The Dew Breaker is a collection of stories that are linked by Edwidge Danticat, and the book was published in 2004. Some read the book as a novel, while others read it at a collection of short stories that are connected. There are a few interesting characters throughout The Dew Breaker such as Ka, Annee or Papa. Although the character I found most interesting is Papa. Papa is a character that has gone through a huge transformation throughout the book, and he is a character that regrets his past and he changes for the better. In society today I have heard a lot of people say, people never change, but is that completely true? I believe so, and the dramatic change Papa goes through really separates him from other characters, and makes him the most fascinating character.
Papa has a very complex story, and in my opinion it is by far the most interesting. Papa was born into landowning peasants in rural haiti, and soon Papa joins the Volunteers for National Security as a young man. Papa speaks of his past saying “I was born and raised in East Flatbush, Brooklyn, and have never even been to my parents’ birthplace. Still, I answer “Haiti” because it is one more thing I’ve always longed to have in common with my parents.” (Chapter One, The Book of the Dead) I feel like this adds more to Papa’s character, and it also allows people to relate with Papa as a character. Now he has become very skilled at torturing and executing which is required for his job. From this he earns a very strong reputation that leaves many people fearful of him. From this he becomes very greedy and selfish, he also feels very powerful because he truly is. Although he dreams of leaving Haiti and leaving this life behind by immigrating to the United States. Years pass and now we see Papa as an older man. Papa now claims that he never wanted to hurt anyone, and I think this is so interesting because it allows us, the readers, to raise doubts about this. Why execute and torture people and years later say you didnt want to hurt anyone? This only adds to how complex Papa is as a character because it allows us to make our own assumptions.
Soon we learn that Papa had killed the Preacher, and Papa himself was left with a scar. “And yet he had not been completely defeated. The wound on the fat man’s face wasn’t what he had hoped, he hadn’t blinded him or removed some of his teeth, but at least he’d left a mark on him, a brand that he would carry the rest of his life. Every time he looked in the mirror, he would have to confront this mark and remember him. Whenever people asked what happened to his face, he would have to tell a lie, a lie that would further remind him of the truth.” (Circa 1967) This scar is very important because it forces Papa to hide his past, and create stories about why it is on his face. His scar is something that hugely impacts the rest of his life, as the Preacher said it would before his death. Ka doesn’t truly have an understanding of the scar, and she thinks Papa had received while he was in jail. “My father has never liked having his picture taken. We have only a few of him at home, some awkward shots at my different school graduations, with him standing between my mother and me, his hand covering his scar. I had hoped to take some pictures of him on this trip, but he hadn’t let me. At one of the rest stops I bought a disposable camera and pointed it at him anyway. As usual, he protested, covering his face with both hands like a little boy protecting his cheeks from a slap. He didn’t want any more pictures taken of him for the rest of his life, he said, he was feeling too ugly.” (Chapter one, The Book of the Dead) From this quote we learn how much the scar on Papa’s face has impacted his life, and how even Ka Ka doesn’t have a full understanding of the scar. Throughout this passage it seems as if Kaka is questioning the scar, and explaining how he acts so strangely about it.
Even if Papa has a scar from his past he is still a character that is trying to make a change for the better. I think the scar serves as a mark from the past, something that is stuck with him forever. After Papa had killed the preacher he meets Anne and makes her believe that he had been a victim of the Davalier regime, and not a perpetrator. Papa triest to escape his past by moving with Anne to New York, and this brings us to a new stage of Papa’s life. “Besides, soon after her husband had opened his barbershop, he’d discovered that since he’d lost eighty pounds, changed his name, and given as his place of birth a village deep in the mountains of Leogane, no one asked about him anymore, thinking he was just a peasant who’d made good in New York. He hadn’t been a famous “dew breaker,” or torturer, anyway, just one of hundreds who had done their jobs so well that their victims were never able to speak of them again.” (The Book of Miracles) Now they are living in Brooklyn and from here on out he lives a quiet life. He begins running a barbershop, and transitions into being both a husband and a father to Anne and Kaka. We see how Papa has changed his whole lifestyle, and even ended up losing weight. Although he still has that scar! Interestingly, soon Papa begins to love Ancient Egyptians grieving rituals, and I think of it as a way to look back on his terrible past. I think this helps him transition into becoming a very peaceful man, and forgetting his past altogether. Then again he is still stuck with that scar on his face!
The Book of Ka is where Papa releases all of his secrets to his daughter Ka, and tries to explain that he is a changed man. It starts out with Ka traveling with Papa. They were going from New York to Florida to sell a sculpture of her father, Papa. They go to a hotel to stay the night, but the next morning Ka wakes up and sees no sign of Papa nor the sculpture. Soon we find out that Papa had traveled to a lake and thrown the sculpture in there. Then Papa brings Ka there and shows him what he had done, and expresses that he is very upset with himself. From here Papa goes on to spill the truth. He tells Ka that he lied about being imprisoned in Haiti, and he was actually employed to kill and torture many of the prisoners. From here Ka is very upset, and Papa tries to explain himself and show how he is ashamed of his past. This creates a complex issue between two characters and shows how interesting of a back story Papa truly has. Ka returns to the hotel room and immediately calls her mother… She demands to know how she could ever stay with Papa. She explains that when Papaa met her he decided to throw away his old life, and change. She explains how she basically saved Papa from that life, and had caused him to change.
Papa is such a complex character, and as a reader I thought it was very interesting learning about his backstory. The readers learn about the effect the scar has on his “new” life, and how his actions in the past affected his future. Papa goes through a huge change in his life, and I think that many people are able to relate to him. In life everyone goes through a change, whether it is for the better or the worst. Papa is the character that really shines throughout The Dew Breaker, and I was always eager to learn more about him.
Connection: What I had just noticed is a connection I had made between Papa as a character and a show I had recently watched. There is a show called American Horror Story, and last year they had released a season about a serial killer on a campsite that takes place in 1984. SPOILER ALERT: A few episodes in you learn about the life of the serial killer, and what led him to do it. Then in a few episodes later you see how the character who had a very bad past is now trying to change, and become a better person. I think it is very, very similar to Papa’s situation, of course there are differences but both of the characters trying to make a change is what led me to make comparisons. I also think that the creators of American Horror Story had done this to show how change in a person is definitely possible, but it is always hard to forget your past. I’m almost positive that the serial killer in the show had some sort of scar as well. It makes me wonder if the creators of American Horror Story had read The Dew Breaker before.
Danticat, E. (2005). The dew breaker (1st Vintage Contemporaries ed.). New York: Vintage Books.
Chapter One: The Book of the Dead -2 Quotes
The Book of Miracles- 1 Quote
The Book of Ka
Circa 1976 -1 Quote
American Horror Story 1984