Breath, Eyes, Memory Close-Reading Discussion Post
I found the relationship between Tante Atie and Louise particularly interesting through a queer lens. The passage that first indicated this queer lens to me was when Dessalines was killed and “Louise buried her head in Tante Atie’s shoulder. Their faces were so close that their lips could meet if they both turned at the same time” (Danticat 136). While this may have not been the first indication of a romantic relationship between the two, it was the first one I noticed.
The existence of this queer relationship, I think, is greatly supported. The disapproval of Atie’s mother, an elderly an old-fashioned person, is prominent (147, for example). This disapproval toward queer relationships is not uncommon among those with conservative viewpoints.
I think our discussions of women, pain, and wellness also support this analysis. Atie is the first in the Caco family to express her hatred of “testing,” a practice which is violating and rips one of their autonomy, but is inherently misogynistic (58). The “test” is to see if a woman is “pure,” implying that having penetrative sex more than once, or with more than one person, makes a woman undesirable. Atie’s dislike for testing can be seen as both the refusal of the idea penetrative sex (e.g. why would she have to be tested, if that isn’t something she wants) as well as divergence from gender norms. Both grandma Ilfe and Martine test their daughters because it was done to them. It’s something that is done to all women. Atie refutes this gender norm. WLW relationships, can be seen as inherently gender-non-conforming, as both modern culture and lots of historical cultures assume one is straight (women like men) until expressed otherwise. Essentially, both Atie’s queerness and her condemnation of tests are connected through her refusal to conform to her expected gender roles.
Another aspect of this analysis I find interesting is that Atie both follows and flips the script on the “bury your gays” trope. There is countless literature (books, movies, and tv shows alike) that has queer representation, only to kill-off queer characters or end queer relationships tragically (https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/BuryYourGays). Her immediate family consists of her mother, an old woman planning her own funeral and Martine, a woman who is shown to have several mental illnesses, including anxiety, depression, and suicidal tendencies, throughout the book. Sophie, Atie’s niece, and, in many ways, daughter, suffers from (most likely) PTSD from being tested and bulimia. These mental illnesses are rooted in their experiences of womanhood (not inherently so, but due to systematic misogyny) in that much of Martine’s illnesses are associated with her rape, something done primarily to women by men, and Sophie’s illnesses are associated with a dislike for her body as compared to impossible standards of beauty and “purity.” Like previously stated, Atie has denounced many societal expectations for womanhood, and, as far as I can tell, does not experience or die from the mental illnesses previously stated, nor is she old and close to dying. She does seem to have a physical ailment, however, the lump in her leg is not addressed again after she treats it with leeches. In this way, she defies the “bury your gays” trope. The main queer character is surrounded by illness and death, but does not experience it herself. However, Louise leaves her without saying goodbye, buying into the unhappy ending of a queer relationship (173). Thus, through the themes of women’s illness and a queer lens, Tante Atie is queer and I love that.