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The chapter opens at midday, the day after the man’s appearance. Margaret
is in her room thinking about the part of her childhood that she
spent in a trailer, and she thinks how her beauty both has and has
not taken her far from this period, given that she has locked herself
into her trailer-sized bedroom. Recalling last night’s events, she
remains angry with Valerian for ignoring her trauma and for inviting
the man to dinner. She regards the intruder with disgust and believes
that he intended to rape her and likely did sexually disgusting
things in her closet. Margaret wishes Jadine would come cheer her
up, and she also longs for Michael’s arrival because she feels that he
alone puts her at real ease.
Meanwhile, in her own room, Jadine shows Ondine a coat
made of ninety sealskins that Ryk has sent her. Ondine asks if the
coat means that Jadine will marry Ryk, and Jadine says she is unsure. When
Ondine expresses agitation about the stranger in the house, Jadine
tries to calm her. Once Ondine leaves, Jadine begins to wrap her
Christmas presents. She thinks about whether to buy Michael a Christmas
present because of her complicated relation to the Streets, as she
is very close to them and at the same time is their dependent. Her
thoughts also turn to Ondine and how she seems unnerved by Jadine’s
prospective marriage to a white man and by the possibility of leaving
the island. Jadine worries that Ondine and Sydney rely too much
on her for solutions to their problems. She remembers how Valerian
conducted himself so gallantly during dinner with the stranger and
how little information they had gained from his evasive answers,
including his name. This man is now staying in the guest room at
While Jadine is in her room thinking, Ondine is in the
kitchen cooking. Gideon enters to drop off a chicken he killed and
then leaves. Ondine is irritated that he did not pluck the chicken’s
feathers. She reflects that in her youth she would have caught the
chicken herself, but now she is too old and slow. She begins to
pluck the chicken, and Sydney comes in. He begins to talk about
how angry he is with Valerian for letting the man stay in the house
because he is worried about the safety of his family. He expresses
particular anxiety about the fact that Jadine’s room is right next
to the guest room where the man slept, and Ondine tries to calm
him down. She tells Sydney that they are too old to find new jobs,
so he needs be patient with Valerian’s actions. She also mentions
feeling that while Jadine is in the house, nothing bad can befall
them. Sydney leaves, and Ondine continues to cook, thinking about
how the man is not like her or Sydney and is, instead, a stranger.
She then considers that if he stays in the house as a guest of Valerian’s,
it will make her mad to serve him.
Out in the yard, Thérèse, one of the “Marys” who comes
to do work with Gideon, does the laundry, eats lunch, and thinks
about the man who had been sneaking into the Streets’ house for
food in the evenings. She and Gideon knew he was in the house before
anyone else did, and she had been leaving food for him. In her imagination,
he is one of the island’s mythical wild horsemen, a descendant of
the first slaves who were brought to the island. While she is daydreaming
about this, Gideon arrives and tells her that the Streets have discovered
the man and that now he is a guest in the house. She suggests that
he has come to carry Jadine away, and she continues to propose fantasies
until she reaches the point at which she can no longer express her
While she rambles, Gideon thinks about his past and how
he spent a lot of time trying to make his fortune in the United
States but was tricked into returning to the island by Thérèse.
Gideon regrets coming back and marrying Thérèse, and he feels foolish
that he returned to the island without any more wealth than he left
it with. Thérèse stops her daydreaming when she realizes that none
of her stories include a role for the Streets, and she realizes
that she has difficulty imagining what they do, think, or feel.
She does not even know their names.
Back in her bedroom, Jadine continues to delight in her
sealskin coat. She finds its suppleness seductive, almost overwhelmingly
so. After admiring the coat, she goes to take a shower. When Jadine emerges,
the man is in her room and his appearance startles her. His hair
in particular, with its long, unkempt dreadlocks, frightens her. She
now sees the man as Margaret must have seen him—as a figure of menace.
Collecting herself, she begins to talk to him and asks him his name,
which he still does not reveal. He looks at pictures of her from
when she was a model, nicknamed “the Copper Venus.” Jadine tells
him things about modeling that make it seem very glamorous. She
also tells him that Valerian and Margaret support her. He thinks
she is very beautiful, and he remembers when he was hiding how he
used to sneak into her room to watch her sleep. He stopped doing
this when he began to worry that he smelled like a wild animal and
that his smell would wake her up.
The man snaps himself out of his reverie by asking her
how many sexual favors she had to perform to advance her modeling
career. Shocked, Jadine hits him in the face. He grabs her wrists,
and she spits at him and tries to kick him, but he is much stronger
than she and stops her. Disgusted, she tells him that he smells
terrible and that if he rapes her, he will be killed. He responds
by saying he has no interest in raping a white girl like her. She
curses him out for calling her white and for trying to tell her
how a black woman should be and act. She also tells him he smells
like an animal, and he presses himself against her and tells her
he can smell her too, and then he releases her. Jadine says she
will tell Valerian what he did, and he says to go ahead but to leave
out the fact that he told her he smelled her.
She leaves her room and goes outside, where the gravel
hurts her feet because all she is wearing are thin gold slippers.
Resolving to tell Valerian what happened in her bedroom, Jadine
feels she will have to omit the man’s question about sexual favors
and the discussion of smell. A mix of fear and shame hit her as
she considers the whole encounter, and then she thinks about her
childhood in Baltimore. As a child, she resolved never to let men
break her after she saw a female dog be mounted by male dogs and
then be punished for it. Her anger is directed toward Valerian for
the situation with the man, but she also wonders if she is overreacting
and considers the complicated issues of race and racial affiliation
that the episode with the man raised. Finally she decides to go
speak with Valerian, but she finds him laughing with the man.
Many of the conflicts in this chapter, and in the book
as a whole, revolve around race and racial identity. The man’s appearance
in the house is like a spotlight that illuminates preexisting tensions
among the characters. His presence illuminates the resentment that
Sydney harbors toward Valerian, Jadine’s uncertain relationship
to race, and Margaret’s deep-seated racism and paranoia. The man’s
physical appearance and removal from culture, embodied by his wild, dreadlocked
hair and his refusal to give a name, associate him with nature and
a wild blackness that some characters reject and others find alluring.
Ondine and Sydney have rejected this blackness in their life and
profession, and they resent Valerian for treating this black man
than how he treats them. They see themselves as superior to the
man, which is why they do not want to treat him as a guest in the
house. Sydney and Ondine lump him into the same group as Gideon
and Thérèse—local blacks whom they regard as being far beneath them.
Jadine feels uncomfortable around the man because she recognizes
that, like the woman in the yellow dress, he embodies true blackness.
Their immediate judgment of the man implies their own struggle with
race and racial identity.
Jadine’s clothing demonstrates her twisted attitude toward nature
and its wild blackness. The coat is made of dead animals, a fact
that symbolizes the domestication of nature. The fact that the coat
is a gift from her white boyfriend, Ryk, also indicates the dominance
of humans over nature. The coat is black, and there are also many
loving descriptions of the seductiveness of its color and texture.
Jadine’s sexual relationship to the coat, and the way that sexual
allure makes it fearful to her, indicates her desire for nature
but also her fear of it. Even an object made of dead, inanimate
nature is perhaps too powerful for her. The thin golden slippers
that Jadine wears when she flees her room after her interaction
with the man represent a loss of contact with nature. Jadine’s feet
are soft, and she does not even know how to prepare herself for
leaving the comfort and safety of the house. This uncertainty also
implies that she does not know how to survive outside in the natural
Jadine’s conversation with the man also emphasizes her
fraught relationship with nature and blackness. A symbol of wild
nature, the man exemplifies authentic blackness. Jadine feels physically overpowered
by the man’s hair because she is not used to seeing such wild, messy
hair around her comfortable surroundings. The appearance of the
man’s hair shocks Jadine so that she becomes both attracted to and
fearful toward him. Jadine sees the man as an authentic black man
who is violent, rebellious, uncivilized, and everything that she
is not, which somehow excites her. Yet she fights her attraction
toward him because of her alliance with European culture. Jadine
feels the same about the man as she does toward the woman in the
yellow dress: They both represent “true blackness” to her, and Jadine
cannot help but envy them, despite not wanting to be that way herself.
The man clearly recognizes that Jadine does not embody
true blackness and exploits his realization by seizing the upper
hand in their interaction. After demeaning her sexually, he purposefully calls
her a white girl to provoke her, and when she reacts angrily by telling
him that she can smell him, he reminds her of her own animal nature
by telling her that he can also smell her. His association with nature
is apparent when Jadine describes his voice as speaking to her from
above trees and at a great height. Jadine’s memory of the female
dog she saw as a child who was sniffed and mounted by male dogs
and then punished displays a fear of being treated horribly by men.
All her life, Jadine has fought to not become that dog, to not let men
do that to her. And now that a man has slipped into the house and
behaved in this manner toward her, Jadine realizes that she is attracted
to this ill treatment.
The man is not the figure of pure black animal menace
that Jadine perceives him to be. The revelation that he has been
watching her sleep over the past weeks as he hides in the house
shows that he is deeply attracted to her, despite his violent and
cruel actions toward her. He has also been ashamed of his animal
smell, which displays his own insecurities when he stops watching
Jadine sleep at night. In light of this fact, his question of how
many sexual favors Jadine had to perform to get ahead is a clear
indication of the depth of his self-hatred. He asks Jadine this
question because he is frustrated with how much easier it seems
for a black woman to get ahead in the white, civilized world. The
man lacks power in this world. Throughout the novel, the man is
given power by his closeness to authentic black culture, but he
is also trapped by this closeness and unable to adapt to the broader,
The introduction of Gideon and of Thérèse presents another
perspective on the life of the house. Unlike the other characters,
they have an entirely different view of the members of the household. Sydney
and Ondine look down on them because they are less civilized, and
this opinion is very obvious when they call Gideon “Yardman” and
Thérèse “Mary.” Gideon and Thérèse provide another level of commentary,
and their priorities are very different from the others. The “chocolate-eater,”
as they call the man, is the protagonist of the story that Thérèse
narrates. In her mind the world revolves around him and his relationship
to the mysterious and beautiful Jadine. Ondine and Sydney, as domesticated
blacks, are known quantities, and thus uninteresting. As for the
whites, she cares as much about them as they do about her, which
is to say not at all. Neither party in that relationship has bothered
to learn the other’s names. While Ondine and Sydney represent the
experience of American blacks, in which whites play an inevitable
and prominent role, for the island blacks, the whites are simply
outsiders who pass through and present nothing of significance.
The characters’ various nicknames for one another emphasize the
importance of identity. A name is an indicator of relationship and
of place. On one hand, the people of the house all call the women
who come with Gideon “Mary” because everyone on Queen of France
has “Mary” in her name. (They are all equally vaguely Catholic.)
Gideon is called “Yardman” because that is what a person from the
island who does work is called. Aside from the tasks he performs,
he is unimportant. On the other hand, Thérèse does not know Sydney’s,
Ondine’s, or the Streets’ real names, because aside from the jobs
they provide, the Americans do not play any role in her life. Jadine’s
nickname “the Copper Venus” indicates her problematic relationship
with race. She wants to be perceived as authentically black, but
she also desires to be valued for her self and not just her race.
This name perfectly captures that contradiction: “Copper” is intended
as a compliment because it is not black but also
because the color is more exotic than just white. Her name both insists
that she is black and also that she is not black enough to be threatening.
The nicknames indicate the characters’ perceived identities of one
another. These identities are only based on outward appearances,
not on the characters’ closeness with each other.