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Children Of The Sea Critical Essay

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Rena Korb has a master's degree in English literature and creative writing and has written for a wide variety of educational publishers. In the following essay, she discusses the imagery in "Children of the Sea."

At the age of twenty-six, young for a writer, Edwidge Danticat has many honors credited to her name. Aside from publishing two books, the novel Breath, Eyes, Memory and a collection of short stories, Krik? Krak!, she has also received much critical acknowledgment. Her novel earned her recognition by the New York Times as one of the "thirty young artists to watch," and it was nominated for a National Book Award in 1995. KriW Krak! drew as many rave reviews; Publishers Weekly writes that it "confirm[s] Danticat's reputation as a remarkably gifted writer."

Danticat, who emigrated from Haiti to the United States when she was twelve years old, writes about life in her country and its people. The Haiti that emerges from Danticat's fiction is the one in which she grew up, a country under the rule of dictators Francois "Papa Doc" Duvalier and his son Jean-Claude, known as "Baby Doc." The Duvaliers governed Haiti by dint of oppression and cruelty. Their brutal secret police--the Tonton Macoutes--committed many atrocities against the Haitian people. The Duvalier regime was not overthrown until 1986, but the political situation suffered upheaval until well into the 1990s.

Haitian writers from the mid-1940s on have often found themselves, like Danticat, far from home. Given the restrictive and violent dictatorship that has controlled Haiti and its people, many Haitian writers have not been allowed to express themselves freely in their own country. Danticat, even though she lives in the United States, has stated that she doubted not only her ability to write, but she also had the feeling that it might be a dangerous profession. A strong part of the culture, however, is its tradition of storytelling. The title of Danticat'scollection bears witness to her rich heritage of storytelling and is explained in the epigram: "We tell the stories so that the young ones will know what came before them. They say Krik? We say Krak! Our stories are kept in our hearts."

Danticat follows in another tradition; that of writers from other cultures living in the United States who give voice to the sorrows and the joys that have shaped their experiences. The works of Jamaica Kincaid, who was born in Antigua, highlight the anger that West Africans feel about their past enslavement. Toni Morrison, though born in the United States, explores the issue of oppression through the institution of slavery. Perhaps most similar to Danticat's writings are those of Julia Alvarez, whose family fled from the Trujillo dictatorship and the Dominican Republic. Alvarez, like Danticat, revisits her homeland in her work and describes the horrors of living under a regime of terror and examines how the bonds of family are perhaps strengthened by such circumstances.

Some of the power of Danticat's fiction lies in its shocking subject matter; she often depicts violent death, incest, rape, and extreme poverty. Danticat fills her stories with characters who exist within a painful external world. Like Haitian writers who have come before her, Danticat battles against the despair of the past and the pain of exile while also describing a culture in which people learn, love, and laugh. Despite growing up in a society which often seeks to silence women, Danticat has found her voice. She has found a way to tell the stories of her country's men and women and in a modern voice that brings attention to the problems of the past.

"Children of the Sea," the first story in the collection Krik? Krak!, tells of young lovers separated by the political situation. He is a revolutionary who has been forced to flee Haiti on a small, rickety boat or risk his life at the hands of Duvalier's secret police. The young woman he wants to marry remains with her family in Haiti where she continues to witness the ever-present horrors. The hero of the story, who is never given a name, epitomizes the choice that so many Haitians have faced over the years: exile or imprisonment. The heroine, also nameless, exemplifies the people who stay behind but must pay the price of silence.

The story is in the epistolary style, which means that it is written as a series of letters between the two main characters. Though they cannot send these letters, their telling of stones in the "Krik? Krak!"method lessens the pain of separation for them. "When we see each other again, it will seem like we lost no time," one of them writes. Expressing their stories through writing rather than speaking also symbolizes their political oppression, since their separation is caused by their inability to speak freely in Haiti. The exchange of ideas must be secretive. The Haitians understand this and break their code of silence only when secrecy loses its power to affect change. The mother tells her daughter "sometimes you have to choose between your father and the man you love" after the young man has gone into exile. Conversely, Madan Roger holds on to her secret and never reveals the names of her dead son's associates to the secret police. The young woman, while not hiding her relationship with the young man, does not tell her father of their love until the issue has become moot. Even when she does speak the truth, her father does not acknowledge the secret: "he looked me straight in the eye and said nothing to me ... papa just turned his face away like he was rejecting my very birth." The young man is the only person who cannot keep his thoughts to himself. His involvement with a revolutionary group, "the Radio Six," provided him with a forum where "we could talk about what we wanted from government, what we wanted for the future of our country." Though he escaped from Haiti, he will die because of his boldness.

The young



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