Edwidge Danticat’s Nineteen Thirty-Seven captures a moment in the life of a young Haitian girl who has been affected by adverse historical circumstances.

General Rafael Trujillo

It is through the consequences of the surreal dictatorship of Dominican Republic General Rafael Trujillo, that the mood and setting of the story is created. The story starts with the words “My Madonna cried…”. Melancholic images are already sensed and the narrator, Josephine begins relating an equally unfortunate story.

She first meets an old woman, who shows much interest in the Madonna. Her conversation with the lady alerts the fact that she is now near the prison, her destination on many occasions prior to this one. The reasons for her visits were to see he mother, Manman. Josephine paints the prison life as dull and depressing, keeping the melancholic mood throughout the narration.

Jacqueline seems unable to communicate verbally with her mother. He mother’s response allows the reader to recognize that these speechless encounters were regular. The food that Jacqueline brings for Manman can last for weeks. Manman’s treatment of this food points to the dehumanizing of the prison inmates. The narrator feels a lot of sympathy for her mother. As she sees another prisoner, with blood flowing down her back, she is reminded of the reason the women were captured. The prisoners, along with Manman, were accused of possessing the uncanny ability to strip their skins and rise in the night as birds of fire. They are referred to lougarou and witches. This ability seemed to cause great panic amongst Haitians.

A weeping Virgin Mary

The essence of this panic is captured via a flashback. A severe beating is recalled as Josephine remembers how her mother was captured. She also recalls the fortunate time when her mother had escaped Dominican Republic by heroically crossing the river, yet leaving Josephine’s grandmother behind to be slaughtered. The analeptic account continues as Josephine remembers pilgrimages women kept to the Massacre River to remember the heroic efforts as well as deaths of the women. In the context of her mother’s escape, the narrator believes that he mother really had powers to escape through the river.

The temporary jubilance is curtailed by a return to the depressing scene of the prison yard. The Madonna remains the center of the mother/daughter conference reducing the awkward nature of the silence. Josephine then recalls a series of other visits to the prison, each one meeting an advanced stage of deterioration. Josephine is feeling hurt but seems unable to physically connect with Manman. Her first words come eventually as she asks her mother if she could really fly.

Women in the Massacre River

A week after that conversation, she meets a woman called Jacqueline, who had been to the river with her. She brings the news of Manman’s death or impending death. They visit the quarters of her mother in prison and the other inmates recall a gruesome tale of her demise. The mood of depression lingers until Josephine seems to accept the fate of the women in the story and hopes that their flights would be joyful

Advertisements