Lit. NotesShort Story

The use of language and thematic concerns in “Dream Haiti” by Kamau Braithwaite


The writer has a unique connection to the sea, which appears as both a lovingly rendered natural force and, in “Dream Haiti,” a desperately vivid story about Haitian boat people, as the roadway of the “endless purgatorial” middle passages of African enslavement. “We wd find ourselves like falling hard on the deck or not being able to pay our homage or balance our bills”.

Though the narrator is a refugee on a voyage to a so-called better life, he is still imprisoned. The ship itself contains him and offers him no chance of turning back or escaping. He is confined until he reaches the shore, and at that point, he has no choice but to follow his fellow refugees in the search for work, food, and shelter.

Poetic Diction

The story is written much more like free verse poetry than prose. This form allows the author to embrace his own creativity while also sticking to his vernacular.  This format gave room for clever metaphors and vivid imagery which may not have fit in so well in a standard prose framework.

Disjointed Style

For example, this excerpt may have needed more explanation in a work of prose, but in this disjointed style, it can stand on its own: “w/the nerves breaking out sibilant and white like a long line of lip rolling softly. The side of the ship & our feet clanging restlessly up & down the studded metal stairs of our soft muted agony.”

Use of abbreviations

This format also allows for natural writing, with no need for conventional grammar and mechanics. The author can use abbreviations like “wd” and “&” without being criticized for it; In fact, in doing so he is creating a more apt representation of the literary ability of Haitians at this time and how the vernacular would have been reflected in the text.

No Use of punctuation

Another individual trait of Kamau Braithwaite’s writing style is the emission of punctuation. There is no paragraphing, no use of capital letters, and other marks of punctuation in the story. This style of writing creates many difficulties for the reader to grasp the story in one, two, or even three readings. It requires quite a long time and serious consideration to comprehend it.

The Narrator, Caught in a Scary situation

The narrator was and what he was doing. He feels much more trapped on the ship and even says that they are not moving, but the ship and the sea are moving. He has no control over how the rest of his life will play out. This is a very scary situation to think about.

The Last Lines of the Story

The last lines of the narrative are very much suggestive. The words ‘court’ and ‘judge’ are symbols of justice the immigrants are desirous to get. ‘Drinking dream’ makes them an embodiment of dreams. They have become dreams from head to toe. They are stopped from entering America. Their dreams are waiting for realization. They are, “drinking dreams and seawater like…”. Neither the dream is not being fulfilled nor is the seawater able to quench their thirst.


Unlike his contemporaries, Brathwaite’s response has not stopped at his masterly use of patois, his neologist fabrications, his constant, inventive wordplay, or his collagist appropriations of other tongues. It has extended itself to all the hidden transactions in language, down to the very typefaces being employed. Writing for Brathwaite has to be made apparent as writing, in order to flush out the technologies of power that infect language in its habitual uses.

People also like: Critical analysis of Kamau Brathwaite’s short story Dream Haiti.

He has chosen not just to master the language of his colonizer but has gone ahead and changed that language and changed it so completely, and with such force, that one can almost believe he has redeemed English from its complicity in the sorry imperialist enterprise. The radical Brathwaite page is an invention born out of necessity, and its success in rendering a painful history is a testimony to both the author’s substantial powers and to the strange, revivifying surprises that literature can offer.

People also like: Summary of the short story Dream Haiti by Kamau Brathwaite.


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