Thursday, November 18, 2010

Hopeful and Frightening Belief

Both “Children of the Sea” and “Nineteen Thirty-Seven” feature characters who hold beliefs in a mysticism which seems to subtly, and never unambiguously, affect reality. Kompé in “Children of the Sea” believes that the ocean is a gateway into a watery “heaven” where it is possible to live free from “the chains of slavery” which the political situation in Haiti has placed on him (12, 27). The reader is given the responsibility of reconciling this utopian view of the ocean with the “merc[iless]” body of water which Kompé and his fellow passengers are combating against to survive (26). One could be left with the impression that Kompé reinterprets and personifies the ocean as a way to cope with its apathy. If the reader accepts this premise, the character’s statement at the conclusion of the story that he “was chosen to live… with Agwé at the bottom of the sea” is not an example of catharsis but insanity (27, 28). However, considering that the other protagonist in the story, Kompé’s love interest, espouses a belief in the ability of butterflies to signify life and death that is seemingly confirmed when a black butterfly appears soon after her lover drowns, I would guess that Danticat intends for the reader to embrace Kompé’s trust in a similarly ethereal concept.

The narrator of “Nineteen Thirty-Seven” is surrounded by persons who claim to have an understanding of mysticism. The narrator’s mother views the Massacre River as possessing a holy quality which gives those who survived the genocide committed near it “wings of [flame],” and while the reader of “Children of the Sea” is left exclusively with the conundrum of whether the kingdom Kompé hopes for actually exists, in this story any confusion the reader has about the nature of the river’s power is matched by the narrator’s (41). I am reminded of my research on and our class’s discussion about The Voyage of the Dawn Treader earlier in the semester, and how one criticism of Aslan, which Laura Miller voiced in her book, was that his constant action in the plot made it easy to accept his status as a spiritual deity (Miller). The protagonist of “Nineteen Thirty-Seven,” in contrast, has no such clear example that would allow her to believe fully and happily in her mother’s powers. She is probably inclined to disagree with the people of Ville Rose’s claim that her mother is a “witch,” because they express their faith in the paranormal through fearful violence (39). To admit that her mother could perform magic would compel the protagonist to consider the possibility that the latter did “cause the death of a child,” or at least that the public’s fear might be valid (39). For the protagonist, the decision to believe in the spirituality which her mother associates with the river is not a choice between the barbaric temporal world and an idyllic unseen one, but one that requires trust in an incorporeal plane which could be as dangerous as the corporal one she lives in (OED).


Danticat, Edwidge. Krik? Krak! New York: Vintage Books, 1995.

Lewis, C.S. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.

Miller, Laura. The Magician’s Book: A Skeptic’s Adventures In Narnia.

Cassidy, Jessica. Johnson, Thomas. Bibliography for “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Part II” Presentation.

McCarthy, David Matzko. The Good Life: Genuine Christianity for the Middle Class. Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2004.

Oxford English Dictionary Online. Web.

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