Summary: Chapters 54–57

Chapter 54 (1970)

Tate, Scupper, Jodie, and Robert Foster wait in a conference room while the jury deliberates. Jumpin’ and Mabel have to wait outside with the other Black people. Kya is alone waiting in her cell, more afraid of never seeing her marsh again than of being put to death. At 4:30 p.m., the jury returns with a verdict.

Kya, Miss Catherine Danielle Clark, is found not guilty. Several people in the courtroom are angry and blame the sheriff. Kya’s supporters surround her and Jodie offers to drive her home. Kya thanks everyone. Walking outside, she feels the sea on her face.

Chapter 55 (1970)

Kya is overjoyed to see the marsh and her shack again. She runs to feed the gulls. When she returns, Jodie suggests he stay with her and asks her not to draw further away from people. Kya makes it clear she feels everyone in her world, including the townspeople, have abandoned and rejected her, and the verdict hasn’t changed her mind. After making her a chicken pot pie, Jodie leaves her alone as she desires. The next day, Kya plans to spend the day collecting things, but she also hopes to see Tate and invite him to dinner. At the moment Kya sees Tate’s boat, the sheriff and two deputies arrive in a new speedboat. Kya sees Tate get on board and stand, looking defeated, between the sheriff and a deputy, until they speed away. Kya realizes how much she has always depended on Tate’s presence in the marsh. 

Chapter 56 (1970)

The day after Scupper’s funeral, Tate goes to the grave with a portable record player and plays his father’s favorite opera. Tate feels guilty for thinking so much about Kya and her case when his father may have needed him. Scupper had had a stroke and died suddenly, which is why the sheriff had come to Tate’s boat. When Tate leaves the cemetery, he goes to his boat, where he finds a night heron feather on the seat and knows it is from Kya. He motors to her shack. Kya comes out to greet Tate and he asks her if she loves him. She says she has always loved him and leads him to the oak grove. 

Chapter 57 (The Firefly)

Tate and Kya spend the night on the beach, and the next day Tate moves into the shack. Tate asks her to marry him, but she says they are already married like the geese. Kya never returns to town, even as the townspeople soften and believe in her innocence. 

One day, Tate tells Kya that Jumpin’ has died. Although Kya doesn’t go to the funeral, she goes to the house afterward and tells Mabel that Jumpin’ was like a father to her. 

Over the years, Jodie and family visit the shack regularly. Barkley Cove gets wealthier. Tate works at the lab and Kya writes seven more books. Kya and Tate are unable to have children. Kya’s connections are to Tate and the natural world. 

At the age of 64, Kya has a heart attack in her boat and dies. Tate finds her when he goes looking for her because she hadn’t come home. Kya is buried on her land, and everyone from town, as well as Tate’s relatives and Jodie’s family, attends the burial. Her tombstone includes her nickname, now a mark of her legend, “The Marsh Girl.” 

The night of her burial, Tate finds a secret compartment in the floor by the fireplace. Inside, he finds a box of poems and realizes that Kya is Amanda Hamilton and had written under that pseudonym for years. One poem, “The Firefly,” describes Chase Andrews’ death. Tate also finds Chase Andrews’ shell necklace. He burns the poems and the rawhide cord from the necklace to keep her secret, then crushes the shell on the beach, which the tide will take away. Back home, he watches the fireflies in the dark. 

Analysis: Chapters 54–57

The final section of the novel provides an explanation for the important motif of literature. Beginning with the nursery rhymes in the early chapters, throughout the story Kya has recited or whispered poems to herself. Some of these poems are from a book of poetry her mother left behind, but most of them are Amanda Hamilton’s. At the end of the book, it is revealed that Amanda Hamilton was Kya's pseudonym. Words, as is explained earlier in the narrative, have power, and the idea that Kya was compelled to use that power to express herself creatively is, in the end, unsurprising. Kya's life has been dedicated to the natural world that surrounds the marsh. She has named, painted, and catalogued what she has seen and experienced. It is unsurprising, then, that she would also celebrate the world that enchanted and sustained her for her entire life.

The reveal of Kya's guilt after her death brings closure to the parallel stories. Her acquittal at trial was an important moment for the town's estimation of Kya. Before the trial, she was a strange hermit, capable of anything. Her low-class status and distance combined with the town’s bigotry to poison their opinion of her. With the verdict of her innocence in court comes her new reputation. This reflects the détente that many communities have begun to accept: there can be no human life without respect, and even deference, to the power and wonder of nature. Seeing nature as something to take from endlessly will only end in ruin. Chase Andrews was a figure of this rapaciousness, taking as he wanted. Kya, then, was the eventual and inevitable pushback against human greed.

The epilogue of the final chapter drives home the theme of the book: that nature can provide people with many things, but not everything. Tate moves into the shack with Kya, building it out, and thus incorporating human society into the marsh. Tate represents the possibility of collaboration and of working with the natural world instead of trying to dominate it. Kya and Tate’s partnership can only thrive in the marsh because Tate is willing to be there with her. Kya is, ultimately, a natural creature, incapable of living in captivity. She, like the natural world, must be accepted, embraced, and loved on her own terms. The main message of the novel is that people, like Tate, must accept the fact that they are part of the natural world, not in opposition to it.