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. Krik? 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 . . . Read More
Haiti: The Early Years
Although Danticat had been living in the United States for fourteen years by the time ‘ ‘Children of the Sea” was first published, the story draws upon her experience of having spent her early years in Haiti. With generations of experience in poverty, dictatorship, and oppression, Haiti’s population knows hardship well. ‘ ‘Children of the Sea” takes place in the turbulent mid-1980s, when the longstanding Duvalier dictatorship was toppled, and people’s brief hopes for democracy were dashed by the military government which succeeded the dictator.
Haiti shares a large island in the Caribbean Sea with the Dominican Republic. In 1492, Christopher Columbus landed on this island, which he named Hispaniola, and found what he believed was an earthly paradise. In the seventeenth century, the French and the Spanish divided the island between them. Spain received the eastern . . . Read More
Point of View and Narration
“Children of the Sea” is narrated in the first person by two distinct voices. The first belongs to a young man who is fleeing Haiti on a leaky boat. The second voice is that of the man’s lover, a young woman who remains in Haiti with her family. The story is written in the form of letters from each of the characters to the other, a style known as “epistolary,” which is derived from the ancient Greek word meaning “message” or “letter.” To underscore the danger of their respective situations, neither of the characters refers to each other by name. To do so would jeopardize their lives even more. Through their letters, which cannot be mailed, the reader learns of the characters’ deepest thoughts, the ones they are afraid to voice.
The characters’ personalities are revealed by how they write and what they choose to write about. The man on the . . . Read More
“Children of the Sea” follows two Haitian narrators in the tumultuous days following the coup that deposed President Aristide.
Justice and Injustice
One of the most important themes in “Children of the Sea” is justice. From the reader’s perspective, the overwhelming injustice of the narrators’ situation is highlighted by the events the author chooses to recount in the story. A totalitarian dictator has made his country an unbearable place to live. People are killed for disagreeing, for speaking publicly, and for trying to protect their families. Even when the young man is forced to flee for his life on a boat, injustice prevails. His fellow passengers are so bent upon survival that for them, the only question of “justice” is whether they should throw the sick people off the boat to save themselves. The harsh conditions on the boat seem no better than the world they had left behind. The . . . Read More
Celianne is a young woman of fifteen who is on the boat with the first narrator. She is pregnant, rarely eats, and “stares in space all the time and rubs her stomach.” Celianne has been raped and impregnated by the soldiers who had come to her house to arrest her brother. During the voyage she gives birth to a girl who is stillborn. The child’s silence underscores the symbolism of her mother’s silence, which indicates that spiritually, Celianne is already dead. When she throws the baby’s body into the sea, she jumps in after it and drowns.
The male narrator’s words are the first in the story. The reader never learns his name, but he reveals his circumstance to the reader through his writings. He is at sea after having fled his homeland, and he has left behind the woman he loves. As the story unfolds, more is learned about the young man from the other . . . Read More
The story opens with an unnamed narrator, a young Haitian revolutionary, thinking of his girlfriend. He is on a small boat that has set sail for Miami, Florida. He is going into exile because he is wanted by the Haitian government. These details are disclosed by the young woman, who is the second narrator of the story. While her lover has left the country, she remains behind with her mother and father. The man and woman tell their stories through a series of letters. Though they cannot mail these letters, they are writing to appease their loneliness while they are away from one another. When they are reunited, they will feel as if they have not been apart.
In Haiti the young man, a university student, was a member of a youth federation that protested the dictator and called for a new government. He fled the country when the secret police, known as the Tonton Macoutes, cracked down on his group. The other members have been killed by the army, and even more students were . . . Read More
“The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County” appears at first glance to be a simple, humorous story, but actually is a complex satire of American literature, social conventions, and politics. Like the land around the mining settlement of Angel’s Camp, it has riches under the surface, and the patient and careful reader can tap into this vein.
Inspired by an anecdote Mark Twain heard while traveling in the western United States, the sketch was published in various forms and under various titles, including “Jim Smiley and His Jumping Frog” and “The Notorious Jumping Frog of Calaveras County,” but the basic story remains the same in all versions. The narrator, apparently from the eastern part of the nation, finds himself in a western mining camp listening to a rustic character tell stories about a habitual gambler named Jim Smiley and the animals that were the subject of Smiley’s bets.
The story’s structure was . . . Read More
America in the Mid to Late Nineteenth Century
“The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County” was first published in 1865, when Mark Twain was living in the American Southwest, which was still in the process of being settled. The Industrial Revolution had brought machinery and factories to the eastern United States, but most of the country, particularly areas west of the Mississippi River, still relied on the land for economic development. Much of the land in the West was devoted to cattle, and the U.S. government was involved in battles and embroilments with various Native American tribes in order to obtain more land. The West’s growing population was influenced by both the Homestead Act of 1862, which promised free farms to families, and by the discovery of gold in California in 1848. As a result of this discovery, mining towns and camps, such as Angel’s Camp where Twain sets “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of . . . Read More
The frame tale structure of “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County” is one of its most important parts. In a frame tale, one story appears in—that is, it is framed by—another story. In “Jumping Frog” the outer tale focuses on Mark Twain and his meeting with the talkative old storyteller, Simon Wheeler. This meeting occurs at the request of a friend of Twain’s, identified in some versions of the tale as A. Ward, who supposedly wants to find out about an old acquaintance named Leonidas Smiley. Twain reveals, however, that he suspects his friend’s request was merely a practical joke designed to waste his time. Twain’s suspicions about the meeting and his descriptions of Wheeler appear in the few paragraphs that open and close the entire story. Twain speaks in the first person in these passages. Because this portion of the tale first appeared in the form of a letter, the entire story . . . Read More
A cultured Easterner relates his recent visit to a talkative old man at a western mining camp. Rather than providing information that the Easterner is looking for, the old man keeps him waiting while he spins a tale about a betting man and his pet frog.
“The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County,” highlights various aspects of late nineteenth-century American society and culture through the retelling of a tall tale. Central to the story is the idea of conflicting cultures, particularly the clash between the settled, eastern portion of the United States and the still-developing West. At the time Twain wrote the story, the East and its inhabitants had a reputation for being civilized, cultured, and advanced. The West, on the other hand, was still being settled and was considered to be populated by a less-educated and less-refined group of people. By extension, Westerners were thought by Easterners to be naive . . . Read More