Ways of Listening: Hearing Danticat’s Calls to Multiple Audiences in <i>The Dew Breaker</i>

  • Ellen J. Goldner College of Staten Island, CUNY
Keywords: postcolonial trauma theory, decolonization, plural readerships, relational reading practices, US governmentality


This essay argues that Edwidge Danticat’s The Dew Breaker constitutes its audience as multiple in order to initiate relational practices across differently positioned groups of readers, on the model of stories in a short story cycle, so that they might decolonize their relations. The argument extends recent postcolonial theory of trauma literature that emphasizes the problems of idiopathic empathy and the importance of equal and reciprocal relations among communities to Danticat’s disparate readerships. The article contends that Danticat treats different cultural tasks as most important for different audiences and that her self-conscious address to multiple readerships undercuts the centrality of western readers.

For Haitians in and out of dyaspora, The Dew Breaker often treats the aporia inflicted by historical trauma as calls to community and agency. For non-Haitian African-Americans, it highlights overlapping experiences with Haitian immigrants, providing a tentative basis for common struggle, while it differentiates black cultures. For Western readers, The Dew Breaker offers practice in stepping aside from central positions, recognizing the interpretive agency of other communities, and tracing US governmentality, which produces a cascade of aporia in the lives of immigrants.

Author Biography

Ellen J. Goldner, College of Staten Island, CUNY

Ellen J. Goldner is an associate professor in the English Department at the College of Staten Island, of the City University of New York, where she teaches courses in US literature(s), and Women’s Gender and Sexuality Studies.   She has co-edited with Safyia Henderson-Homes, Racing and (E)Racing Language: Living with the Color of Our Words.  She has also published numerous essays in journals including MELUS, Literature/Film Quarterly, the Journal of American and Comparative Cultures, Studies in American Fiction, Women’s Studies, and the Arizona Quarterly.