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Jadine reports to Margaret that she saw Valerian and the
man laughing together, and the two of them discuss what they should
do about him. They decide to call the police, but their plan is
cancelled when they see the man that day cleaned up and nicely dressed.
While Jadine was outside thinking, the man has been in
Jadine’s room showering—the water that runs off of him is dark.
When he gets out of the shower, he looks in the mirror, sees how
wild his hair looked, and realizes that his hair must have been
part of what scared Jadine. When he leaves Jadine’s room, he intentionally
leaves his pajamas behind for her to find. He thinks about how everyone
in the house is afraid of him, except for Valerian. Their fear is
humorous to him because he has no intention of being violent, particularly toward
After cleaning up, the man recalls his arrival on the
island and how he had not intended to stop at L’Arbe de la Croix.
He chose to stop at the house because of how nice and civilized
it looked. Throughout this internal monologue, he constantly reiterates
that he did not follow the women from the boat onto the island.
He is trying to remind himself that he did not come to the house
because of Jadine. His first night, he had climbed into a tree to
look into the house and felt a fruit that might be either an avocado
or a poisonous ake fruit. He initially decided to avoid it but then
changed his mind and took a bite, and it turned out to be an avocado.
The man eventually found his way into L’Arbe de la Croix, and when
he saw Jadine sleeping he was mesmerized, going back, night after
night, to see her. Watching her, he thought about his concern for
not following the women. His purpose changed as Jadine’s beauty
won him over.
The man’s memories carry him up to the present day and
to his only true name. Though in recent years he has gone by a variety
of aliases, the only one that is really his is not even on his papers.
The name is “Son,” a nickname from his family and his small hometown.
He watches Gideon working through the window and notes how clean
he is and how dirty Gideon is. Son feels heartbroken as he thinks
about how hard Gideon works.
From the greenhouse, Valerian looks out to the laundry.
The view makes him think of his childhood because there was a laundry shed
behind his childhood house. An old black woman worked there. The
day Valerian’s father died, he went to see this woman, and when
he told her about his father, she told him to help her with the
washing. He washed clothes until his knuckles turned red and took
pleasure in it. After that day, the woman was fired. When he moved
to L’Arbe de la Croix, Valerian had the washing shed built even
though it was impractical.
Valerian regrets telling Jadine that his move to the island
was related to Margaret’s relationship with Michael. He thinks that
the real reason he wanted to move was Philadelphia’s modernization. Thinking
about Philadelphia makes Valerian think about his first wife, whom
he did not love and who had two abortions during their marriage
and died long after they had divorced. When he is in the greenhouse,
her ghost often visits him. Thinking of her reminds him of how Micheal’s
ghostly presence appeared to him at dinner the night before Margaret
discovered Son. When the ghostly Michael appeared, he seemed to
be smiling in a welcoming way, and Valerian thinks that the smile
might have been what prompted him to ask Son to stay. Michael, the
young Socialist, would have wanted the threatening black man to
be welcomed at dinner. Valerian refuses to tell Margaret as much,
but he really hopes Michael will come for Christmas, and he hopes
that if Michael comes, there will be a reconciliation between them.
He remembers again the day he came home and found Michael under
Son comes into the greenhouse and tells Valerian his given
name: William Green. Valerian asks Son what he was really doing
in Margaret’s closet, and Son tells him that he got lost looking
for Jadine’s bedroom. Ants come into the greenhouse, and Son tells
Valerian he should use mirrors to repel the ants. Son then picks
up a cyclamen plant that refuses to flower and he shakes it. He
tells Valerian that the shaking will simulate wind and that the
plant should flower soon. Valerian tells Son he will buy him a new
suit if he is right. Son tells Valerian a joke, and Valerian is
laughing at this joke as Jadine arrives at the greenhouse.
Thérèse and Gideon take Son into town, and Gideon gives
Son a haircut. Afterward, Gideon, Son, Thérèse, and Alma Estée have
dinner together, and Son seems relaxed. Thérèse asks Son if it is
true that American women kill their own babies, and Gideon tells
her she is foolish. In Thérèse’s imagination, America is full of
sexual perversion and strange gender dynamics. Gideon tells Son
not to listen to Thérèse because she is a member of the island’s
blind race, a group of people descended from the first slaves who
came to the island. These people supposedly live in the swamp and
roam the hills on horseback.
Thérèse reveals that she was responsible for leaving the
window of L’Arbe de la Croix open so Son could get in, and she talks
about how much she hates Ondine and nicknames her “machete-hair.” Gideon
tells Son that she is just bitter because the American blacks ignore
her. He also explains to Son that Thérèse used to be a wet nurse
for white women but that the invention of formula put her out of
business. Thérèse leaves the room, and Gideon tells Son he might be
able to get work on the island and then asks if he wants to sleep with
Jadine, whom he refers to as “that yalla.” When the two men leave
the house, Alma Estée asks Son if he will buy her a wig in America.
Back at the house, Son tries to apologize to Jadine for
the fight they had in her room, and she asks him how he knew how
to make Valerian’s flower bloom. He replies that he grew up in the
country. She feels uncomfortable by how attractive he is. After
Son leaves, Jadine thinks about how glad she is that she booked
a secret ticket back to New York for after Christmas. She worries
that her training in art history makes her unable to see Son properly
or to really assess her feelings about him, because she gets distracted
by how attractive he is.
After leaving Jadine, Son goes to the kitchen and apologizes
to Ondine for scaring her. He also tells her he is an outlaw because
he fled an insurance claim after he had a car accident in the United States.
Ondine is reluctant to accept his apology, and she irritates Son
by calling Gideon Yardman, but still he persists in trying to win her
over. When Sydney comes in, Son apologizes to him too, and Sydney
gives him a hard time but softens a little when Son asks if he can
eat in the kitchen with them.
At night, Son eats with Ondine and Sydney in the kitchen,
and Jadine, Margaret, and Valerian eat in the dining room. Everyone
is in good spirits. Valerian cracks old jokes, and Margaret talks
excitedly about Christmas. After dinner, Son has trouble falling
asleep, and he thinks about how he feels separated from other men
by his wanderings and by his time abroad. He has no past to hold
on to and no rituals to mark the passing of his life. He is eager
to go home but feels strangely compelled to try to stay at L’Arbe
de la Croix every time he thinks of Jadine.
In the morning, he invites Jadine on a picnic, and she
agrees. The thought of her leaving the island scares him. During
lunch she sketches him, and he tells her the story of the first
money he ever earned, adding that he does not need much more money
than he made. She tells him he is lazy and that he fulfills stereotypes
about black men. They then talk about his hometown of Eloe, Florida.
She says her hometown is three places: Baltimore, Philadelphia,
and Paris. When she prods him for his name, he insists that she
call him “Son.” She refuses, saying it is not a real name. Son explains
that he left Eloe because he killed someone, and she says she hates
killers. He reveals that his victim was his wife and that he killed
her by accident after crashing his car into their house followed
by his discovery of her adultery. Noticing that Jadine has tucked
her legs underneath her in a defensive crouch, Son tells her that
he would not kill her and he loves her. She reacts angrily, but
he calms her. After much coaxing, she unfolds her legs and allows
him to hold and stroke one of her feet.
Jadine suddenly announces that she needs to get back to
the house. While they drive she reviews the reasons she cannot sleep with
him, the chief one being that he would be unmanageable and unpredictable.
They run out of gas on the swampy part of the island and while he
goes to fill up a bottle, she explores. She comes to a clearing
and is amazed at how much the swamp looks like something out of
a picture. After walking too far, Jadine sinks into a tar pit. She
struggles to get free while swamp women seem to watch her from the
trees, and finally she succeeds. When Son returns, she is in her
underwear trying to clean herself off. They drive back to the house,
with Jadine chagrined and Son grinning to himself. Back at the house,
Margaret says that Son is bad luck and hints that he wants Margaret
because Son was in her closet. Jadine surprises herself by defending
him. She is amazed at the depth of her anger toward Margaret, a
white woman, for presuming that Son desires Margaret and not her.
This chapter is the only one to not open with a description
of the physical environment. Instead, the narrator begins with a
conversation between Margaret and Jadine and ends with a discussion between
them. In the beginning, the two women are having a friendly conversation
and talking about how they can convince Valerian to ask the man
to leave. Their demeanor around each other is pleasant and comfortable.
However, when . Jadine almost sinks into the tar pit later in the
chapter, a change occurs within her. She spent the day interacting
with a man who does not embody civilization and also fought not
to drown in a pit of tar. Jadine’s struggle in the tar pit represents
the island’s strength over civilization. The scene also implies
that even though Jadine does not know how to survive outside of
a less civilized environment, she can still fight to escape it.
Jadine and Margaret’s conversation at the end of the chapter is
very different from their talk in the beginning because Jadine reacts
coldly toward Margaret for assuming Son wanted to rape her. Though
the chapter does not begin with a physical description of the island,
nature has still made a clear impact on the characters.
This chapter develops and expands divisions that exist
among the characters, particularly among the black characters. Thérèse’s reference
to Ondine as “machete-hair” and Gideon’s reference to Jadine as
“that yalla” confirm their dislike of the American blacks, while
Ondine’s and Sydney’s continued insistence on calling Gideon “Yardman”
indicates their disdain for the native islanders. Jadine continues
to be racked with both desire and racially charged anger toward
Son. Sydney, Ondine, and Jadine represent a different side of blackness,
one that is more civilized and proper. Gideon, Thérèse, and Son
identify more with nature and do not understand why the other three
characters try so hard to be civilized like Margaret and Valerian.
Jadine’s nickname, “that yalla,” identifies her as a woman who is
caught between two different worlds: a white world and a black world.
Jadine has accepted that she is black, but she does not think that
just because she was born black she needs to accept her black culture.
Compared to Jadine, Son appears to play a more complex
role in the novel. He is a chameleon in his social interactions,
an ability that is exemplified by the radical physical transformation
he undergoes early in the chapter. The narrator emphasizes how Son,
in preparing himself to enter society, removes the wildness, and
also by implication the blackness, from his appearance. While washing
himself, the water is described as black as the sea. When he sees
himself in a mirror, he realizes that his hair must have been what
frightened Jadine. Cleaned up, Son now reveals the different layers
of his personality to the other characters. Talking with Valerian
is easy, as he shares a dirty joke with him in the greenhouse. And
he proves himself able to bridge nature and the civilized world
by giving Valerian hints about controlling the ant problem and by
assuredly flicking the cyclamen buds to get them to open. With Ondine
and Sydney, he presents himself as a well-mannered black man by
deferring to them in their kitchen. Their response is to grudgingly
begin to welcome him as they realize that he is perhaps not as wild
as he first seemed. Outside of the household, he fits in naturally
with Thérèse and Gideon and the less urbanized black culture that
they represent. Yet in none of these areas, though, is Son entirely
at home. He is simply a talented adaptor. When Son considers his
deepest nature, he knows America is his home. That is why he is
constantly drawn back to his hometown of Eloe, the one place that
is truly his.
Jadine lacks a sense of home, as indicated by her descriptions
of her hometown as Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Paris. She is equally uncertain
in her relationship to the three different layers of the world of
the island. For example, in the first chapter, she was eating breakfast
in Ondine’s kitchen, talking to them as equals but being waited
on as if she were their superior. She eats dinner at Valerian’s table
as an honored guest, not just the prior night but also after Son’s arrival,
while he eats in the kitchen. She refers to Gideon as “Yardman”
even though she knows that it is not his proper name. Jadine, like
Son, moves among the different layers of the world. Like Son, she
is also filled with discomfort and uncertainty. However, unlike Son,
the divide to be navigated is not between different models of black
identity but between blackness and whiteness. The uneasiness that
she has in trying to figure out her position in relation to this divide
comes out particularly clear when she supplies Margaret with a derogatory
word to describe Son but then is disturbed when Margaret uses another
to describe him. By having two main characters move among different
social settings with such disruptive consequences for their psyches,
the narrator portrays the difficulty of tying oneself to a single
identity firmly. This portrayal also emphasizes Jadine’s absence
for a sense of home. She does not feel drawn toward any of her hometowns,
nor is she willing to stay in any one place for a long time.
The conflict between different ideas of blackness continues
in the relationship between Jadine and Son. When he waxes rhapsodic about
his original dime, she mocks him for fulfilling denigrating black
stereotypes about simplicity and laziness. The importance of their
interaction is that they are both right from their own perspectives.
For Son, the best thing in the world really is something close to him
and simple, and he does not get excited about money. Jadine believes
that this kind of thinking has kept blacks oppressed for centuries,
and for her the dependence on money boils down to whether one becomes
a part of a predefined system of values or decides to follow one’s
own values. Although barely touched on, this conflict between Jadine
and Son is important because while they are attracted to one another,
each is beginning to see that their different upbringings result
in opposing opinions and beliefs.
The tree that Son sees when he first comes to the island,
whose fruit could be poisonous or nutritious, is a metaphor for
the potential Jadine holds. From the outside he cannot tell which
she is, but he cannot deny that he is hungry and that he wants her.
Jadine is the one person on the island that Son cannot completely
figure out or control. He thinks that the story of his original
dime would impress her, but she finds the story ridiculous and repulsive.
For a man as filled with self-hatred as Son, a man who despises
himself for what he has done with his life, Jadine’s judgment of
him actually makes her more attractive, because it fits with his
own self-perception. However, Son’s uncertainty toward eating the
fruit implies he is unsure of Jadine’s true character and what she
represents. He eats the fruit because he cannot resist it, just
as he cannot tear himself away from Jadine.
Jadine is drawn to Son from an equal sense of misperception
as the one from which he suffers. Son misjudges Jadine because her beauty
blinds him, and her fiery spirit draws him toward her. With Jadine,
like the tar pit into which she falls, she cannot see past the perfect
exterior that Son presents. Earlier in the chapter, she fears that
she is being misled by the beautiful appearance of his black face and
missing his true character. It is no coincidence that the pit into she
falls into is filled with black, malodorous pitch. She almost drowns
in a morass of darkness and odor, both features that the narrator
links with Son and with blackness. Her picnic with Son forces Jadine
to change. After escaping from the tar pit, though, her anger is
not directed toward Son. When she returns to the house, Margaret’s
attentions are what enrage her. At first she is angry with Margaret
for assuming that Son would have tried to do something to her. She
feels a sense of solidarity with him as a black man against this rich
white woman. Then she realizes that she resents Margaret’s assumptions
about what a black man wants because she knows Son does not want
Margaret. All of a sudden, all of Jadine’s bulwarks against embracing
the danger and wildness that Son embodies disappear. She is angry
with and jealous of Margaret because Margaret assumes that he wants
to rape her, a white woman. This expectation causes Jadine to think
Margaret is implying that black men prefer white women over black
women, and this suggestion angers Jadine. For once, Jadine’s racial
identity is firmly placed as she sides with Son.
As a motif, the wild horsemen represent the world of humans
in the world of nature. The wild horsemen are more a part of the
island than a part of humanity, with their sightless eyes and their
complete separation from civilization. For this reason they are
clearly appealing to Son, who, although he is capable of navigating
the world of men, is more closely associated with nature than with
humanity. In them, he sees a possibility that lies outside of the
restrictions and oppression of man. However, Son is not interested
in the wild horsemen enough to ask Thérèse more questions. His interest
lies with Jadine.
The repeated discussions of motherhood, abortions, and
baby killing emphasize the conflict between nature and civilization,
as well as the parallel conflict between blacks and whites. Thérèse’s former
employment as a wet nurse who gave her breasts to white women’s
children is one way that the narrator indicates the role black women
have played in nurturing their oppressors. That Thérèse lost her
job to a white invention, baby formula, and that she resents that
loss more than she did nursing another woman’s child, is deeply
ironic. Thérèse’s suspicious questions about American gender confusion
and white women killing their own babies draw a sharp line around
unnatural practices that Son cannot deny, and which Valerian’s former
wife even willingly committed. Meanwhile, the young girl Alma Estee’s
desire for a wig indicates a tragic desire to suppress her own identity.
She wants to mask her heritage by covering her African hair. The
aspiration of this poor black girl is intentionally and plaintively