11/06/2019 4:27 pm
This is a detailed map of Haiti showing elevation, bodies of water, borders, and names of cities. There is a small box showing where Haiti is in relation to Cuba, Mexico, and the Unites States. There are two cities that are mentioned the most within the novel, Jérémie, and Port-Au-Prince. Jérémie is located in the southern peninsula, on the Caribbean Sea. Port-Au-Prince is located between the southern peninsula and the rest of the island, on the Port-Au-Prince Bay.
Although there are many characters important to the novel, there are four main characters that we see frequently and are worthy of analyzing.
Violaine is easily the most vibrant character in the novel. Violaine is a girl, eventually a woman, that is born into a wealthy family. She has very light skin and she is physically what is desired and sometimes demanded by society. At a very young age, her family promised her to another family, agreeing that Violaine would marry Philippe Edouard. She is okay with this until she meets the man she truly loves, Alexandre. Her personality is what has caused her problems. She has always refused to conform completely to societal norms. She refused to care for herself physically. She allows her hair to run wild the way a typical dark-skinned person’s hair might look. She thinks, speaks, and moves freely. Because of her rebellious attitude she is perceived as “promiscuous” and is frequently referred to in a sexual manner. Although her attitude and overall character is frowned upon by society as a whole, men draw to her character and she is frequently pursued or discussed in a sexual manner by male characters.
Cocotte, I have come to understand, is the neutral character in the novel. She could be considered the voice of reason between Cocotte and the rest of society, which are both two extremes of opinion. She is the marasa of Violaine. This means that they are not sisters by blood, but they are assigned to each other by their Vodou religion. They become very close. Cocotte does not develop much as a character herself, but she is very important to the novel as she adds an outsider perspective that helps the readers better understand events and other characters. She could almost be considered a “follower.” She does not contribute a main role in many events but it is always necessary for her to be around. Much of what she does is to help Violaine and she does not have many truly personal interactions.
Philippe Eduoard is a fair-skinned man who comes from a wealthy family. At a very young age, he was promised Violaine’s family and his own to one day have Violaine as his wife. Because of his wealthy background and having so many things promised to him, he has developed an extremely undesirable sense of entitlement. He feels as though Violaine belongs to him and only him, and he acts out when he does not get what he wants. His obsessive behavior over Violaine is not hidden, as it is shown as soon as he is introduced in the novel. There are some small moments when he shows hints of morality. He advocates for the best of Violaine, attempting to ensure that she is not harmed. However, he wants the best for Violaine as long as it means she ends up with him. He ultimately returns to being the character that nobody wants to see. He still takes Violaine when he can and this ultimately turns him into a form of a rapist.
Alexandre is a dark-skinned man from a very poor family that was fortunate enough to get the opportunity to go to a good school at a young age with Philippe Eduoard. He starts as a minor character, known as only a friend to Philippe. When they get older, he leaves to go to the city for school. There he learned of the harshness of the dictator, Duvalier. He becomes obsessed with the state of the government and dedicates himself to rebelling against the government. He returns after four years in the city. This is when he officially meets Violaine and they fall in love the instant they meet. After one night in which he took Violaine’s virginity, Philippe saw the sexual encounter and acted out against Alexandre. He called the government and told them about Alexandre’s plan to fight against the government and they had him arrested. Alexandre is the “good guy.” He respects Violaine’s different personality and encourages her to rebel against social norms.
The most obvious technique used in writing is writing the novel from the switching perspectives of different characters. This is to help the audience better understand the true intentions of the truly complex characters. There are characters with many varying points of view, and sometimes their actions cannot be explained. The changing perspectives allow the characters to explain themselves, which ultimately helps the audience sympathize with even the negative characters. Whenever a more neutral perspective is necessary, the author returns to Cocotte, as she is the most balanced between the strict, traditional characters and the rebellious characters.
Gender norms are very prominent in the novel, especially through Violaine. She is harshly controlled by her mother, Madame Delavigne, who I believe represents societal standards. Madame Delavigne conforms to everything pressured by society; she marries the lightest man, she values wealth, she lets men be in power, and she hides her true religion from the public. All of these things she forces herself to be, and she pushes them onto Violaine. Violaine, most of all, is considered too promiscuous for her mother’s standards. From the beginning of the novel, she dances freely and speaks freely, and she does not care if that is beyond want society wants from a “proper” woman. She ignores her obligation to Philippe and gives herself to Alexandre, straying far away from what her family and what society wanted from her.
There are two main differences between the top and the bottom of the social hierarchy: race and wealth. The best opportunities are given to those with money, and those who have money usually have it because they have lighter skin. The lighter skin someone has, the more opportunities they get to marry into wealthy families. Being in wealthy families means better education, better clothes, better food, and overall better lifestyles. We see this in the four main characters. Those characters who are given less opportunities are Alexandre and Cocotte because they are both dark-skinned and poor. Philippe is given the better education and promised to a wealthy family over Alexandre because he is light-skinned and he is wealthy. Cocotte is clearly given a different education than Violaine and she is clearly given much less care and consideration from other characters because she is dark-skinned and poor.
This attitude towards Violaine suggests to the audience that women have no say in their lives. Being controlled by many different people and many different factors, what she truly wants is very rarely considered. When Violaine’s desires are listened to, it is never by someone that can truly make a difference. All of those above her (her family, her betrothed, society), control her fate and ensure there are consequences when she acts against what they want from her. This suggests the same fate for many young women, that they have no say in the direction of their lives and live almost as an object to achieve what is wanted from them by others.
This social construct of controlling women is presenting dramatically in the novel. It uses “zombification” to exaggerate what happens to many young women. The taking of Violaine’s soul could be what many women feel like after being shut down by societal norms. Women reading the novel, then, can relate personally to Violaine and her struggles, and can feel either shut down or empowered to make a difference and to fight against what is expected of them.
The text addressed many controversial themes that are present everywhere today, especially the U.S. The novel addresses subject that are difficult to discuss, such as social constructs, corrupt governments, and harassment such as rape. The way these are shown in the novel, I believe, is accurate and similar to what we see in modern life today. Gender norms and restraints against women are not new, but they have recently become a major topic of discussion. We now see gender studies as a common academic option. More and more people every day contemplate what it means to be one gender and defy the expectations set in place for them by society. As a liberal arts university in a relatively large city, there are many students here that struggle with these same concepts. Students here in Rockford, especially, are rebellious against what society expects of them. If they are not, it is important to understand the struggles that people go through so that we do not continue this pattern of negative gender norms. This way, Rockford University students can be a factor of change.
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