Essay 3 Draft
English 1121(Prof. Scanlan)
May 15, 2020
The Message to the World
In Edwidge Danticat’s “New York Day Women,” the main characters are Suzette and her mother. In this short story, Suzette follows her mother throughout the day to see how well she has adjusted to the big city, and how her experiences growing up in Haiti prepared her for a new life in New York City. With the frequent flashbacks of wisdom passed down from mother to daughter, Suzette transitions to a better person with a different mindset, similar to her mother. The story also displays a pure relationship between a mother and her daughter, and how deep their love is for each other. Robyn Cope’s article “‘WE ARE YOUR NEIGHBORS’: EDWIDGE DANTICAT’S NEW NARRATIVE FOR HAITI,”dives into what Danticat seeks to do with her writing, that of humanizing Haiti and giving the country a voice. Contrarily, Achy Obejas’ renowned speech honoring Danticat; dubbed as “Bearing the Unforgivable: A Tribute to Edwidge Danticat,” highlights Danticat’s writing style that speaks on its own. Obejas speaks on how Danticat’s stories have a way to make her readers question life, the unknown things around us, our relationships, and ponder what our morals and ethics are. While Cope’s article suggest that Danticat push for her readers to be of global ethics (giving Haiti a voice), Achy sees Danticat’s writing as a way to draw more people of the world to be of virtue ethics, a door for readers to really think about what’s around them, question and understand their relationships, be aware of the lives of others, while also figuring out one’s’ character. To prove this, I will examine the short story “New York Day Women” to display the ethics shown by Suzette and her mother, and the morals Suzette’s mother display throughout the story. I will also dive into Danticat’s early years to draw connections to the short story. Finally, I will look into some points supporting Cope’s argument using the short story to concoct a counter-argument.
The ethics shown by Suzette and the flashbacks that display her mother’s ethics shows Danticat’s message to readers of the human capacity to be virtuous and be of good character. Throughout the story, Suzette follows her mother all over the city, not to be nosy specifically, but out of concern for her mother who at first seems she wasn’t ready for a new life in New York (Danticat 332). Suzette’s mother is a character full of virtue ethics; she is someone who seemed to ponder how she should be in her new home. Before she limited herself to certain places to travel to, that probably reminded her of Haiti. However, she transcended that level of thinking to where she realizes how she wants to live (a sign of virtue) and began to be a part of the city as her daughter observes while following her on that specific day. The wisdom she contains acts as her moral compass to help traverse the city and do many things like shop and babysit (Danticat 334). However, the story cites that her personality and ethics derives from her past in Haiti (Danticat’s possible way of implying Haiti builds character (Global awareness)). Let it be noted that Suzette’s mother’s way of living and her past influenced Suzette to be of a different mindset. Initially, Suzette could be viewed as a utilitarian person (self interest). She wouldn’t give up her seat for any elder person or pregnant lady without reason; it depended on the situation (Danticat 332). A minor detail like that can be seen as nothing much, but it is the little details that determine someone’s character. With this detail, conclusions are drawn that Suzette lacks virtue. Luckily, her character development with the help of her mother grows and undergoes a transition from a utilitarian person to a virtuous one with just one decision. Although, the decision she makes about giving up her seat to an elderly woman or a pregnant lady no matter what is a small choice, it gives insight to the capacity humans possess to be a better person than before. It is like throwing away a small piece of paper. By throwing it away, the area is additionally cleaner than before. This is what Danticat looks to do in her writing, to influence readers to be better than yesterday. This coincides with what Obejas stated in her speech, “it ask us to consider our own capacity for the unforgivable, our ability to bear the unforgivable, and the measure of our own powers of forgiveness.” This ultimately means Danticat wishes for her readers to look into their own tank (figuratively) and examine their lifestyle and ethics.
Danticat’s writing style, as shown from her writing, focuses on women and relationships, with a big emphasis on ethics. “New York Day Women” contains these elements heavily. But why is that? Why does Danticat put so much effort in her writing to talk about relationships and women the most? Well, according to the short article “Edwidge Danticat-HAITIAN AMERICAN AUTHOR,” written by The Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica, Danticat wasn’t a social person. The article stated, “she found adapting to life and school in the United States difficult. Partly as a way to escape these unpleasant situations, she wrote stories, a practice she had started at an early age.” A conclusion can be drawn that Danticat’s focus on relationships stems from the ones she sought when she was younger. It is quite possible that she writes about this to attempt to better the relationships in any setting. Therefore, she would eliminate the problems most young people, more specifically immigrants, face adapting to a new life in the United States, and changes the people’s mindset to be virtuous. Suzette’s mother was a prime example of this because she herself, although she is not a child, she also faced adapting to the United States as well (for daughter’s sake). However, the article also mentions that Danticat’s dive into relationships centered on generations of Haitian women. Danticat possibly uses her platform to write about this to give readers greater senses of global ethics opposed to virtue. Nevertheless, the short story displays a relationship, a mother-daughter one between Suzette and her mother. It showed how much they love another. Suzette literally followed her mother throughout the whole day worrying about her. She holds her mother in high regard and uses what she taught her to be a better person as well. Suzette’s mother’s love for her daughter is also a beautiful sight. At the end of the story, she revealed why she has never gone to a PTA meeting, “You’re so good, anyway. What are they going to tell me? I don’t want to make you ashamed of this day woman.” (Danticat 335)She stayed away from an area in fear that she would embarrass her daughter, which is love and display of a virtuous character. Someone of virtue focuses on enhancing relationships, because it is good for everyone. According to the article about Danticat by Wikipedia, she was actually away from her parents for quite a while:
When she was two years old, her father André immigrated to New York, to be followed two years later by her mother Rose. This left Danticat and her younger brother, also named André, to be raised by her aunt and uncle. When asked in an interview about her traditions as a child, she included storytelling, church, and constantly studying school material as all part of growing up. (Wikipedia 1)
Since childhood, Danticat discovered the importance of relationships, hence her focus on it. Because of her experiences, she understands how strong a bond between family entails, and how much it is needed for good character. For many years, her relationship with her parents was severed due to long distance. Danticat’s way of bringing forth these bonds, especially in the short story, serves as a message to pursue, and ponder the relationships, friendships (things a virtuous person considers). Obejas would agree with this statement, because she herself drew a similar conclusion. She stated:
With each new book, her already very personal and independent path grows longer and wider and makes room not just for more of her stories but also for those of so many others, for so many of us who are women, women of color, women of the Caribbean, island people, mothers and daughters, immigrants, wanderers, exiles. (Obejas 2)
What this means is Danticat’s own personal life plays a key factor in the message she tries to convey with her short story of strengthening relationships to be a more virtuous person.
Throughout the short story, both Suzette and her mother displayed a mindset of virtuous people at one point. However, it would be foolish not to consider the other ethics that Danticat may be leading with, which is of global ethics. It is true that most of the wisdom that Suzette’s mother shares with her daughter is from her past experiences in Haiti. Additionally, it is shown that her positive morals also derive from Haiti, “Why should we give to Goodwill when there are so many people back home who needs clothes? We save our clothes for the relatives in Haiti.” (Danticat 334) This statement describes her awareness of the situation Haiti faces. A global ethicist addresses ethical questions and problems arising out of the global interconnection and interdependence of the world’s population, or in this case Haiti. Therefore, Cope’s statement about humanizing Haiti is spot on. He states, “Her compelling, personal portrayals of a long century of politically incited human tragedy affecting Haitians and the Diaspora.” It is these factors that Cope insist that is what Danticat writes to humanize Haiti, because of what goes on in the country. However, in that same article Cope reveals that Danticat herself stated that is not her intentions, she explained:
I am uncomfortable with that idea, mostly because I think
if people looked around them honestly, they wouldn’t really
need anything to “humanize” a group of people. We are your
neighbors—both when we live here in the United States and
when we are still living in Haiti. . . . On the other hand, I
guess that’s what is great about fiction. You get to understand
the people you read about in a novel sometimes, more than
you do your friends. You get their deepest thoughts, their
aspirations, their pasts, their futures, so when you read you’re
getting into a very intimate relationship with a book and its character. (Cope 4)
This proves Danticat writes in hopes her readers become more of a virtuous character. It is not that she seeks to humanize Haiti, but to humanize her readers to be more of virtue, so more can see Haiti as their neighbors. Ultimately, Cope’s argument was derailed by the words of the author herself, who seeks for her reader to ponder their lives, and of others.
Edwidge Danticat’s writing sure does give readers a lot to contemplate. Her stories give different ethics for readers like Cope and Obejas to consider, with the work of fiction. This examination of her and the short story provides clear evidence that she uses her experiences, the experiences of others to concoct stories that sublimely open readers’ mindset to positive ethics that would help communities unite, and produce positive effects. However, this examination was truly developed to show that the main ethics Danticat seems to believe more than any is of virtue ethics. It is fundamentally the forerunner to a positive effect as displayed by Suzette and her mother. In the end, Danticat’s message is that being a virtue ethicist is something that can be beneficial, which in turn could lead to change, not just in Haiti but the entire world.