Second Major Project: The Literary Analysis Podcast Episode Two: Justice and Danticat


Opening Music


Hello everyone, and welcome back to the Literary Analysis Podcast, I am your host Luke. Today marks the second episode in the podcast and today we will be taking a deep dive into Edwidge Danticat’s 2004 piece entitled The Dew Breaker and how it contributes to an ongoing conversation surrounding justice in society. To start, I want to start with a brief overview of theories of justice and how they are seen in modern day society.

The two terms that I want to cover are restorative justice and punitive or retributive justice. These are the two main theories in cultural judicial practices and they are essentially opposites of one another. According to Kathleen Daly in an article from, restorative justice and punitive justice could not be more different. Restorative justice is built around mending the wounds of one’s actions and consists of collaborative efforts to right the wrongdoings done by any given party. Punitive justice is what is more commonly seen in governmental practice. This is the belief of ‘eye-for-an-eye’ essentially. The belief is centered around punishment for actions as opposed to a collaborative effort by all parties to repair any damage done by those actions (Daly).

So, this is where I want to bring Danticat’s piece into the conversation. The Dew Breaker highlights these different theories of justice and how they affect different people and their families. The book is essentially a group of short stories built around characters that are loosely connected with one another. Each of these characters has unique experiences, many of which raise questions on the roles of justice in society and how it impacts people. To give some basic background, I will give a brief overview of the plots in which the examples that I will mention take place.

The Book of the Dead

The first part of the book of which I think a major conversation about justice can be surrounding is the first chapter/short story entitled The Book of the Dead. In this text, the narrator, Ka, learns of her father’s past. He tells her that he used to be a security guard within a Haitian prison, where he hurt many people, even killed some. Ka’s initial reactions is repulse, however she quickly figures out how complicated wrongdoings and regret is. She speaks to her mother, asking how she could forgive him, to which the mother responds by saying “we save him. When I meet him, it made him stop hurt the people” (Danticat, 25). Here, it seems as if Ka’s instinctive initial reactions would be characteristic of punitive justice, a belief that he has done wrong, therefore he is bad and should be punished. However, Ka’s mother sheds light on the restorative justice perspective here. She refers to his growth as a person and how he has changed his ways. It is an interesting thing to note how Ka’s father, a man who has hurt many people to this point in his life, used to be a prison guard, a place where punitive justice is most prevalent. However here, he is the subject of restorative justice, something that has given him the ability to grow into a better person. I am not trying to argue for one judicial philosophy or another, I am just stating the circumstances of this specific scenario. 

Night Talkers

Another interesting scenario in which the contrasting efforts of punitive and restorative justice are in play is when Claude is introduced to the reader in the chapter/short story entitled Night Talkers. This short story surrounds the narrator and his return to his aunt in Haiti for a visit, where she ends up dying overnight. Claude is a member of the tribe who was originally from New York and has a dark past. It is revealed that Claude murdered his father one day, causing him to spend time in jail and ultimately return to Haiti. Claude’s perspective provides an interesting situation in which we can dissect these forms of justice. Clause ultimately ends up appreciative for his time in prison, as he was a minor and only had to serve an abbreviated sentence. However, his appreciation is really extended toward the tribe, who accepted him as one of their own while still refusing to forget his past. Claude’s minor role in this story can be dissected in a number of ways, engaging the reader in a discussion regarding these forms of justice. He talks about how “if [he] hadn’t been a minor, [he’d] have been locked up for the rest of [his] life” (Danticat, 119). Again, this can be interpreted any number of ways. On the one hand, Claude is clearly appreciative of the current judicial structure and its forgiveness of minors. On the other, there is a criticism of that judicial structure between those lines. Essentially, restorative justice is only provided for those who are under the age of 18. Anyone who is above that age is held to strict punitive judgement. Claude may not have his same perspective on life had he not been too young to spend his entire life in prison. 


Of course, discussing these forms of judicial ideologies is something that can be done for hours, and there is a lot of rich content within the text to discuss. However, I would be remiss if I made an episode on justice and did not mention race. It is an imperative subject within the discussion of justice, particularly as it pertains to the United States. Danticat’s piece did its part in mentioning race and justice. Although this part of the text is rather short and subtle, it says a lot about race and justice within the United States. In the scene, the wife of Eric is listening to the radio, on which news is breaking about protests surrounding the death of Patrick Dorismond, a Haitian man who was killed by a police officer. Listening to the radio, she chants “no justice, no peace” (Danticat, 47). Again, this part of the story is not a major plot point, however it does raise an important perspective on the entire book. The reader could very easily draw a parallel between this police officer and Ka’s father from The Book of the Dead. While the reasoning for Dorismond’s death is not made clear, due to the protesting one can assume that there is suspicion around the necessity for such violence within the circumstance. Hence the calls for justice. If Dorismond was committing some sort of minor crime that would require the intervening of a police officer, what is more punitive of a punishment than a bullet, shot without a trial? Then the demands of justice from the protest. Given the fact that they are in the United States, one can assume that they are calling for punitive justice for the police officer. However, after examining Ka’s father, would restorative justice prove to be more beneficial for the community in the long run? Ka’s mother claims that he no longer hurts people the way he did, however he never served time in prison for it, so that restorative process may be evidence of its effectiveness. 


Ultimately, as was the case for the colonialism episode, justice, an intangible and complex subject, does not have a simple answer. These two theories have been tested and practiced in a variety of ways throughout history, and there is no clear understanding as to which is more beneficial for society. Danticat’s piece is designed to ask these questions and to bring the human aspect into the questions of crime and punishment. The piece raises a series of questions. How should societies approach criminal behavior? For which people should their mistakes define the rest of their lives and them as people? Are there behaviors that cannot be restored and therefore must be punished? Justice is such an abstract and human thing that exists in this world and, like humans, it certainly isn’t perfect.

That is all for today’s episode, thank you for tuning in to the Literary Analysis Podcast. I hope you enjoyed and I hope you continue to bring the written word to life.

For my second project, I wanted to continue the podcast theme. I did this for a lot of reasons, including some of the same reasons that I did the first one. I know a lot about audio equipment and how to make a quality project with it. I think podcasts are always easily accessible ways to broaden one’s perspective and learn more about a complex topic.

I chose to base this episode around justice because of its recurring theme in Danticat’s piece. There are a lot of calls for revenge, forgiveness, understanding, and justice throughout the piece and these are very complex subjects that I feel like can be explored deeply within conversation. I chose to build this discussion around punitive and restorative justice. I feel like there is a rigid understanding of what judicial systems are within the United States and the tendency for people to look at justice as a strictly legal and governmental thing. I think Danticat highlights how justice is more about people’s perspectives and how they view other people and their actions. 

Danticat’s stories dive into these two ideologies of justice in really indirect ways. Claude, for example, is a minor character who experiences the effects of both judicial ideologies. He spends time in jail, and he returns to Haiti where he is accepted and becomes one with the group. Prison serves as a separation mechanism, a removal of unwanted people from society. However, that kind of punitive system can make the public forget about the human side of these people. I wanted to highlight that a bit in my podcast, and I think Danticat highlights that in her text as well. These characters are either harmed or do harm others, or even a mix of both. However, they are all still people with their own lives and experiences. 

I wanted to touch on regret in the podcast, as it is obviously something that would go hand-in-hand with wrongdoings and justice ideologies. I’ve always found it interesting how some people’s regrets are definitions of them as people and other people are more accepted. Obviously, I feel as if some bad things are worse than others (murder is worse than shoplifting) and therefore should be handled differently, but I just find that interesting. I think Danticat must have as well, because she humanizes people who have done bad things throughout this text.

I know that I could’ve used more examples, however I thought I would take a few and analyze them with a bit of depth instead of just listing a series of examples. I thought about including The Wedding Seamstress and her story regarding the prison guard, but I just wasn’t sure how that would have demonstrated punitive and restorative justice as well as the other examples.

Similar to the first podcast, I think the accessibility of the format really places an emphasis on why literature matters. Podcasts are essentially the conversation that literature is trying to inspire, so a short episode that briefly analyzes major themes in texts would draw attention to literature’s role in society. Justice is something that affects everyone, as is regret and as is revenge. Danticat’s demonstration of how those things are more complicated than we anticipate is why literature matters: it highlights the truth. Very few people can be summed up in a sentence, yet millions are stuck in a prison sentence. Danticat’s piece is the reason that realization of injustice is on my mind, and it would likely provoke similar emotions in the minds of other readers. The truth is always provocative, and in no case is that clearer than in this text.

Works Cited

Daly, Kathleen. “Restorative vs Retributive Justice.”, 2005, 

Danticat, Edwidge. The Dew Breaker. Vintage Books, 2004. 

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3 thoughts on “Second Major Project: The Literary Analysis Podcast Episode Two: Justice and Danticat

  1. I thought the point you brought up in your analysis of the chapter “Seven” was really good. I’ve noticed lately that some people who advocate for prison & police abolition still want punitive measures to be taken against police officers who use excessive force/kill people unjustly. I definitely understand wanting some kind of retribution, but prison & police abolitionism is based on restorative, not punitive, justice. It makes me wonder, is it ethical to have a conditionally restorative justice system? Should some crimes be met with restorative justice, and others with punitive justice? Who knows! Like you said, it’s really complicated and I honestly still don’t know exactly where I stand on such difficult issues. Great work, the podcast idea is really cool and it’s well produced too!

  2. This was a very compelling piece. It’s quite clever of you to have chosen to talk about the two forms of justice, as both are prevalent in the Dew Breaker without being explicitly stated. As I read along with your blurb on Seven, I realized I was disagreeing with the idea of restorative justice when you said, “Given the fact that they are in the United States, one can assume that they are calling for punitive justice for the police officer. However, after examining Ka’s father, would restorative justice prove to be more beneficial for the community in the long run?” Admittedly, I have a soft spot for Ka’s father, but the idea of another officer getting the opportunity for restorative justice makes me inherently angry, despite generally agreeing with restorative justice. It feels like punitive justice, or “eye for an eye” is a very early human type of response, when we had little means of cognition or communication, and therefore went straight from feeling to action without a second thought. The truth is that you can’t be the danger you wish to expel from the world. Awesome job, Luke! : )

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