“How to Escape from a Leper Colony” Write Up by Henry, Meg, and Sydney

Summary Part 1: Henry

“How to Escape a Leper Colony” is a story about a young girl who is sent away from her home to a secluded island in the caribbean because she is a leper. This begins with her being dropped off on a dock by her mother. Not only is she traveling to the colony because she is a leper, but also because she must bury her father, who has died and will be buried on the island. She is taken by a volunteer in his boat to the island, where she is dropped off. After she arrives, a nun orders her to go bathe in the sea. After she is done bathing, she meets a young man named Lazaro. She and Lazaro talk, and she tells him it’s her father who’s being cremated the next day. Lazaro tells her that he has leprosy in his head.

Summary Part 2: Meg

Deepa describes the churches on the island, one Protestant and one Catholic, and how it is not considered all right to be Hindu. Her mom is Christian, but her dad is Hindu, so she knows a bit about both. For several nights, she sleeps in surgery. The nuns debate about where to put her, and end up putting her with an old African woman, who Deppa grew close to. She and Lazaro go on walks through the island, often to places where the lepers aren’t allowed to go. One day, he takes her to the nun’s burial ground. They discuss that they both want to be buried under graves, even though they will be cremated. They talk for awhile longer about God and the leper colony, causing Deepa to get very emotional. A few days later, Deepa goes into surgery where the doctor cuts away part of her arm that shows signs of leprosy. Two days after the surgery, Deepa and Lazaro go to watch a movie. Lazaro and Deepa then decide to make an altar to the Hindu goddess Kali, although they don’t tell people that. People assume that they are building a house for them to spend some time in together.

Summary Part 3: Sydney 

Deepa and Lazaro build a rough Hindu shrine which they call Kali. One night, they are caught sleeping by their Kali. Since the colony is very Christian, they get in huge trouble and a volunteer hits Kali with a torch. Deepa passes out and wakes up back in Tantie B’s hut, learning that she was hit in the face and knocked out. Deepa also finds out that Lazaro and the volunteer are missing. She goes to the beach and sees a nun’s dead body floating in the water. Later that day, other nuns commit suicide as well by jumping off the cliff and into the ocean. This gives the lepers an opportunity to escape by swimming away. Deepa walks into the water and presumably escapes, while Tantie B stays behind because she cannot swim.

Henry’s Analysis

This story has a very flowing and natural sequence of dialogue in it. The subject is very dark, but the story is able to remain uplifting and humorous. The imagery is vivid and powerful. Leprosy is a very visual disease, and Yanique effectively captures the misery of people who had it before proper modern medicine and healing techniques. There is a lot of discussion of religion and many religious allusions and symbols in the text.

Lazaro was not the name he was born with. He was given that name because he refused to die.

The main character has a lot of inner conflict and problems inside her own head. She’s there for the cremation of her father, but also there for the rest of her life, or at least until her leprosy goes away. There is a lot of talk about race in this story. Lazaro mentions that everybody on the island was Indian.

“You thinking wrong. Here we all Indian, no matter how much African we have in us.”

I can learn a lot from this story. The characters talk to each other in a free flowing and smooth manner. They sound like real people talking to each other. In some stories, characters talk to each other in a way that doesn’t sound entirely natural and flowing. It sounds instead like the author saying things for them. It can be difficult to make characters sound like they’re actually speaking to each other and to make sure that dialogue sounds like real world dialogue.

This story has lots of symbolism and metaphors hidden inside of it. They build an altar to Kali, who is the Hindu Goddess of destruction and fire. They reject the Christian message that the nuns have tried to put on them, and when they do, the nuns set fire to the altar. This is ironic, since the goddess is of destruction and fire anyways. The main character is burnt by these flames, which can be seen as a sacrifice to the goddess.

In conclusion, This story is rich with metaphors, symbolism, and vivid imagery. There is a lot to learn from the flowing dialogue, smooth storytelling and the imaginative characters and symbolism.  

Meg’s Analysis 

One major element of the story, and nearly any story, are the settings. The story begins with the protagonist, whose name we later find out is Deepa, sitting with her mother a relatively large town by the ocean. The town is large and bustling, with people all around shown by the quote,

Men crowded around a small stand that sold raw oysters. They dipped the shells in hot pepper sauce before slurping the meat down their throats. Women reached up for brightly colored buckets and brooms that hung on display. My mother and I rushed by, avoiding getting close to people.

Deepa has never seen anything like this before.

Then, a nun comes to take Deepa to Chacachacare, a leper colony, where the rest of the story takes place.

The boat sped off to the other, safer, healthy side of the island. I faced the intake house. It was a welcoming hue. Not the color of sores or withered limbs. The walls were blue, a mother’s color, and the trimmings were green, the color of life. I did not think I would be unhappy here.

Deepa’s first impression of Chacachacare is positive, and she believes it to be welcoming. Deepa goes to take a bath, and meets Lazaro on the beach. He tells her that

“Here we all Indian, no matter how much African we have in us.”

This is the first indication that Chacachacare isn’t as nice as Deepa thought when she first arrived. The Indian people are not treated very well, and everyone is given an amount of disrespect, although frequently through small things such as burning corpses rather than burying them, which is considered better. We find out later that Indian people are burnt instead of buried because some of them are Hindu, rather than Christian, and only Christians get buried under graves, although it is worth noting that even Christian Indians are burnt, because they are just assumed to be Hindu.

There were two churches. One for the Catholics, where the nuns joined us on Sundays, and one for the Protestants, who were thought of as exotic. There wasn’t any place for Hindus.

Hindus are seen as worse than Christians, as the leper colony is run, in part, by nuns. Throughout “How To Escape A Leper Colony”, religion is a very important part of the setting and the story, as it provides the major conflict of the story. At the end of the story, after Lazaro leaves and commits the crimes, the colony has lost all of their hope, driving them, in their desperation, into trying to swim for the mainland.

The second element that I tracked where some of the characters and their characterization.

Instead she kissed me on the mouth and made me promise not to eat the sweets

and,  

She a woman who works in the cane field. She does pray to Saint Ann to send her signs.

These quotes embody most of the characterization that is given to the mother. She is a deeply religious woman who is also both loving and strict. She isn’t in the story for very long, but she does appear throughout the story in Deepa’s thoughts and flashbacks, and her actions in the past indirectly impact Deepa’s actions throughout the story, such as her implying to Deepa that she and her father would be buried under graves, but the mother was, overall clueless as to how poorly the Indians were treated, which, indirectly, contributed to Deepa and Lazaro’s rebellion later on in the story.

Another major character is Lazaro, although  

Lazaro was not the name he was born with. He was given that name because he refused to die.

The name Lazaro relates to the biblical figure, who is associated with rebirth. This name, and the characterization around it, suggests that he is tough, both physically and emotionally. Through the exposition in the beginning of the story, we learn that his mother was killed in front of him as a child. This shapes his character throughout the story, for better and for worse. He becomes attached to Deepa throughout the story, but, when they are found out, he becomes set on vengeance, no matter if he has to hurt himself and Deepa in order to achieve it.

Finally, and arguably, most importantly, Deepa begins the story with a sort of hope, which, throughout the story is crushed. She loses her faith that she would be buried under a grave instead of being burnt. She begins to wonder if her mother has moved on, and it is implied, abandoned her. She also is brave at the beginning, but she breaks down in front of Lazaro, about her mother and her situation. She eventually gets to the point where she doesn’t care that she is going against the church in her and Lazaro’s building of the statue of Kali.

It felt as though we were playing a game. But I knew it was not a game.

This shows that she had given up hope of being respected, and of surviving. At a different time, she said that she had given up hope of her being buried under a grave. The only hope she has left is in Lazaro, and once he disappears and begins wreaking havoc, she gives up even more. At the very end of the story, she seems to have some hope that the group could make it to the mainland, even though she knows in her heart that she will not survive.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Why would the author decide to describe Deepa’s first impressions of Chacachacare as generally positive and welcoming?
  2. Why does the author begin the story with a glimpse into Lazaro’s past and foreshadowing to his actions towards the end of the story?

Sydney’s Analysis

The first element I looked at was scene vs summary. Yanique uses a good balance of both, describing some parts of the story with extensive detail and imagery, but summarizes other parts with far less detail, only providing necessary information. For example, the very first line uses summary.

The nuns said that it was pardonable because of depression and stress. But these are words used when we want to forgive a crime but know we cannot.

Yanique doesn’t describe what exactly was pardonable, or what crime was committed. This builds suspense and foreshadows what happens later in the story. Summary is used frequently throughout the first part of the story, but the author begins to use scene more often when Deepa meets Lazaro.

We climbed down the hill to look at the burial site. The grounds were clean but sharp with ankle high grass. When we walked we made a swishing sound like waves. The stones over the graves were marked: Sister Marie, Lover of the Lord; Sister Margaret, Lover of the Word; Sister Ann, Lover of the poor and the wretched. We sat among the stones. Lazaro inspected my arm.

In this paragraph, Yanique uses scene to describe what the burial site looks like. While at the burial site, Deepa and Lazaro have a conversation about what they love, which is also scene. Another time scene is used is when Deepa and Lazaro build their Hindu shrine, named Kali.

Yanique clearly describes how they built her out of wood and put flowers at her feet. The biggest scene in the story occurs when the two friends are caught sleeping at the shrine. Not only do they get in trouble for worshipping another goddess at a Christian leper colony, but they also raise suspicions of fornicating, which was unacceptable.

The second element I tracked was the separation of lepers from society. In this story, the lepers are treated almost like prisoners instead of people.

The lepers sat in the front rows. The nuns sat in the very back, like chaperons.

Not only were they socially separated, but they were physically separated as well, with the lepers keeping to one side of the island. They had their own side of the fence, their own side of the beach.

Lazaro and I often went beyond the fence that kept the lepers to the leper side.

They had a physical fence separating them from the nuns and volunteers, and an ocean separating them from the rest of the world. Sometimes lepers are even treated as less than human.

Killing a young mother is not such a big thing if the mother is a leper, especially if she was a leper when she conceived.

Yanique states that killing a young mother who is a leper is not as bad as killing somebody who is not a leper. This goes to show that people thought of the lepers as being lesser.

Discussion questions:
1.) Why do you think Deepa has a grudge against Christianity?
2.) Do you think that the lepers were treated fairly?

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