Edwige Danticat weaves in narratives of trauma and resiliance in her novel, ‘The Dew Breaker,’ which asks the question, 'when there are both hunter and hunted, who has experienced trauma?' This novel in particular is unique in that it is a series of intertwining short stories that takes the reader through the lives of several Haitians and Haitian Americans, whose stories all ultimately tie into traumatic experiences related to the Duvalier regime and its subsequent downfall. We have chosen eight sounds that illustrate moments from the book where we have identified trauma in some capacity.
The characters in this novel demonstrate are effected by a variety of traumas- while some are exposed to the direct effects of the Baby Doc regime, others deal with trauma indirectly, watching loved ones undergo a constant struggle with trauma. Throughout the novel, tension between Haitan and American identites prevail, a theme very common in many of Danticat's works.
This exhibition of sounds can be broken into two categories: literal translations of trauma, and emblematic representations of trauma. Although the sounds may not be traumatic themselves, they are representatives of a moment or situation that was a part of a character’s trauma. They could trigger the recollection of an event for the character, in the same way that many diagnosed with PTSD have auditory triggers. These sounds, which may seem ordinary to those who have not experienced a related trauma, can be very emotive to some of the characters throughout the Dew Breaker (see Boeing 777 Airplane Takeoff and "Please Hang Up and Try Again" entries as examples).
We included this recording in the exhibit to explore the theme of immigration that arises throughout The Dew Breaker, which in itself can be a traumatic transition. Many characters in the different vignettes in the novel immigrate from Port-au-Prince to New York, including Ka’s family in The Water Child and Dany’s wife in Seven. In Night Talkers, Claude makes the reverse trip, and similarly, struggles to find his place. The airplane journey can serve as a sonic signature of trauma not only because it represents the moment of geographic transition, but also a crossing of symbolic boundaries, between cultures, between ways of life, and between distinct chronological periods in one’s personal history. In addition to these changes, it also represents a venture into the unfamiliar, which can be a significant point in the narrative of one’s own trauma if borne out of some aspect of the displacement. We wanted to use the sound to evoke the limbo state a passenger feels during takeoff, which further represents how the person is temporally, geographically, and culturally suspended.
This recording emblematizes the sounds of street violence, and clashes between violent rioters and policemen. The sound of gunshots in the streets is a commonality for those living under an oppressive government, through war, civil unrest, or territorial land grabs. A gunshot is a sound that disrupts one’s consciousness, a constant reminder of the danger that pervades one’s surroundings, which cannot simply recede into background noise, no matter how common. This kind of street violence transforms a young man’s neighborhood in Monkey Tails, and he describes falling asleep to “the sound of gunfire”. We wanted to use this sound to evoke how startling a gunshot can be, even amidst an otherwise chaotic ambient environment. We also wanted to utilize the general clash between law enforcement and the popular mob to draw parallels to the struggle between the macoutes and the civilians, which follows a similar power dynamic, in which the authority figures use their monopoly on violence to exert their will over another body.
The strong association of the gunshot sound with violence, as well as its ubiquity in certain social, political, or historical contexts, makes it a likely trigger of traumatic memory. Given this, it is important to note that this recording might be triggering for people who have suffered traumatic experiences that could be evoked by the chaotic mayhem of mob-authority struggles or involving gun violence.
The sound of glass shattering, while in this clip is produced in a controlled manner, is very much a universal sounds of destruction. By its nature, shattering glass requires a force of some sort, and is therefore associated with acts of violence or unrest.
We have chosen to include this sound in our collection of The Dew Breaker sounds as a representation of a transformative series of events in the 12-year-old Michel’s life (141), where he is thrust into the political turmoil when Baby Doc is overthrown and chaos ensues. This sound, which comes as Michel and his mother hide under their bed, serves as an auditory signal that this crisis has abruptly intruded into his life, just as the rock has suddenly come flying through his home’s window, “changing everything” for this young boy (Page 164).
This sound was selected as part of the exhibition because of the integral role the act of a phone call had throughout this work. While the novel was broken into smaller, loosely related stories, the motif of transnational travel and living long distances from loved ones is one of a small number of aspects that tie the novel together. In several of the stories (Book of the Dead, Seven, Water Child, The Dew Breaker), phone calls between family in Haiti and the US is a emphasized aspect of the story line.
This recording, which is the response mother Anne receives to her stream of consciousness life confession (page 241), represents the disconnect and difficulty to successfully communicate with loved ones far away, and ultimately the disconnect between two worlds: that of Haiti, and the world of the United States. The ringtone cold, impersonal nature contributes to the sense of distance and loneliness each party must feel. When listening to this sound, imagine how you would feel if this was the way your long-harbored secrets were reacted to- lonely, disconnected, and detached across the Caribbean Sea.
The sound of a conch was characteristic of the Haitian Revolution. In the chapter Monkey Tails, this sound acts as a symbol of revolt against the Haitian government. Immediately after Jean-Claude Duvalier’s dictatorship ends, a crowd forms in the streets. From under a cot, Michel and his mother hear the “echoes of drums, horns, bamboo flutes, and conch shells” (139). After fifteen years of a dictatorship in which trauma, death, fatherless children, and political disarray become commonplace events, the people of Haiti display their trauma in the form of a mob. Members of this mob seek revenge against macoutes, destroy monuments, and raid the homes of government officials. Though their actions do not take the form of celebration, they do exhibit a sense of empowerment; they are able to extend beyond their trauma. It is evident that a vast number of people have suffered from experiences that are based in the same Haitian economic, social, and political systems. The crowd of people in the streets use the conch shells and other instruments to reject further oppression, opposing the sources of their deeply entrenched trauma.
In the chapter ‘Seven,’ a man who finally brings his wife up from Haiti has to leave her for large parts of the day so that he can work, and she is left alone. At one point, the wife is lying on the bed listening to one of the few Creole radio stations that her husband had described to her, and feeling distressed as the radio announcers discuss tragedies and accidents that have befallen the Haitian community. We chose this this recording to illustrate the both the trauma of hearing about hardships on the radio, but also to be in a new land, having to search for those who speak your language, and speaking about places you have never been, but places that have persons of your nation. The wife in this chapter identified strongly with her Haitian nationality, and it was painful to listen to accounts of Haitians being mistreated. This recording is from RadioHaiti, the first independent radio station in Haiti. It was very contentious at the time, and the station’s anchor, Jean Dominique was assassinated for his work. Prior to his death, he too had moved to New York similar to the wife in this story. He fought for justice and change in Haiti throughout his life, and was unwavering in his coverage.
We drew the idea for the recording of the voicebox from the story “Water Child,” in which nurse Nadine, a Haitian immigrant, deals mostly with patients who have had to have their larynx removed and can no longer speak. An overarching theme of Danticat’s works is the presence of a character’s voice, and sometimes the removal. In this story, Nadine works with Ms. Hinds, a teacher who loses her voice. She tells Nadine that she is a dog who doesn’t bark (p. 62), because she has lost her voice. She is dehumanized, but a voice box could bring her back from this social death. This medical device would afford the patient the voice that Ms. Hinds desires, a voice that Nadine has, but is choosing not to use.
There are some ethical considerations that have gone into making this recording. For one, the patient’s name is listed on the original video, so we have include it to make it more easily accessible for people to find the Youtube video from our description, even though the patient has not consented to participate in our project directly. It was originally uploaded to provide information from a medical perspective on patients who use a voicebox, and here we are using it to illustrate an important theme in Danticat’s novel.