The Darker Side of Harry Potter: 7 Things You Might Have Missed as a Kid

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On the face of it, J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series is a charming, quintessentially British tale of magic and friendship meant for kids. However, the books have become highly popular amongst adult readers, and for very good reason. Underneath the owls and wands and talking letters, there lies a world which is not that different from our own… meaning it has its kinks and its darkness. That’s why I’ve compiled a list of 7 of the darker elements of Harry Potter you may not have picked up on as a kid. Enjoy!

(Note: this post is obviously full of ***spoilers***)

 

 

1. Dolores Umbridge was sexually assaulted by centaurs

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In The Order of the Phoenix, after she goes into the Forbidden Forest with Harry and Hermione to find Dumbledore’s make-believe “weapon,” Umbridge manages to aggravate the smartest and most deadly creatures in the forest – the centaurs – and ends up being carried off by the herd. The next time we see her, she is in the hospital wing, described as being traumatised (though physically unhurt) with a number of “twigs in her hair.” So what happened to Umbridge?

One need only look to Greek mythology to find the answer. According to legend, centaurs had a nasty habit of abducting women, dragging them into the forest, and raping them repeatedly. Given J.K. Rowling’s familiarity with the Greeks, it’s extremely likely that she knew this and was alluding to it in her own work. Sort of puts Ron torturing her with clip-clopping noises into a new light, doesn’t it?

 

2. Albus Dumbledore had a thing for bad boys

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Well, one bad boy in particular, actually – the notorious Gellert Grindelwald. Although Dumbledore confesses later in The Deathly Hallows that he knew Grindelwald’s intentions were not as well-meaning as his own, he failed to acknowledge this fact to himself until it was much too late… and it cost him the life of his sister. Now, we all know that Dumbledore is utterly brilliant even as a teenager, and so his wilful blindness really can’t be justified… unless there was a good reason for the young Albus to see Gellert as far more than he really was. Teenage hormones, maybe? An out-of-control crush?

Suddenly all those secret conversations and plans for the future as a team and sending notes in the middle of the night make a lot more sense, as does Dumbledore’s reluctance to face him later in life – he was the first boy he ever loved, and now he was going to have to kill him, or be killed by him. Who wouldn’t delay in those circumstances?

If you’re not convinced, I hate to be the one to tell you, but J.K. Rowling has explicitly stated on Pottermore that it’s 100% true – the announcement came shortly after she confirmed Dumbledore’s homosexuality.

 

3. Severus Snape really wished Neville was dead

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…but not because he was rubbish at Potions. Snape is one of the very few people that knows Neville could have been the Chosen One – it was Severus, after all, who overheard the beginning of the prophecy (the bit where it still could have been Harry or Neville, as both were born at the end of July to parents that had thrice defied Voldemort, etc. etc. etc.).

Snape would much rather that it had been Neville and his parents that were brutally murdered, as then Lily would still be alive (happily married to another man, yes, but alive nonetheless). Harry’s existence might be a painful reminder that his childhood love chose someone else, but Neville? Each breath he takes is one that Lily should be taking instead (in his mind at least), which makes him a personal affront to Snape. Plus, there was that whole dressing-Boggart-Snape-in-drag thing. That probably didn’t help.

Poor Neville – he never knows how close he became to being Voldy chow, or that his good fortune is the primary reason Snape hates him so much!

4. Merope Gaunt was guilty of rape

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Sorry to burst the bubble but a love potion is not romantic, not in the slightest. You’re removing consent from the equation and that can only mean one thing: any sex you have is not “making love,” it’s flat-out rape.

Everyone always hates on Tom Riddle for leaving Merope despite the fact that she was pregnant with his kid (including Voldemort, who killed him for it), but who wouldn’t want to get the hell outta Dodge after what he’d been through? If Merope was a man, readers everywhere would think he belonged in Azkaban. Yes, she might have had a horrible life and suffered at the hands of her brother and father, but that’s no excuse for drugging and stealing a boy-toy to keep her company as she starts a new life without them, is it? No wonder he legged it and never looked back.

 

5. Moaning Myrtle’s voyeurism was out of control

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Although most of us raised an eyebrow when, in The Goblet of Fire, Myrtle admitted to spying on Hogwarts Prefects whilst they bathed, not many people pick up on the references throughout the books to her tendencies to hang around in toilets, even when they’re being used. Although Myrtle claims that she often caught by surprise, the fact remains that she has chosen to live in an S-bend rather than choosing another location in the castle. The only logical conclusion, then, is that she likes catching students with their knickers quite literally around their ankles, and has thus positioned herself in the perfect spot to witness the most private and intimate acts a person can perform.

 6. Norbert wasn’t the only stolen goods Hagrid handled

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In the very first instalment of Harry, Ron and Hermione’s adventures, The Philosopher’s Stone (or Sorcerer’s Stone if you’re in the US), we learn that Hagrid is the owner of a terrifying 3-headed dog named Fluffy. Anyone familiar with Greek mythology will know that 3-headed dog by another name: Cerberus, the hound of hell who guards the gates to the underworld.

Cerberus originally belonged to Hades until he was captured by Heracles (more commonly known in the West as Hercules) in the last of his twelve labours to repent for his sins. However, King Eursytheus was terrified when he was presented with the beast and demanded Heracles got rid of it. So, that “Greek chappie” in the pub who was keen to find Fluffy a new home might actually have been everyone’s favourite demi-god, looking to pass off his stolen goods! As it is said that Heracles could only control the beast due to his immense strength, it makes sense that he would choose a half-giant with a love of monsters to look after the creature.

7. The Sorting Hat knows all your dirty secrets

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Well, the 11-year-old you, anyway. As we all know, all new arrivals at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry are designated their Houses (Gryffindor, Ravenclaw, Hufflepuff or Slytherin) by the Sorting Hat. The Hat figures out which traits define you and then place you into the House that suits you best.

Have you ever thought about how exactly the Sorting Hat decides whether you’re clever, or brave, or loyal? Why, it uses legilimency, of course; it quite literally reads your mind (or at least, your memories) to determine exactly what sort of person you will grow up to be. Now I know the Sorting Hat is a sentient object, not a person, and it’s hardly going to spill your secrets to anyone else, but the idea that any object possesses that much power is a little unnerving.

Sidenote: the Sorting Hat is also a bit of a b*stard – not only did it place Snape in Slytherin away from Lily despite knowing how much he loved her, he also kept his mouth shut about the darkness inside everyone’s favourite nightmare child, Tom Riddle. Yeah, nice one Hat. Way to go. *slow clap*

Is there anything I’ve missed? Please feel free to share in the comments below!

(Images: Warner Bros. Studios)

Banned Books Week: Recommended Reads #11 & #12

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BANNED

As some of you might already be aware, this week (21st – 27th September 2014) is Banned Books Week. Held annually (usually in the last week of September), this event celebrates our freedom to read and to express ideas, even those books which are considered by some to be unorthodox, offensive and/or unpopular.

To mark this occasion, I thought it would be appropriate to spend some time this week taking a look at a few of the most important, influential, beautiful, and controversial books that, at some point in history, have been banned. My intent here is not necessarily to endorse these books (although, there are some on this list that I believe everyone should read at some point in their lives), but to simply celebrate the fact that we now live in a world where books no longer need to be burned. After all, as Mary Jo Godwin once said, “a truly great library contains something in it to offend everyone”.

So, on to my eleventh and twelfth and considerations of the week…


Book #11: A Clockwork Orange, by Anthony Burgess

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No doubt about it – A Clockwork Orange is a dark book, indeed. Made famous by Kubrick’s film adaptation of the same name, it tells the story of young teenager, Alex, who loves nothing more than a glass of milk-plus, the sounds of Beethoven’s symphonies, and a cheeky bit of ultra-violence when on a night out with his droogs. The novel is largely centred around the ideas of free will and nature versus nurture (or how much of our personality and choices are determined inherently rather than learned), but also wholeheartedly embraces the aestheticisation of violence – that is the depiction of graphic, over-the-top, excessive violence in a stylised, exaggerated fashion. It is for this reason that, when published in 1962, the book was widely banned in the UK and USA.

What many people don’t know about this book is that it is rumoured that Burgess was prompted to write it when trying to understand the motivations of the men who violently attacked him and his wife at their country home – an attack which is mirrored in the opening stages of the novel, wherein a couple are tricked into opening the door, beaten half to death, and the wife violently gang-raped. By telling the story from the youngster’s perspective, Burgess was effectively trying to climb into the head of the men who sought to hurt him and his wife without reason – this is, perhaps, one of the main reasons for him choosing to tell the story is such an unusual and iconic dialogue. The whole book has the greasy, easy feel of slang about it, despite the protagonist’s eloquence, because of Burgess’ introduction of an entirely new vocabulary.

Let’s get one thing straight right now – this book is not going to be everyone’s cup of tea. It is gritty and unapologetic, and is not afraid to get it’s hands dirty to tell a good story. There are scenes in it which will never quite leave you. However, if you’ve got the stomach for it, it’s a powerful novel. The only criticism I have of it is the happy ending that Burgess decided to pin onto the end – his way of expressing his hopefulness for the future; that this ultra-violent nature is something which can be grown out of. I prefer Kubrick’s ending, wherein all hope is lost… but then, I never did like a happy ending.


Book #12:
(well, technically, it’s three books, but who’s counting?)
The Lord of The Rings trilogy, by J.R.R. Tolkien

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Thanks to Peter Jackson, you would have to travel pretty far to find someone who has never heard of The Lord of the Rings – with the films inspiring a new generation of readers, these books continue to draw in the crowds when other works of the same age have long been forgotten. It may come as somewhat of a surprise, then, that Tolkien’s classic trilogy, along with The Hobbit, has been banned in many schools and public libraries across America and England.

There are two main reason put forward for this: the first is related to the Hobbits’ smoking habits. It seems a strange criticism, but given the likeness between children and Hobbits, organisations such as the NHS have stated that allowing children to watch or read such material could be detrimental to their health. Now, I have to admit to being highly cynical regarding this ‘monkey see, monkey do’ philosophy that is used to justify criticisms of everything from punk music to violent video games, but for me, this isn’t really a justification to ban such a wonderful set of books. I mean, I read them, but I didn’t immediately set off for the nearest volcano, looking for some jewellery to destroy, now did I?

The other main criticism of the books relates to them being deemed ‘irreligious’, despite the fact that Tolkien was a devout Catholic and that in the Lord of the Rings, he felt he had consciously created a “fundamentally religious and Christian work.”  It is true that the novel contains quite noticeable Christian themes and subtexts, but this apparently has been lost on many, including the Christian schools that have fought so hard to ban these books.

If you’ve never gotten around to reading them, then I warn you, they can feel pretty long when you’re reading them. You will never read about so much damn walking in your entire life. Even the trees walk! However, that said, the characters will charm you, the languages and landscapes will amaze you, and you’ll find yourself sitting up for hours at night, just to stay with the characters a little longer. After all, no one wants to leave a friend in need, and that’s what Frodo and the gang will become – old, dear friends, with whom you once shared a great adventure. Don’t deny yourself the pleasure…

(Images: Amazon)


Want more information on Banned Books Week 2014?
Visit: http://www.ala.org/bbooks/banned


Edwidge Danticat’s Breath, Eyes, Memory (study notes)

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Edwidge Danticat’s Breath, Eyes, Memory was published in 1994, and is set in Haiti. Danticat’s novel deals with questions of racial, linguistic and gender identity in interconnected ways. The narrator, Sophie Caco, relates her direct experiences and passive impressions from the age of 12 until she is in her twenties.

In Breath, Eyes, Memory, there are two main characters. Martine Caco is a Haitian woman who is raped and moves to the United States to escape her traumatic past. Both her and her daughter Sophie (the product of that rape) struggle to resist and survive devastating memories of their own and one another’s traumas.

Sophie has grown up in Haiti in the care of Martine’s sister — her Tante Atie —and at the beginning of the novel, at the age of twelve, she immigrates to New York to join her mother. It is clear that even years after the rape, when Sophie joins her mother in New York City, Martine is still haunted by her traumatic memories of the past.

Martine’s inability to forget is what defines her life. Her traumatic past is constantly with her, as is evidenced through the persistent, haunting memories that continue to permeate all aspects of her life, even once she has left Haiti for the US.

She finds it too difficult to relay the horrific details of her rape in words – telling Sophie it is simply ‘too much’ for her, and skirting over the specifics – but she recalls and relives the experience constantly throughout her life, bound in a continual repetition of her initial trauma:

        ‘I thought Atie would have told you… it happened like this.
        A man grabbed me from the side of the road, pulled me into
        a cane field, and put you in my body. I was still a young girl then…
        I did not know this man. I never saw his face. He had it covered
        when he did this to me.’

However, though Martine never sees the face of her attacker during the rape, she is forced to see his face every day once Sophie comes to live with her. This is because Sophie’s face resembles that of her (white?) rapist father (a possible Macoute). Thus, her presence serves as a constant reminder to her mother of past wounds.

        ‘When I look at your face I think it is true what they say.
        A child out of wedlock always looks like its father.’

As a result of her rape, Martine comes to resent her own self and her body. When Sophie is a baby, she attempts suicide numerous times (which is the reason Sophie ends up living with Tante Atie).

Later, when Sophie resides with her, Martine suffers from persistent nightmares, which Sophie must wake her from:

        ‘Shortly after she fell asleep, I would hear her screaming for
        someone to leave her alone. I would run over and shake her…
         Her reaction was always the same. When she saw my face, she
        looked even more frightened…. She would cover her eyes with her
        hands. “Sophie, you’ve saved my life.”

Though Martine encourages her daughter to avoid men at all costs, Sophie falls in love with an older, neighbouring musician called Joseph. He is the first man to properly acknowledge her as a ‘woman’ in her own right. In fact, he is her first real encounter with a non-missionary male.

When Martine catches Sophie returning home late from a concert, she begins practicing the act of ‘testing’ her daughter. This traditional Haitian practice involves the insertion of a finger into the female child’s vagina, to ascertain whether or not she is still a virgin.

        ‘A mother is supposed to [test] her daughter until she is married.
        It is her responsibility to keep her pure.’  

        ‘From the time a girl begins to menstruate to the time you turn her
        over to her husband, the mother is responsible for her purity.

In Haitian culture, female virginity is fiercely encouraged and linked directly to virtuosity and purity. When Martine asks Sophie if she is a ‘good girl’, she is really asking ‘if [she] had ever been touched, if [she] had ever held hands, or kissed a boy.’

        ‘If I give a soiled daughter to her husband, he can shame my
        family, speak evil of me, even bring her back to me.’

As Sophie is being tested, Martine relates stories to her: another tradition amongst Haitian women, who use this method to pass knowledge and life lessons down through generations.

        ‘She had told me stories while she was doing it, weaving
        elaborate tales to keep my mind off the finger which… would…
        one day… condemn me.’

‘As she tested me, to distract me, she told me, The Marassas were two inseparable lovers. They were the same person, duplicated in two. They looked the same, talked the same and walked the same… When they cried, their tears were identical… When you love someone, you want them closer than your Marassa. Closer than your shadow. You want him to be your soul. The more you are alike, the easier this becomes… The love between a mother and daughter is deeper than the sea. You would leave me for an old man… You and I, we could be like Marassas. You are giving up a lifetime with me.’

‘Tante Atie would tell me stories… One time I asked her how it was that I was born with a mother and no father. She told me the story of a little girl who was born out of the petals of roses, water from the stream, and a chunk of the sky. That little girl, she said, was me.’

        ‘The story goes that there was once an extremely rich man who
        married a poor black girl. He had chosen her… because she was
        untouched… [but on] their wedding night, the girl did not bleed…
        So he took a knife and cut her between her legs to get some
        blood to show… [and] got enough blood for her wedding gown
        and sheets… an unusual amount kept flowing like water out of
        the girl… Finally, drained of all her blood, the girl died.
        Later, during her funeral procession, her blood-soaked sheets
        were paraded by her husband to show that she been a virgin
        on her wedding night.’

This combination of ‘testing’ and storytelling ensures that Sophie becomes her mother’s inheritor in more ways than one:

Firstly, she has become the inheritor of Haitian folklore, gaining knowledge and experience from the life lessons present in her mother’s (Martine), aunt’s (Tante Atie) and grandmother’s (Ifé) stories.

Secondly, as a young woman subjected to ‘testing’ (which leaves her feeling humiliated and degraded), she develops a complicated relationship with her body, like her mother. She finds that after she has experienced it, engaging in sexual activity is a traumatic and painful experience (accentuated by the wounds she inflicts to make it stop).

This act of ‘testing’ would arguably be classified as sexual abuse by Western feminists, very much like being raped, despite its apparent importance within the Haitian culture.

        ‘I have heard it compared to a virginity cult, our mothers’
        obsession with keeping us pure and chaste.’

        Martine: ‘The two greatest pains of my life are very much related.
        The one good thing about the rape is that it made the testing stop.
        The testing and the rape: I live both every day.’

The novel certainly stresses the psychological impact of ‘native on native’ gendered violence.

Not only is a parallel created between Sophie and Martine’s experiences of sexual abuse here, but also between the experiences of all the daughters of Haiti – all those affected by this tradition of ‘testing’ passed down from mother to daughter.

‘[Once] I got married… I had suicidal thoughts… I woke up in a cold sweat wondering if my mother’s anxiety was somehow hereditary…  Her nightmares had somehow become my own.’

‘I closed my legs and tried to see Tante Atie’s face. I could understand why she had screamed while her mother had tested her.’

However, Mohanty would argue that the Western feminist tendency to group together the subjective traumas of Haitian women in this way is evidence of their attempted ‘homogenisation’ of third-world women.

The circumstances of both Sophie and Martine would undoubtedly be evaluated from the viewpoint of the white, Westernised, feminist intellectual. Because their own subjective position is automatically assumed to be the ‘norm’, Mohanty reasons that Western feminists, implicitly or not, ‘reinforce the third-world difference’ between themselves and the women made the ‘object’ of their study.

Instead of examining the specific cultural, historical and familial traditions that affect these Haitian women – or even the diverse heterogeneities present within this relatively small and closed society – all of the women are collectively reduced to the same basic concepts: a ‘third-world woman’ (black, lower-class, Creole speaker); and a victim of sexual abuse, suffering the psychological impacts of a gender-specific sexual trauma.

Thus, the combination of these two acts may appear, to Western eyes, to be detrimental and oppressive – reinforcing subjugative gender positions and justifying acts of inexcusable sexual abuse.

This was certainly the overriding perception of the American audience introduced to the novel through Oprah Winfrey’s televised ‘Book Club’ – a predominantly white, middle-class, Western audience (much like the authors of feminist academia Mohanty so fiercely criticises).

However, Mohanty might argue that, instead, this process demonstrates the construction of a framework for mutual support (the storytelling) to ease the suffering during an essential, traditional process (testing): that the intentions of those inflicting this suffering should be examined subjectively, instead of their actions and motivations being over-generalised in hasty judgments that demonstrate Western ignorance. The novel demonstrates an intricate intertwinement of love and harm.

Sophie is traumatised by these ‘tests’ of her virginity, and begins ‘doubling’ herself in order to cope:

        ‘I learned to double while being tested. I would close my eyes and
        imagine all the pleasant things I had known… I mouthed the words
        to the Virgin Mother’s prayer.’

Sophie associates this process of ‘doubling’ with her ancestors and ‘vaudou tradition’, describing how loving men with wives and families could enable themselves to ‘rape and murder so many people’ by doing this.

To prevent any further ‘testings’, Sophie mutilates her genitalia, using her mother’s spice pestle to break her hymen (thus giving the illusion that she has lost her virginity).

When she fails her mother’s test, Sophie is thrown out of the house. She then elopes with Joseph and they marry.

Once she and Joseph are married, though, Sophie begins to feel frustrated and confused, by both her bodily anxieties and matrimonal (i.e. sexual) responsibilities. Sophie struggles in her roles as ‘woman’, ‘wife’, ‘mother’ and ‘daughter’ as an after-effect of her trauma. She also suffers great physical discomfort during sex, because of her self-inflicted injuries.

She continues to sleep with her husband, in order to ‘keep’ him, but just as Sophie practiced ‘doubling’ when she was being ‘tested’, she begins to do so whenever engaging in sexual relations with her husband:

        ‘After I was married, whenever Joseph and I were together,
        I doubled.’

        ‘The tests [are] the most horrible thing that ever happened to me.
        When my husband is with me now, it gives me such nightmares
        that I have to bite my tongue to do it again.’
        “With patience, it goes away.”
        ‘No, Grandma Ifé, it does not.’

To get away from it all, she flees to Haiti along with her infant daughter, without a word to her husband, Joseph, who is away touring.

The falling action is when her mother, Martine, also comes to Haiti. It is during that trip to Haiti that both mother and daughter reconcile.

The female members of the family once again share stories of their heritage:

        ‘Our family name, Caco …is the name of a scarlet bird.
        A bird so crimson, it makes the reddest hibiscus… seem
        white… When [the Caco bird] dies, there is always a rush
        of blood that rises to its neck and wings, they look so
        bright you would think them on fire.’

        ‘According to Tante Atie, each finger had a purpose. It was the
        way she had been taught to prepare herself to become a woman.
        Mothering. Boiling. Loving. Baking. Nursing.
        Frying. Healing. Washing. Ironing. Scrubbing.
        Her ten fingers had been named for her even before she was born.
        She wished she had six fingers on each hand so she could have
        two left for herself.’

Once they have returned to New York, Sophie continues this process of storytelling, but in a more Westernised form: through her therapy group.

The focus is placed on repetition and interaction in the initial ritual – ‘I am a beautiful woman with a strong body’ / ‘We are beautiful women with strong bodies’ (repeated by the other women) – mirrors the traditional African method for beginning a story:

        ‘Crick? / “Crack.” / ‘Honour?’ / “Respect.”

The women here use affirmative language (‘I am a beautiful woman with a strong body… because of my distress, I am able to understand when others are in deep pain… since I have survived this, I can survive anything’) and focus on the restorative power of retelling the stories of personal trauma.

‘Buki [an Ethiopian college student] read us a letter… to the dead  grandmother who had cut off all her sexual organs and sewn her up in a female rite of passage… “You sliced open my soul… because of you, I now carry with me an untouchable wound… I can’t [hate you] because you are a part of me. You are me.”

Through voicing her own personal story, Sophie begins the healing process. Martine, too, seems well, until she becomes pregnant by her fiancé, Marc. It affects her badly.

        ‘Now… I look at every man and I see him… le violeur, the
        rapist. I see him everywhere… When I thought of taking
        [the baby] out, it got more horrifying.’

        ‘It spoke to me. It has a man’s voice… I am going to get it
        out of me… He calls me a filthy whore. I never want to see
        this child’s face… what if there is something left in me and
        when the child comes out, it has that other face?’

Martine commits suicide before she can have her abortion – ‘stabbing her stomach with an old rusty knife… seventeen times’. Her partner, Marc, tells Sophie it is because ‘she could not carry the baby’.

Sophie decides to bury Martine wearing a crimson two-piece suit, the same shade as the Caco bird that shares their family name, though ‘it was [undoubtedly] too loud a colour for burial’.

Sophie realises at the close of the book, during preparations for her mother’s funeral, that there is something inherently Haitian about the mother-and-daughter motifs present in their stories and songs.

‘[There] was something… essentially Haitian [in] the mother-and-daughter motifs to all the stories they had told and songs they sang. Somehow, early on, our song makers and tale weavers had decided that we were all daughters of this land.’

At the close of the book, after Martine’s funeral, Sophie runs from the sight of dirt being thrown onto her mother’s body. She runs to the cane fields where her mother was raped, and proceeds beating a sugar cane stalk until her hands are bleeding.

This is meant as an act of release and liberation, as well as an expression of pain. Earlier in the text, when Sophie has returned to Haiti, she is given this advice: ‘You cannot carry the pain. You must liberate yourself.’

Sophie’s grandmother’s call of ‘Ou libéré?’ (are you free?) requests Sophie’s affirmation that she can let go of her mother’s pain.

        ‘There is a place where women are buried in the colour of flames,
        where we drop coffee on the ground for those who went ahead,
        where a daughter is never fully a woman until her mother has
        passed on before her.

        There is always a place where, if you listen closely in the night,
        you will hear your mother telling a story, and at the end of the
        tale, she will ask you this question: “Ou libéré?” Are you free,
        my daughter? … Now, you will know how to answer.’