the suffering like the people she writes about. On the onset, she exclaims at the challenges of the people in Haiti clearly capturing the lives that they live in the country. Through the main character, Claire, “who was born while her mother was exiting the world”, the author captures the difficulties that children experience when they lose one or both of their parents in a poverty stricken country (Danticat 21). Claire’s father is willing to give her daughter to Madam Gaielle whom he believes will be able to teach her in a motherly way.
Ironically, Madam Gaielle has failed to bring up her son, who through misbehavior impregnates the maid of the house. Madam Gaielle also lost her daughter in a tragic road accident, which then complicates her relationship with Nozias family. Part of the reason might be that Madam Gaielle, even though she is among the 5 percent wealthy people in Ville Rosa, is also a single woman whose husband has died. She is also worried about, “her reputed lose ways, her rumored desperation for male companionship” (Danticat 30). Thus, she wishes that her husband would be around to help bring up their son. This is the reason she and her son do not fail to attend the anniversary celebration of her husband’s death each year. Interestingly, Claire also suckled her after the death of the child’s mother and when Nozias, Claire’s father, asks her to take care of the daughter, she is left in dilemma between bringing her son up and taking care of a foster child.
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From the above narration, and other events in the book, it is evident that Danticat’s views about life in Haiti are formed by her being a member of the Haitian society. The way she narrates the encounter between Nozias and Madam Gaielle at the graveyard demonstrates her link and relationship with the people of Haiti. Though she may be sailing in the comfort of the New York, it is evident that she identifies herself with the experiences and sufferings of the people of Haiti and wishes to bring their experiences to the world. Like in many parts of the world, there are good things and bad things that happen to people. It is what the author intends to bring to the world. Through her perspectives, it is clear that Haiti is languishing in many miseries, both natural, such as the death of the fisherman at the sea, and artificial. These are the ones caused by the ineffective systems leaving majority of the people in poverty and lacking in education.
One aspect that stands out from the Claire of the Sea Light is that of the unexpected twists. Nozias has been contemplating of giving her daughter to the shopkeeper woman to take care of her since the girl was born. On the very day she finally reaches a conclusion to take her to the woman, the girl disappears. Danticat’s perspective of unexpected twists is revealed as a universal perspective that befalls both the rich and the poor. It is through her perspective of the unexpected twists that we can deduce the nature of life that people face despite of the society or community that they live in.
Danticat’s narration of the disordered natural world is also revealed during the incident of the frogs that symbolizes death. She upends the natural world of amphibians and shows how this can replenish the lives of the people. The author skillfully makes the incident about frogs believable to many people who may not have had an experience with frogs. Even though the scenario is disturbing and strange, it reveals the identity of the author as a native of Haiti. One may be left to wonder how someone who have lived comfortably in the precincts of a modern city come to have such a vivid and captivating narration of the encounters with frogs yet in reality she/he has not encountered them in real sense.
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Since death is frightening to everyone, the character in the frog scenario, Madam Gaielle, struggles with the thoughts about the death of her daughter and subsequently pops a dying frog in her mouth. As fate would have it, it is the same night that she gives birth to her daughter, who later dies in a road accident. The juxtaposition here, like in the birth of Claire when her mother died during child birth, is revealed by the matching of death with the redemptive light shown in the skies. The author’s view about the contrasts of life and death is revealed here in the sense that while a creature is brought to life and everything seems to be welcoming the new life, death is surrounding the creature through the natural calamities, such as sea, and artificial ones, such as environment destruction. These life limiting factors are rife in the Villa Rosa community in which the novel is set. It begs to know that the author’s views are informed by the real-life experience of the people she writes about.
The disappearance of Claire on the day when she is supposed to be given to her foster parent is something that describes the perception of the author about the Haitian community at Villa Rosa. Through this disappearance, she brings forth the ills and challenges that dominate this society with haunting memories, surprising truths, and painful secrets among others within the community. The stories that are told are connected to the missing girl. From this illustration, it becomes clear that Danticat views societies like the one in Villa Rosa to be connected in some way. Whether poor or rich, everybody has a story that touches on the welfare of everyone in the society. In striving to resolve the impasse brought on a community by isolated incidents, people need to understand the challenges that others are facing and connect the dots where they fall in the circle (Sontag 1).
The way the author illustrates optimism in Villa Rosa and the entire Haiti is an evidence that life indeed overlaps between good and bad. The writer is acquainted with the best side of life as much as she is with the bad side of life. “From her perfectly round breasts down, she was in the middle of a school of tiny silver fish, which were ignoring her and feeding on gleaming specks of algae floating on the water’s surface” (Danticat 45). From the quote, it is clear that the writer thinks that life has got good things to offer to the people living in poverty although their conditions inhibit enjoyment of this luxury. This is shown in the problems that befall the people who live in the beautiful country with so much to offer yet so little to enjoy. In this way, Danticat develops a perception that whatever life offers, one should find meaning in it.
In conclusion, Danticat’s views expressed in Claire of the Sea Light are intertwined with the way of life of her native country of Haiti.
Though she lives in a developed country, she identifies herself with the cultural and social life of the people of Haiti, whom she seeks to represent correctly to the world. One is able to see that Haiti is bedeviled with a lot of challenges, but there are also good things, like the promise of good life for Claire even though it does not come to pass since she disappears before she is taken in by a foster mother. The main protagonist in the author’s view is the society that people live in. Claire who is introduced at the start of the novel only re-emerges towards the end when the story of Villa Rosa is told to the full. Clearly, the writer’s views in the novel are not so much informing about her diaspora life. Instead, she is entrenched by identification of the Haitian culture and way of life which she narrates about with suspense and knowledge.