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1 Hawthorne Literature- A to Z

This title in other editions

The Dew Breaker


The Dew Breaker Cover



Reading Group Guide

1. Why does Danticat use multiple narrators to tell the story? How do these shifting points of view affect the way the story is told? How do they affect the way readers absorb and understand the events described in the book?

2. Why does Danticat begin The Dew Breaker with Kas fathers confession and then return, near the end of the book to the moment some thirty years earlier when he committed his last crime? Is this way of structuring the events more powerful than chronologically telling the story?

3. Ka says about her father, “If anyone could, [he] must have already understood that confessions do not lighten living hearts” [p. 33]. Why would he understand this better than others? Why then does he confess his secret past to his daughter? What role does guilt—his own and that of others—play in this book?

4. For her sculpture of her father, Ka chooses “a piece of mahogany that was naturally flawed, with a few superficial cracks along what was now the back. Id thought these cracks beautiful and had made no effort to polish them away, as they seemed like the woods own scars, like the one my father had on his face” [p. 7]. What does this passage suggest about the differences between Ka and her father? In what ways has he tried to “polish away”

his own scars?

5. What do the stories of Eric, Michel, Dany, Nadine, Beatrice, and Freda add to the book? In what ways are their lives intertwined with Kas father? What effect has the “dew breaker” had on them?

6. Claude tells Dany, “I am the luckiest fucker alive,” because in killing his father, he has “done something really bad that makes me want to live my life like a fucking angel now” [p. 119]. Does The Dew Breaker seem to suggest that people can redeem themselves even after committing acts of horrific violence? How might this conversation affect Danys feelings about his landlord, the “dew breaker,” the man who killed his own mother and father?

7. Beatrice tells the reporter Aline, “Everything happens when its meant to happen” [p. 125]. Can this axiom be applied to the book itself? Do things in the book happen when they are “meant” to happen? What significant events in the unfolding of the characters lives seem fated?

8. How does The Dew Breaker, though a work of fiction, convey the reality of life under the Duvalier dictatorship more vividly and emotionally than a work of history or investigative journalism might?

9. Some regard the preachers outspoken sermons against the Duvalier dictatorship as selfish. “Not all the church members agreed with the preachers political line. . . . Some would even tell you, ‘If the pastor continues like this, I leave the church. He should think about his life. He should think about our lives” [p. 186]. His own sister, Anne, wonders, “What made him think he could denounce the powerful on the radio, of all places, and not risk the safety of those he loved?” [p. 215]. Is the preacher right in speaking out against the regime, even when it puts his loved ones and his congregation in danger?

10. After the preacher wounds “the fat man,” he thinks, “at least hed left a mark on him, a brand that he would carry for 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” [pp. 227-28]. What effect, both good and bad, does this last act of violence have on the “dew breaker”? How does it change him?

11. At the end of the book, as Anne is telling her daughter more about her fathers past, Ka hangs up, leaving Anne with a recording telling her to “hang up and try again” [p. 241]. Why has Danticat chosen to end The Dew Breaker in this open-ended way? Will Anne try again to explain her husbands past? Will Ka ever forgive him? Should he be forgiven?

12. Why does Kas mother marry the “dew breaker”? Why does she stay with him after learning the truth about the identity of his last victim? What does the reconciliation between Kas parents—to each other, and to the truth—tell us about the nature of forgiveness, of recovery, and of healing? And how does the last section of the story told in The Dew Breaker bring us back full circle to the beginning?

13. In what ways is Kas father a complex character? What motivates him to join the Volunteers? How does he rationalize killing the preacher? What does he wish he could give the boy who brings him cigarettes as hes waiting to arrest the preacher? What does he enjoy about the pain he inflicts on his prisoners? How should he be judged, finally?

Product Details

Danticat, Edwidge
Vintage Books USA
Short Stories (single author)
Brooklyn (new york, n.y.)
Literature-A to Z
Edition Description:
Trade paper
Vintage Contemporaries
Publication Date:
Grade Level:
7.60x5.64x.56 in. .42 lbs.

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Related Subjects

Featured Titles » Biography
Fiction and Poetry » Literature » A to Z
History and Social Science » American Studies » Popular Culture

The Dew Breaker Used Trade Paper
0 stars - 0 reviews
$6.50 In Stock
Product details 256 pages Vintage Books USA - English 9781400034291 Reviews:
"Review" by , "Danticat's voice is that of a seasoned veteran, her pages wise and saddened, struggling on 'the pendulum between regret and forgiveness.' Searing fiction with the lived-in feel of the best memoir."
"Review" by , "Danticat's masterful depiction of the emotional and spiritual reverberations of tyranny and displacement reveals the intricate mesh of relationships that defines every life, and the burden of traumatic inheritances: the crimes and tragedies that one generation barely survives, the next must reconcile."
"Review" by , "Breathtaking....With terrifying wit and flowered pungency, Edwidge Danticat has managed over the past 10 years to portray the torment of the Haitian people....In The Dew Breaker, Danticat has written a Haitian truth: prisoners all, even the jailers."
"Review" by , "Riveting....Like a young Cassandra, gifted with the sight whether she wants it or not...Danticat leads her readers into the underworld. It's furnished like home."
"Synopsis" by , From the universally acclaimed author of Breath, Eyes, Memory and Krik? Krak!, a brilliant, deeply moving work of fiction that explores the world of a “dew breaker”—a torturer—a man whose brutal crimes in the country of his birth lie hidden beneath his new American reality.

We meet him late in his life. He is a quiet man, a husband and father, a hardworking barber, a kindly landlord to the men who live in a basement apartment in his home. He is a fixture in his Brooklyn neighborhood, recognizable by the terrifying scar on his face. As the book unfolds, moving seamlessly between Haiti in the 1960s and New York City today, we enter the lives of those around him: his devoted wife and rebellious daughter; his sometimes unsuspecting, sometimes apprehensive neighbors, tenants, and clients. And we meet some of his victims.

In the book’s powerful denouement, we return to the Haiti of the dew breaker’s past, to his last, desperate act of violence, and to his first encounter with the woman who will offer him a form of redemption—albeit imperfect—that will change him forever.

The Dew Breaker is a book of interconnected lives—a book of love, remorse, and hope; of rebellions both personal and political; of the compromises we often make in order to move beyond the most intimate brushes with history. Unforgettable, deeply resonant, The Dew Breaker proves once more that in Edwidge Danticat we have a major American writer.

From the Hardcover edition.

"Synopsis" by , We meet him late in life: a quiet man, a good father and husband, a fixture in his Brooklyn neighborhood, a landlord and barber with a terrifying scar across his face. As the book unfolds, moving seamlessly between Haiti in the 1960s and New York City today, we enter the lives of those around him, and learn that he has also kept a vital, dangerous secret. Edwidge Danticats brilliant exploration of the “dew breaker”--or torturer--s an unforgettable story of love, remorse, and hope; of personal and political rebellions; and of the compromises we make to move beyond the most intimate brushes with history. It firmly establishes her as one of Americas most essential writers.
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