From the onset, the use of a rather masculine name by the narrator almost forces readers to believe that there is no, or rather a very small degree of feminity in the character that is Josephine’s mother. Manman’s character is constructed via the dialogue of the other characters, most importantly Josephine’s. Manman is seen to have undergone a metamorphosis from the time that she is convicted of being a “Lougarou, witch”. She is seen as a snake as she is unable to move but has to crawl on the floor of her cell. Her transformation did not end there as her semblance of feminity, her hair was constantly shaved off. Through the eyes of the narrator, it is deduced that the guards tried to make her look like a man. “they wanted to make them look like crows, like men”. Despite all these hardships, Manman’s power is awe inspiring. Her strength as a woman is illustrated by her sheer, almost super human ability to have escaped Trujillo’s men whilst being pregnant and lived to tell the tale. Te image of a phoenix, with its ability to rise from the ashes can also be attributed to Manman. Her flight from the Dominican Republic, as she rose out of the water like a phoenix bathed in the sun’s glow. Even after her literal physical death, the other characters talk about her flight. The lines between spirituality and superstition become blurred for Manman as she is very much attached to the statue of the Virgin Mary. It is as if she believes that the statue has some kind of power. It is an integral part of who she is. It is what almost sustained her during her incarceration.
Josephine is a product of her environment. She holds very much the same belief that her mother had but to a lesser degree. Josephine’s identity is forged by the journey that her mother made over the river Massacre, the night of her birth. Josephine is part of a wider cross section of females who has the shared experience of crossing the Massacre River. She is a daughter of, or second generation survivor of Trujillo’s attacks. Josephine, through her actions and dialogue, can be inferred as a devoted daughter. Despite the fact that she did not want to visit the jail, she still almost religiously went. “my bones aching from the thought of another trip to the prison in Port-au-Prince. But of course, I had to go” (447). Josephine also exhibited a high level of respect for both adults as well as the customs which the older generation held dear. “I chose to go barefoot, as my mother had always done…”(447), as well the manner in which she fervently believed in the power of the women and their relationship with the river.(451).
She is also part of the sisterhood of women who had lost mothers and loved ones to Trujillo’s soldiers. She was also very old and hardworking as can be exhibited by the “layers of ‘respectable’ wrinkles on her face”(447). She is a resourceful character as well. She is aware of where Josephine could have purchased food for Manman. She also exhibited an almost nurturing attitude towards Josephine which can be construed as being part of who she is. “She led me by the hand…”(448). “Sister I have come for you”(45) and “Sister life is never lost…”(455) indicates the degree of familiarity she felt towards Josephine. Felt connected to her because of a shared experience.
This river was personified in the short story and served a variety of purposes. Firstly, the river acts as not just a place which they passed through, but rather, served as a symbol of strength and survival. It was a tangible means of connecting with the past and those who died on that fateful day of November 1st. The river is also seen as the medium through which the women transformed, “my mother’s dive toward life…gave her those wings of flame. The river was the place where it had all begun”(451). The river was also seen as a mother who protected her children, that is, those who survived. More specifically she was like a surrogate mother who replace all the other individual mothers who were killed.
The great great great grandmother of Josephine, though she is inactive through out the story, is responsible for one key element of said narrative. Defile was the medium through which the Madonna became so well instituted as part of the family’s identity.
The guards though they treated the women almost inhumanely, they were to some degree afraid of them. It is for this reason that they went to extreme lengths to confine them. This included having them “throw tin cups of cold water at one another…grow those wings made up of flames…”(449). The guards were not fully aware of the extent of their powers as women and thus tried to, in as much as possible, to alter their very sex. “they wanted to make them look like crow, like men”(450).
Ignorance and a strong belief in the supernatural is what characterized this character. Her inability to understand or explain the reason for her baby’s death, and the need for a scapegoat led to her accusing Manman of being a witch. She also showed how callous and ungrateful she was to Manman who aided her whilst her son cried in pain at nights. Her uncharitable nature is clearly illustrated by the manner in which she held her baby. it insinuated that Manman had indeed killed her baby and that what ever had killed him was probably liable to infect others.
They helped to add to the landscape of the story. The manner in which the guards treated the women eventually led to them acting in an almost primitive manner. They were almost base and animalistic in their demeanor. “One, drawn by the fresh smell of fried pork, came to sit near us…”(449). They were also fatalistic in their attitude towards life. It would seem that they were not active participants in their own lives and thus things just happened of which they had no role or recourse.