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Krak! had many symbols presented throughout the book. The symbol that held the most meaning to me while reading this book is, The Sea. The book starts at sea, with the story ‘Children of the Sea’, and the Sea proves to be very important to the people of Haiti in their struggle to escape a difficult situation. The sea is how the Haitian immigrants will travel in their attempt to escape a corrupted government.
The sea becomes life and death, survival. In the story of “Children of the Sea” the sea holds lots of meaning, and the meaning is very different for each person who is out at sea. For the young man escaping after police raid his radio station, he sees the sea as opportunity. The opportunity to escape a corrupt country and continue his life, but the sea also provides heartache, as this is what separates him from the love of his life. Being at sea also gives the young man hope that one day he can make a better life for himself, as most immigrants flee to America in the hope to live a more promising life.
The only way he is able to have some peace with his time at sea, is the notebook he has, where he writes to his love back at home. He tells her of the women on the boat who tell stories and sing, in an attempt to control the seasickness most of them are experiencing. He describes being at sea as lost time, stating in one of his many letters, “sometimes it feels like we have been at sea longer than the many years that I have been on this earth” (14). He is only aware that a day has passed by the raising and setting of the sun. I have always thought of the sea as something beautiful, mysterious even.
The sea to me has always provided me with opportunity, the opportunity to experience something new, to explore. But this does not prove to be the same for the people on the tiny boat who are struggling to stay alive. It never occurred to me that the sea, is not always beautiful to everyone, it holds despair, fear and represents death in some cases. The scared passengers on the boats do not know what will happen until they reach land, nor do they know what will happen once they reach their destination. The fear of, how they will provide for themselves, what will they do for food, where they will live, sets in.
I cannot imagine going day by day not knowing what will happen or if I will even survive to see another. I remember being so excited to come to New York for the summer before I would officially start school in the fall. It wasn’t until I was in the airport in New York that I realized I was officially on my own in a brand new city. Not knowing what the next day would hold or what I would get to experience had me a bit nervous. It was a good feeling to know I was getting to live a new life, but the uncertainty of that new life was shell shocking.
However, I did have a place to stay, I knew where my food would come from, and I had the means to speak to my family whenever. These are things that I once took for granted. Knowing what was going to happen next. Along with providing opportunity for some of the passengers on the boat, the sea also symbolizes death. The sea holds the bodies of many refugees of Haiti who were not able to survive the difficult conditions of the boat. The young man is a witness of a live birth and death. Celianne is a young pregnant girl on the boat who was raped by the police of Haiti at 15 years old.
As it seems she is having the worse time on the boat, not bringing any of her own food, she barely eats. The baby that she gives birth to does not survive. Having to throw her baby overboard was too much for Celianne, as she too follows her baby into the sea. “ There was no question of it. The sea in that spot is like the sharks that live there. It has no mercy” (26). In “Nineteen Thirty-Seven,” the symbol of water and death is represented again. This time however a river stands in the way of life. The Massacre River is the river that separates Haiti from the Dominican Republic, a place where all Haitians living there were ordered to death.
The young girl that writes the boy tells the story of going on a pilgrimage to the Massacre River with her mother and other women. She learns that her life was almost taken there, as her mother was pregnant with her. “We were saved from the tomb of this river when she was still in my womb” (40) Trying to escape the Dominican Republic to return to Haiti, many women lost there lives in that river to the El Generalissimo’s soldiers. Each year they would visit that River, dressed in white dresses to pay respect to the family members who were killed in that river, and also o remember how lucky they were to make it through the river and back to their terrifying country.
The wearing of the white dress when the women would visit the Massacre River, reminds me of my family when we visit my grandfathers at their burial site. We would each wear something in memory of my grandfathers. Whether it is something he gave us, or a hat that we use to wear while watching our favorite basketball team play, we each had our own little tribute to them. The white dresses where their tribute to their lost relativities who did not make it across that river.
Danticat did a great job incorporating symbols into these stories. Showing how everyday things we pay no attention too, hold so much more meaning then just what they are meant for. As Americans we see the sea and ocean as beautiful and relaxing, soothing. It is a place for us to escape our lives for a week long vacation, to have fun and forget about what is going on back home. I have never stopped to think that this does not prove to be the same for immigrants. The escape they are seeking is very different then the escape of an American on vacation. To them it is more a matter of life or death.