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The trees on Isle des Chevaliers are restless, but on
Dominique, nature is beaten into submission by the tourist industry.
There, Jadine sits at a hotel and waits for a ride to L’Arbe de
la Croix. As she sits, she reflects on her decision to leave Son
and feels that to stay with him would have been too difficult because
of his ties to his culture. When her driver takes her past the swamp
where she got stuck in the tar, she feels her legs burn from the
When Jadine arrives at L’Arbe de la Croix, she finds Margaret cleaning
out Valerian’s closet. Margaret tells her that Valerian is now feeble
and also that Michael will attend Berkeley for graduate school.
Margaret is tidying Valerian’s things and shows the pants that he
has never worn, which are all made out of natural fibers like linen
or silk. Margaret says that she now dresses Valerian and that Sydney
will teach her to shave him. Leaving Margaret, Jadine finds Ondine
in the kitchen, and she expresses surprise about Margaret’s new
degree of power over Valerian. Ondine says that Valerian intentionally
kept Margaret stupid and that his suffering is repayment. Jadine
tries to explain her relationship with Son, but Ondine is not receptive.
Still angry that Jadine left the island without a goodbye after
Christmas, Ondine is also mad that she plans to fly to Paris. She believes
that Jadine would not have returned to the island unless her sealskin
coat was there, and she accuses Jadine of lacking proper affection
for herself and Sydney. She thinks Jadine should stay and take care
Ondine tells Jadine that her first priority is to be a
daughter. If Jadine never learns to be a daughter, then according
to Ondine, she will never grown up to be a real woman. Jadine rejects
Ondine’s argument and says that she must go to Paris. She asks Ondine
not to tell Son where she has gone. After Jadine leaves, Sydney
enters the kitchen and agrees with Ondine that Jadine is ungrateful.
Sydney then walks to the greenhouse, and he notices that the walkway’s bricks
are coming loose and that ants are eating some electrical cords.
He reflects that the island has disrupted their surroundings and
as he enters the greenhouse, he comments to Valerian that the island
is starting to get in bad condition.
Sydney cares for Valerian, who is very frail now. He also
takes advantage of Valerian’s diminished state to turn off the radio
and pour himself a glass of Valerian’s wine. He tells Valerian that
he should get some sandals, which he will appreciate at this time
next year. Valerian insists that he is going back to Philadelphia,
but Sydney disagrees. The power dynamic has shifted, and now the
servant is making the decisions.
At the airport, Jadine encounters Alma Estée, who is now
a bathroom attendant, and Jadine does not remember her. Alma Estée wears
a cheap wig and asks if Jadine killed Son. Jadine thinks that Alma
Estée looks like an animal, and she gives her a couple of francs as
she leaves to board her plane. When Jadine says goodbye, she calls
Alma “Mary.” On the plane Jadine gives herself a manicure and decides
that she will stop asking herself what went wrong with Son. As the
plane flies, it sails far above marching columns of soldier ants.
The narrator tells the story of the queen ant, who only copulates
once in her lifetime. After the act, the male ant dies, and the queen
saves his sperm in her womb until the time comes for her to found
a colony. In the story, the queen ant wonders about what the male
ant thought as he quivered and died.
Son arrives in Queen of France in pursuit of Jadine and
stops in the market, where he finds Thérèse. She is very happy to
see him again and tells him that Gideon now works as a taxi driver.
Together they walk to find Gideon, and Gideon tells Son that if
Son is going to Isle des Chevaliers, he hopes Son plans to commit
murder. Son says he has to find Jadine, and Gideon says that Son
must leave her be. Alma Estée enters wearing her cheap wig, and
her appearance in the wig makes Son sad. He tries to take it off,
but she jumps away. She tells Son about seeing Jadine at the airport,
and Son continues to feel that he must follow her.
Gideon refuses to take Son to the island, but Thérèse
offers to take him instead. Practically blind, she must navigate
by the currents. As they drive in her boat, the sky gets foggier
until Son can barely see. Thérèse leaves Son on the backside of
the island, far away from L’Arbe de La Croix, and after he steps
ashore, she yells after him that he has a choice. Thérèse says that
he can either join the island’s wild horsemen, who are waiting for
him, or he can go after Jadine. She believes he must join the horsemen
and reunite with his heritage. Son stumbles onto shore, and as he
picks up speed his vision fades, and the island opens to accommodate
him as he joins the horsemen running.
At the opening of Chapter Ten, the narrator describes
how nature is preparing to reclaim its ground. The military language
that the narrator uses to describe the daisy trees indicates the
severity of the conflict between nature and civilization. The trees
are ready to take Isle des Chevaliers back from humanity, even if
the island of Dominique remains a tourist trap. This language of
nature resurgent leads to Son’s final decision to join the wild
horsemen. Nature’s preparation for war also emphasizes the changes
that are taking place within the house. Ensconced in his overgrown
garden, Valerian is gradually becoming a weak force in his own household.
Margaret emphasizes how much Valerian’s relationship to nature has
been reversed when she mentions off-handedly to Jadine that Mother
Nature has made everything he owns. The connection between youth
and power that runs throughout the novel is shown here to be part
of a natural cycle of decline and emergence. As Valerian grows weaker,
younger forces will rise up to take his place.
The reversal of Valerian’s relationship to nature is mirrored
in the reversal of Sydney’s relationship to Valerian. The servant
is now becoming the master, as he makes decisions regarding the
management of the house and of Valerian’s life. Valerian does not
know what is right or wrong anymore because he is still shocked
over Margaret’s abuse of Michael. This confusion allows Sydney to
make all the decisions for Valerian. As throughout the novel, the
narrator here draws a parallel between the black characters and
nature itself. The island’s trees are in ascendance over the house
just as Sydney has been telling Valerian what to do. The loose bricks
in the walkway and the ants chewing on the electrical cords also
emphasize nature’s takeover. So, as Valerian loses control over
his life, nature and the black characters in the house begin to
The appearance of Alma Estée with Jadine draws a connection between
the two characters. Although Alma does not have the same upbringing
as Jadine, she tries to hide her heritage as Jadine does. Alma now
wears a wig similar to the one that she asked Son to bring her earlier
in the book. The wig’s reddish brown color does not match her skin,
nor does it effectively hide her true hair, which Jadine can see
peeking out from underneath. Nevertheless, Alma has persisted in
trying to deny her heritage by covering her hair, and Jadine persists
in calling her “Mary,” although she has been told already that the
women of the island have different names. This interaction indicates
that Jadine will never accept where she came from and will keep
running away, just as she decided to leave Sydney and Ondine for
The novel’s two protagonists, Son and Jadine, show the
least change in their perspectives at this point in Tar
Baby. At the beginning of the novel, Jadine had arrived
on Isle des Chevaliers from Europe, uncertain about her goals in
life and how they related to her race and heritage. Now she is uneasily
yet firmly preparing to return to Europe to pick up her career and
her relationship with the white man Ryk. She is wounded and angry
more than she is changed. When she feels the burning memory of tar
while passing the swamp on the way to the house, she simultaneously
feels entrapped in a relationship with a backward man. Ondine tries
to show her a way to navigate between the complete rejection of
her history and returning to Son’s poor black culture when she tells
Jadine that she needs to be a daughter. She is not asking Jadine
to change her life, just to care about where she is from. But even
caring about where she came from is too much for Jadine. She remains
unsure about her future and seems to reject her race and heritage
by returning to Paris. In contrast, Son stays true to his race and
heritage. Although he accommodates civilization over nature when
he goes to New York, he only moves there because he loves Jadine,
not because he really wants to live in New York. However, once Son
is away from New York and in Eloe or on the island, he displays
that he is a part of nature and his heritage.
The metaphor of the reproductive cycle of the queen ant
stands in for Jadine’s feelings in her last appearance in Tar
Baby. The soldier ants have appeared throughout the novel
as symbols of nature, and nature’s treatment has been overwhelmingly
positive throughout the book. Here, however, the narrator draws
a clear connection between Jadine’s need for freedom and the queen’s
method of reproduction. The death of the male ant may be surprising,
but viewed as a natural phenomenon the death is also inevitable.
The description indicates that Jadine’s choice is also natural and
therefore must be accepted. When Jadine decides to stop thinking
of what went wrong with Son, she acknowledges there is no chance
their relationship could work. Like the queen ant, she also leaves
someone behind and forces herself to look at what lies ahead in
her life. Also similar to the queen ant, Jadine may look back and
wonder if Son has realized what he lost.
Son, in contrast to Jadine, initially appears to have
changed in his rejection of Eloe that ended the previous chapter.
Yet although he has returned to the island to find Jadine, there
is no indication in his words or actions that he has changed his
perspective in a way that will allow them to reconcile. Although
he has given up on Eloe, he does not appear to have given up on
his insistence that the white man’s civilized world is irredeemably
corrupt. He appears to be driven back to the island by a blind hunger
to be reunited with Jadine rather than by a more fundamental change
in his outlook. That is why, once he has learned that Jadine is
gone, he is open to the possibility of becoming a horseman. Although
the narrator intentionally leaves the final paragraph somewhat ambiguous,
it is clear from the language and context that Son ultimately chooses
to join the wild men of the island. He has given up on being united
with Jadine, but he has also given up on the hope of returning home
to Eloe. At the most profound level, Son is first and foremost connected
with nature, and ultimately he finds his way to the part of the world
where he belongs.