The Story “Sunrise, Sunset” by Edwidge Danticat

The human being’s brain has a multi-faceted memory system. An individual’s memory recollection may change depending on lived experiences, narration, and epigenetics (O’ Keane 128). Epigenetics is the study of how behaviors and environmental factors affect the genetic functioning of an individual. Psychiatrists and neurologists have constantly discussed whether the mind is subjective or individualized driven by an individual’s unique experiences. This paper discusses Carole’s memory recollection in the story “Sunrise, Sunset” by Edwidge Danticat, (2017). The paper investigates the different facets of memory through Carole’s recollection of her experiences in Haiti. Therefore, the paper argues that several factors influences one’s memory and the narrative presented to an audience; thus, the mind is subjective in its recollections.

Carole is Jeanne’s mother and suffers from the mental illness dementia. Her dementia is attributed to her experiences, migration and old age (Treisman, Edwidge Danticat on Memory and Migration, The New Yorker Web Site). Carole experiences memory lapses and flashes, which get severe in the story. She only remembers the tragic experiences living in Haiti and does not recall any good times, and shows psychotic symptoms (Danticat 3). Psychotic symptoms manifest through hearing voices that others do not hear, smelling strange odors, and feeling touch sensations that are not caused by anything or anyone (O’ Keane 10). However, the hallucinations and perceived experiences commonly referred to as symptoms are real to the patient. Carole’s mind is therefore subjective as it blocks all the good memories.

Carole’s dementia has affected her memory, and thus she experiences delusions about her relationships with close family members. For instance, she sometimes thinks James’ mother is the nanny and her daughter is a strange young woman. She is constantly afraid, and in a defensive mode, and at one point, she is aggressive towards her daughter (Danticat 13). She believes Victor, her husband, has a new younger partner. Delusions of substitution are common among psychotic patients, and it involves members who are around the patient (O’ Keane 211). Carole’s psychotic episodes and dementia could be due to experiences in Haiti. She had a difficult past living under a dictatorial leader and witnessed violence on many occasions. She also saw her aunties and close family members being treated brutally, and her dad one day left and never came back. Carole’s mind has shelved all the pleasant memories and can only remember the tragic events.

Chapter 14 of O’Keane’s book “A Sense of Self; Memory, The Brain, and Who We Are,” the author posits that present memories influence one’s recollection of the past. No one can substantiate Carole’s recollection of her past as either true or false. From Jeanne’s recollection, her mother was happy being a housewife (Danticat 28). However, her mother does not remember anything pleasant. Many psychiatrists argue that experiences drive the events occurring presently. According to O’ Keane, present happenings also significantly affect and changes individuals’ memory (194). For instance, Carole’s memory would not have been corrupted if she was still living in Haiti. In Haiti, she never knew of a better life, but when they migrated, the experiences in Miami made her compare her past and present. Therefore, her recollection of Haiti seems subjectively unpleasant when she compares it to her daughter’s life in Miami.

Carole’s condition could also be due to the belief system she holds. She portrays a traditional woman who believes in evil versus good. She even vies the baptism of her grandson as redemption against evil. Thus, she believes in her eyes that her family members including her husband are conspiring against her and she trusts nobody. According to O’Keane, all biographic memories are false due to changes in current events, experiences, and the human drive to provide a self-narration (196). Carole’s memory of her life could be a lie she continuously told until it became a belief she holds. The author quotes Nobel Laureate Alice Munro, “Memory is the way we keep telling our stories and telling people a somewhat different version of our stories” (O’ Keane 197). Consequently, people’s memory of events depends on one’s conviction and not the accurate description of events.

Carole’s remembrance of events could also be due to suppressed memories. Carole does not seem to remember the good things that happened in Haiti. She avoids recalling meeting her husband, Victor, through difficult circumstances. Carole also shelves the experience of nurturing the children and forgets her good friend Jeanne. Furthermore, she does not even remember whether her parents had any mental illness. One cannot distinguish whether the memory loss is due to suppressed or repressed memory. Suppressed memory is when an individual deliberately pushes a memory from his conscious mind causing psychogenic amnesia that resolves gradually when treated (O’ Keane 198). Consequently, some patients stay in suppressed or repressed memory loss when they perceive that recollection would result in shame. Carole might have suppressed her memory and stored all the good times in the back of her mind. Thus, she does not remember ever having a good life.

Human beings resemble their predecessor in every aspect of life. In chapter 15 of O’Keane’s book “A Sense of Self; Memory, The Brain, and Who We Are,” the author suggests that the organization of cells in an organism influences the kind of life emerging from the formation. For instance, human beings embody their evolutionary predecessor in emotional experience and memory (O’ Keane 207). Therefore, people can also inherit emotional experiences from their predecessors and the mind is a fusion of genetic constructions and cultural experiences. For instance, in the story “Sunrise, Sunset” Carole substitutes her daughter for a villain in her story. According to ancient folklore, there had to be villains, heroes, and victims in a story (O’ Keane 212). In Carole’s mind, she is the victim, and the villain is her daughter, who makes her develop paranoia. Thus the psychotic symptoms she experiences are due to cultural influence on her mind.

Trauma is passed down through from parents to off springs via epigenetics. For instance, a study showed that famine, war, and genocides have adverse epigenetic effects on the children of those who suffered disasters (Henriques, Can the legacy of trauma be passed down the Generations, BBC Web site). The passing down of traumatic effects significantly influences the lives of the descendant generations. Epigenetic transmission of traumatic events changes individuals’ views of life and can even affect one’s mental health. For instance, Carole could be a victim of epigenetic transfer of the effects of Haiti’s dictatorial and tough times through her parents. Consequently, she seems to have transferred the effects of her past trauma to her daughter Jeanne, who is experiencing postpartum depression shown by the number of hours she spends locked up in the room (Danticat 3). Thus, an individual’s past trauma can influence their offspring’s mental health.

The memory of a human being contains many tiers of lived experiences. Several factors influence one’s recollection of events, such as lived experiences, false and true narratives, suppressed and repressed memory, and epigenetics. Consequently, the human memory is constantly evolving as one’s current narration may be a different memory months later. The human mind is therefore, a repository of experiences. The memory experiences conscious manipulation of events that are not unique to patients with psychiatric illnesses but even to mentally healthy individuals. Therefore, the mind is subjective and mysterious and only brings forth what it wants to remember.

Works Cited

Danticat, Edwidge. “Sunrise, Sunset.” 2017. The New Yorker. Document. Web.

Henriques, Martha. “Can the legacy of trauma be passed down the Generations?” 2019. BBC Web site. Web.

O’ Keane, Veronica. A Sense of Self; Memory, The Brain, and Who We Are. W. W. Norton & Company, 2021.

Treisman, Deborah. Edwidge Danticat on Memory and Migration. 2017. Web.

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