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Reflections on Reflections: A Reaction to Loko Miwa

11/10/2019 5:13 pm

Jennifer Hawk

Reflections of Loko Miwa is a story about two girls from very divergent backgrounds growing up in Haiti in the late fifties, early sixties. Their different classes make for very different experiences for the girls.

This story is set in the town of Jeremie, Haiti during the brutal dictatorship of François “Papa Doc” Duvalier. Skin color reigns supreme as the indicator of class standing. Violaine is a light-skinned mulatto from the upper class. Cocotte is her dark-skinned companion/servant from the wrong side of Jeremie. While these main characters aren’t directly targeted by the Duvalier regime, Violaine’s love-interest, Alexandre, is. He is imprisoned in Port-au-Prince, where Cocotte eventually comes to be a merchant after Violaine is made a zonbie. His fate ultimately brings Violaine and Cocotte together after Violaine begins to come back to life. We experience the closeness of the two women through the changing point of view in the writing.

Use of changing points of view helps to tell the story of Violaine and Cocotte, plus it gives a peek into the minds of several supporting characters. This is an unusual approach that allows the reader to experience things first-hand with the characters, which makes for more of an emotional connection between the reader and the characters. The characters, while very individual, are all tied together in the social heirarchy dictated by skin color.

Violaine and Philippe-Edouard are both of the upper class having light skin at a time when having dark skin is practically revolutionary, as embodied by Alexandre. The social classes are constructed via the lightness of an individual’s skin. Because of this, there is much planning of marriages from an early age, as Violaine was betrothed to Philippe-Edouard from birth. Violaine was born to a wealthy mulatto family, but she is little interested in being a perfect girl. She is wild and unruly and has no interest in Philippe-Edouard whatsoever. His eventual owning of her in the zonbie state shows how far he’ll go to control her. Only when her aunt takes pity on her for the way Philippe-Edouard is treating her is she saved. After recovery, she cannot return to her home, so she ends up going to Port-au-Prince to live and hopefully recover fully.

Violaine exists in a world not prepared to accept her as she is. She is a rich, light-skinned, wealthy girl who is expected to obey her parents, marry well, and then obey the husband chosen for her. She is not willing to live by someone else’s edicts. She rejects her class when she calls out Philippe-Edouard at the ball. This is the final straw for her mother. That night, she moves forward with the plan to zombify her only daughter. Her mother decides that having her daughter live a half-life under Philippe-Edouard’s control is better than letting her live like someone of a lesser class.

The ultimate message of this story is that despite everything against them, Cocotte and Violaine survive to see each other again. They are truly stronger than their circumstances. It was a difficult road to this ending, but I enjoyed the journey. Violaine and Cocotte are very sympathetic characters as women in a male-dominated world. In some ways, their story reminds me a bit of Thelma and Louise. It wasn’t a strictly happy ending, but it was one they chose for themselves. I feel like this is a very relatable story with which women of RU could identify. I certainly did.