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Campus News / News

Haiti Through the Eyes of the Characters In “Reflections of Loko-Miwa”

11/19/2019 3:20 pm

The Reflections of Loko-Miwa by Lilas Desquiron we are transported to Haiti where we are taken through the life of Cocotte and Violaine. Throughout the novel Desquiron uses characters, setting and imagery to illustrate that racial tension and prejudices can lead to the demise of our characters and their world around them. Desquiron uses her characters to deliver this message.

The novel takes place in Port-au-Prince, Haiti in the 1950s through the1960’s. In it we are introduced to our cast of characters, we are introduced to the religion of Vodou, and we are introduced to racial issues, in Haiti, that the author brings to a forefront throughout the novel. This story follows our two main characters Alma Viva Jean Joseph (nicknamed Cocotte) and Violaine Delavigne who through Vodou are twin sisters called marasa. The significance of their sisterhood is that Cocotte is described as having dark skin and from the lower class while Violaine is described as having lighter skin and from the upper class. This is where Desquiron introduces the ideas of class and racial struggle and how they merge. Another two important characters that are brought up in the novel are Philippe Edouard and Alexandre who can be considered the parallels of the two women characters. Philippe Edouard is a light skin male apart of the upper class and who Violaine is betrothed to. Alexandre, on the other hand, has dark skin and is lower class and falls in love with Violaine. While these are the main characters, we have others that come into play such as, Violaine’s parents, Nounou, and often Papa Doc is referenced but never seen. While the characters move the story along another major device that Desquiron uses is setting.

One technique that is used in the book is the setting that Desquiron makes within her novel. Having the advantage of growing up in Haiti. She depicts a detailed Haiti for the reader and begins to lay the groundwork in how the classes behave and what will come later to the characters. Throughout the novel, the setting becomes symbolic of how the two girls feel and act. It is out in the market and in the forest where Violaine finally feels free. It is often described throughout the novel that the Delavigne house as “stilted and affectionate” (Desquiron 35). Another theme that is brought up within the book is duality which comes through in not just the character, such as Cocotte and Violaine, but also the setting in the differences between private and public spaces. There is also the difference between religions such as Catholicism and Vodou and what the religions mean to each character. Desquriron uses these techniques to show the duality of the world that the characters live in that in this story the women often lead double lives. Similarly, in Violaine’s case, she is controlled by her mother and how she should behave and appear. Therefore, Violaine creates these havens for herself throughout the book so that she can be herself fully and embrace the African side of her and practice Vodou in public. However, Madame Delavigne, her mother is wanting her to be French and practice Catholicism outwardly. Desquiron uses her setting to her advantage to help the reader understand the social climate that these characters are going through and in turn what they will do to be “free”.  Social constructs have been addressed in this paper and here I will dive into the intricacies of these issues.

A social construct that is brought up often is the issues of racial prejudices to move the plot of the story. This theme is brought up constantly because it is ingrained in Haiti’s culture. The country was occupied by France; however, tensions grew and there was a slave revolt. Consequently, from there on tensions continue to grow because there is a need to be wealthy for survival and to achieve that is to light-skinned and practice Catholicism similarly to the Delavigne family or Philippe Edouard and his family. This book takes place in the 1950s and grows with the girls into the 1960s. At this time a Dictator names Papa Doc is in power and he promised that the return of dark skin, African roots, and Vodou will be in power again. So, the tension between the upper and lower class due to race and skin color is now struggling for power. This is important to understand because it is specific to Haiti and its history that becomes an integral part of the novel. These people are marked into specific hierarchies due to the class they belong in. Such as Cocotte and her family are of the lower class but at birth, she is destined to be Violaine’s twin and will live with her and receive the same care as Violaine that she may not have received with her family. However, during this time that exchange, while not prevalent with Cocotte, can often lead to a form of slavery where these young girls are being brought in to serve the family. This is described through Cocotte when describing the school she goes to the is different than her sisters, “I’ll learn how to embroider, make desserts and pastries, put together a menu, write a list of provisions flawlessly, in short, everything that a servant for the wealthy should know how to do” (Desquiron 22). These inequalities cause issues between the classes. This can also be seen in the main conflict that Violaine falls in love with Alexandre, but Alexandre is a dark-skinned lower-class male and it is ruled by her mother as unfit. These two can’t be together because of their skin tone due to the hierarchy of skin tones amongst the people of Haiti. The message that Desquiron is trying to say about her book is that she is trying to shed light on the issues that Haiti has at hand it should make us stop because they can be translated to other countries including our own. While these issues being central to Haiti we can find traces of that throughout American history through our relationship with African Americans. Describing this social construct this way could lead to issues of having the issue being to centralize to Haiti and it could not have a universal reach. It can also enforce stereotypes that Vodou is bad or evil i.e. the zombification ritual. Also, the novel never fully addressed a need for compromise and fixing of racial prejudices.

Overall, I greatly enjoyed the book it brought insight to a country that is not taught often in classes and a religion, Vodou, that is not taught in classes. I think it brings another great perspective on racial prejudices that are important especially for an American audience that we can see our issues and struggles seen in other countries. It puts into perspective that this issue is something that is deeply rooted throughout the world and should be addressed. Often, I think, we as Americans can lose perspective that it may not just be us but we must take responsibility nevertheless. I think Rockford University students can relate to it because it is a monster story and a love story between Violaine and Cocotte which I think will draw people in. These broad understandings of the book will help pull them in and as they read will begin to pick up on the intricacies of the novel.