Jadine and Son travel to Eloe, Florida. When they get there, Jadine cannot believe how rural and small the town looks. The first stop is at the home of Son’s friend Soldier. When Son talks to Soldier, he uses a lot of slang and a different language pattern than the one Jadine is accustomed to hearing. Son asks Jadine if she will stay with Soldier and his wife, Ellen, while Son goes to see his father. She is reluctant because she has trouble understanding the style of speech that Eloe’s residents use and because she is upset at the division she notices between men and women. Eventually she agrees to stay behind, and Son goes to see his father, whom everyone calls Old Man.

As he approaches Old Man’s house, Son thinks it looks smaller than he remembered it. While he waits for Old Man to get home, Son thinks about his brothers and sisters, all of whom have scattered. When Old Man returns, he looks at Son and drops some onions onto the floor in surprise. Son asks Old Man if he received the money orders Son sent, and Old Man says he did but that he was reluctant to redeem them, out of fear of drawing attention to Son’s whereabouts. Old Man tells Son that he and Jadine cannot stay together in Eloe because they are unmarried and that Jadine should stay with Aunt Rosa. Son initially objects to this plan, but Old Man replies that since Son told him the truth, he must obey the rules. He also tells Son that Cheyenne’s mother is now dead and that Son should be safe in Eloe. As Son leaves, Old Man asks Son why he never wrote any messages with the money orders. Son is embarrassed and makes an excuse that he did not want to give away where he was.

Back at Soldier’s, while Son was gone Jadine grew bored. To amuse herself, she began taking pictures of Eloe residents. But when Son returns, he angrily grabs the camera away. Jadine is hurt and also unhappy to learn that she must sleep at Aunt Rosa’s. They go to a dive joint with music, and before Son drops her off for the night, they manage to have sex in the car. She thinks no one knows about it, but he knows everyone does.

At Rosa’s, Jadine falls asleep right away, but in the middle of the night she wakes up feeling claustrophobic. She thinks that Eloe is blacker than any place she has ever been and loud with plants and animals. Rosa appears, having been woken by Jadine’s movements, and she finds that Jadine is naked. She gives Jadine a nightgown and refers to her as her daughter. She makes Jadine feel ashamed about her nakedness, and Jadine looks forward to Sunday when she and Son are supposed to leave Eloe. In the morning Jadine finds Son sitting in the kitchen. She thinks he is beautiful and wants to sit in his lap but feels constrained by the presence of Drake and Soldier, who look at Son with the same admiration she feels. They admire him and Jadine both.

Sunday arrives, and while Son drives Aunt Rosa to church, Jadine stays behind with Soldier. Soldier tells Jadine about Cheyenne and says that Son should never have married her. He asks her if she and Son will get married, and she says she does not know but that she guesses so. Jadine feels uncomfortable and tells Soldier that he asks too many questions. He tells her that she has a temper and then asks if she or Son is controlling their relationship. She responds that neither of them is controlling it. Soldier tells her this is a good thing because Son does not like being controlled. Soldier then tells her that she should plan on staying longer in Eloe because Ernie Paul is on his way to visit, and Son will want to wait.

When Son returns, Jadine wants to leave, but he persuades her into staying by telling her that he will sneak into Rosa’s to sleep with her. She reflects to herself that the people of Eloe think sex is dirty and strange, but she decides to stay. They go for a drive, and she takes pictures until she runs out of film. At night Son sneaks into Jadine’s room, and while they make love Jadine feels as if she is somehow in competition with Cheyenne. Son falls asleep, and Jadine realizes that she left the door unlatched when she let Son in.

She imagines that all of the black women from her life and from Son’s have crept through the open door and stand in the bedroom. This feeling unnerves her, and she tries to wake Son so he will go shut the door, but he will not wake. Finally she yells at them, and the women bare their breasts to her. One of the women present is the woman with the yellow dress, and she holds out the eggs Jadine had seen her with in Paris. Jadine begins to cry, and Son wakes up. He holds her until morning arrives.

In the morning, Jadine feels like Eloe is “rotten,” and she reflects that all those stories she heard about southern small towns being pleasant and romantic were lies told by those who could not live anywhere else. After she arrives back in New York by herself, she waits for Son to arrive, but he does not return when he had said he would. At first Jadine does not mind his absence, but as time passes, she begins to feel angry and like an orphan again. In the meantime, she looks for a place for them to live and analyzes the nightmare she had in Eloe.

When Son finally returns to the city, he and Jadine fight frequently. She wants him to get an education or to run a store with her, and she suggests taking financial assistance from Valerian, but Son rejects the idea of asking Valerian for anything. They fight physically, with him hitting her and her biting and slapping him. She says that she has taken every opportunity presented to her in her life and worked to make the best of it, while he has been consistently lazy. In response, he holds her out the window by her wrists, and she is so scared that she wets her pants. She does not apologize, however, and instead asks him if he wants to be “a yardman” all his life. He yells that Yardman’s name is Gideon and that all her education has been useless if it has not taught her about the world’s racial realities and the hardships faced by people like Gideon and himself. Once he has gotten his say, he pulls her back in the window, and they sweetly make up.

Later, Son proposes going back to work in the shipping industry, and Jadine accuses him of wanting to escape now that things are hard and of being afraid of New York. He says he can make it in New York and that he is not afraid. He also tells her that she cannot understand where he is coming from because she is not from anywhere, whereas he is from Eloe. Jadine tells him that she is fine not being from anywhere if it means not being from Eloe, since Eloe is terrible. They continue to fight about the future, but he asks her to marry him and she says yes, on the condition that he goes to school. He agrees to this proposal but asks that they get their own apartment. Jadine begins to fill out applications for schools for Son. She is starting to look old and as a result has trouble getting modeling work. She talks about Eloe as a cradle to Son, and it angers him that she makes living in Eloe sound easy, when in reality life in Eloe is very hard. He tries to imagine what kind of woman Jadine will be in fifty years and wonders if she will grow to be like Thérèse, Ondine, or Aunt Rosa as she ages.

In September, with two weeks to go until registration for school, a dividend check arrives in the mail with interest from a stock Valerian had given to Jadine. Son refuses to put money from Valerian toward his education, and his refusal angers Jadine. They both feel that their efforts to save each other are failing, and Jadine realizes she is not saving Son from the women who appeared in her nightmare, while Son realizes he is not rescuing Jadine from Valerian. Son tells Jadine that there is no such thing as mixing races and that people either abandon their own race or choose it. He says that a black woman who raises her child as white is robbing him of his culture. As he talks, he gets increasingly angry and physically aggressive and invokes the story of the tar baby before leaving the apartment for a few hours.

When he returns, Jadine tells him that to move forward they need to forget the past and that he needs to give up his slave mentality. She then tells him that anything traced back far enough, including his first dime made, is soiled with the taint of a history of racial and sexual violence. She says further that if he pursues the past, he will only ever get stuck. Furious, Son leaves, and when he returns, Jadine is gone. He opens an envelope that contains Jadine’s pictures from Eloe and finds that his friends and family members all look ridiculous and stupid. He determines that he must find Jadine.


The narrator shows the distinction in returning to a slower place when switching from Isle de Chevaliers to Son’s small hometown of Eloe. Whereas in New York experiences flowed over and through Jadine and Son, in Eloe time slows down. Every event of the days is noted, and the passing of the hours takes time, especially when Jadine longs to return to New York. The slowing of time implies the obligations Son still has in Eloe. In New York, Jadine and Son were free to create a relationship that was in many ways a fantasy, free from responsibilities to family, history, or anything other than their love for each other. In Eloe, though, they must confront the fact that they are from different cultures and that they value different things in their lives.

Son’s values are clear from his deep pleasure in returning to Eloe and his willingness to embrace the town’s rules. The soundless laughter and the fierce hug he gives to Soldier when he arrives signal a deeper joy than he has shown in the rest of the novel. Son instantly returns to the rural black slang, which Jadine finds incomprehensible. This switch in speech patterns shows how Eloe has stayed with him through all these years. The social codes of the place also have real weight with him. For example, he is not bothered by having to leave Jadine with the women and children while he goes off with the men, nor does he put up much of a fuss when his father insists that she must sleep at Aunt Rosa’s and not with him. These codes are part of everyday life in Eloe, and the codes must be respected even when they are broken, such as when Son and Jadine fool around in the backseat of his car on the first night of their stay and when he sneaks into Jadine’s room to sleep with her on the second night of their stay. Although Son seemed to fit in on Isle des Chevaliers, in reality he was just changing his outward appearance to match his circumstances, whether it was gardening with Valerian, eating with Ondine and Sydney, or even flirting with Jadine. None of those experiences altered his true self, the one that grew up in Eloe and remained there, even during his absence.

The relationship between Son and his father demonstrates how much Son considers Eloe his true home. In particular, the significance of their names implies that Eloe was an entirely different kind of place to grow up. Old Man has been called “Old Man” since he was seven years old, and no one calls him Franklin Green. The implication is that Old Man is his true name, the one that emerged organically from the course of his life. When Old Man had a son, it was also natural that the baby was called Old Man’s son until the second child was born and the first became simply Son. Franklin Green and William Green are the names that the outside world uses for these men. In Eloe, the only place where they are truly known, they are just Old Man and Son.

For Jadine, Eloe is a nightmare of restriction and oppression. She does not understand the rules that keep her set aside with the women or prevent her from sleeping in Old Man’s house. To her the rules seem arbitrary, sexist, and unfair. In a sense Jadine is uncomfortable because of her specific familial history. As an orphan, raised by Ondine and Sydney but educated and patronized by Valerian, she has never had a true family, one that could tie her down and teach her the complex sets of obligations and responsibilities that make up family life. Instead she has learned to value her freedom above anything else. Her values could be described as cosmopolitan—that is to say, she values being a part of a general global community defined by tolerance and opportunity, instead of being part of a specific, local community defined by obligation and history. Placed in the deeply rooted world of Eloe, therefore, she feels oppressed. This sense of oppression is also tied to her desire to be free of the burden of blackness. Jadine clearly does not identify with the residents of Eloe, nor does she want to. Therefore, Eloe is a dreadful place to her, and she cannot understand why Son is so drawn toward the town when she cannot stand it.

Throughout Tar Baby, the narrator has emphasized the connection between blackness and nature, a connection that is stressed again in this chapter, when the blackness of the night in Eloe frightens Jadine. The narrator also emphasizes the connection between nature and a woman’s role as a mother, implying that motherhood is a woman’s most natural state. Jadine cleary does not identify with these traits and her nightmare brings all of these forces together. All around her, black women from her past and from Son’s past assemble and show their breasts to her. The women are insisting that Jadine should accept her role as a nurturer and propagator of the black race, an interpretation reinforced by the eggs that the woman in the yellow dress holds. When Jadine rejects this role of motherhood, she is also by implication rejecting her blackness. The morning following the dream, she rejects Eloe’s ties to the past as well when she reflects that Eloe is not full of life and does not have a future. Jadine does not want to look back. She wants to look forward, and she wants to be free to create her own identity outside of the confines of nature, race, sex, and history.

Jadine’s and Son’s different experiences in Eloe show that they have irreconcilable values. Just as when Son shared his dream of his original dime and Jadine found it to be contemptible for fulfilling black stereotypes, the two of them interpret Eloe differently. To Son, Eloe is home. To Jadine, the place is a lie and a joke, the epitome of rural blacks embracing backwardness and closed-mindedness. The arguments between Son and Jadine emphasize a difference in their values and upbringings. Their violent argument in which he hangs her out the window is a good example of this irreconcilable clash. Jadine insists that Son should be educated because that is the only way that he can succeed in the real world. This is the way Jadine was raised, and she believes that everyone should go to school as she did when she was in Paris. However, because Son was brought up in a different environment, he does not understand the importance of school. Therefore, Son insists that education is nonsense because it does not include people like Gideon, Old Man, and him in it—“true” black people, in his mind, people who represent his roots. By telling Jadine that he does not want to give up his roots, Son is saying that he cannot live in her “civilized” world.

The connections between youth and power are emphasized when Jadine begins to look old while filling out Son’s school applications. Her tiredness reflects her loss of control and influence in her relationship with Son. Although Son decided to go to school, Jadine—and not Son—is filling out the applications. Despite her influence on Son, Jadine knows he is not happy with their agreement that he attend school, and she sees that Son is only considering it because Jadine will marry him if he does. Her aged face also displays her unhappiness. Though Jadine tries to convince herself that she will be happy when Son is in school, she knows he will not want to be there and this knowledge makes her unhappy. Even though Jadine does not voice her fears to Son, her worries wear on her face, and the modeling jobs are not coming as quickly as they used to because of her tired and older appearance. Now, Jadine does not have control over her professional and personal life.

Jadine and Son have differing interpretations of the tar baby story. The narrator presents fully empathetic characters with different points of view, and these views are seen here clearly. In the story of the tar baby, a white farmer makes a figure out of tar to catch a wily rabbit that wants to steal his cabbages. When the rabbit hits the scarecrow, it gets stuck in the tar. The more it struggles to escape, the more ensnared it becomes in the sticky substance. Son thinks that he is the clever trickster and rabbit, and Jadine is the tar baby that has enticed him with fake blackness until he has become caught in her and cannot free himself. The reason Son cannot free himself of Jadine is because he loves her. However, for Jadine, Son is stuck in his imagination of the past, unable to free himself and clinging to the tar baby when he could just let go. What Jadine does not want to realize is that Son is tied to his roots and will never let go. The tar baby story helps to identify Son’s and Jadine’s true differences.

Both Jadine and Son argue from a place of honesty that is grounded in their personal experiences. In that honest grounding is the impact of Tar Baby’s underlying argument: that one cannot simply choose to be either rooted or rootless, white or black, rich or poor. Jadine and Son are both black, but this does not make them the same. While Son is comfortable with his roots and has worked hard all his life, Jadine feels more comfortable in the white European culture. She does not work hard, since she knows Valerian will support her. Therefore, even though Jadine and Son understand one another, they cannot completely understand where the other is coming from because they were raised so differently.