Tar Baby: Chapter 10
Jadine sits alone at a table in a hotel in the Queen of France, the island near the Isles des Chevaliers. She calls Ondine who arranges for someone to pick her up. She is not sorry to have broken with Son, whom she refers to as a “cultural throwback” (p. 275). When she arrives at the Streets’ house she meets Margaret, who tells her that Valerian is in poor health and she has abandoned any idea of going to be with Michael.
Jadine goes to see Ondine who reproaches her for not informing them the previous Christmas that she was going away to be with Son. Jadine admits that her relationship with Son was a mistake. She says she has come for her stuff and is then off to Paris. Ondine tells her that she and Sydney have been asked to stay on at the house, so their jobs are secure. But Ondine and Jadine do not see eye to eye; Jadine thinks that Ondine expects her to stay and look after her.
After Jadine goes, Ondine and Sydney agree that they are disappointed in Jadine. They took care of her but she has no intention of repaying them.
Sydney takes lunch to the ailing Valerian in the greenhouse. He reproaches Valerian for not keeping the house in good repair and also says he should take better care of himself. Sydney thinks he needs a haircut.
Sydney opens Valerian’s letters for him and feeds him a potato with a fork. Valerian says he is thinking of returning to Philadelphia, but Sydney advises him against the idea. He says the winters in Philadelphia can be hard on old people, and that he and Ondine like it where they are. He promises Valerian that they will give him the best of care.
Jadine takes a flight from Dominique to Paris, on a one-way ticket. She is planning to restart her career, and be independent, although she knows it will not be easy to forget Son.
A short, unnumbered final chapter returns to Son’s story. He has decided to go to the Isle des Chevaliers in search of Jadine. He first encounters Thérèse at the market on the neighboring island, and they return to her house. Gideon returns and is delighted to see Son. He tells Son that Jadine left the Isle des Chevaliers a week ago and that he should forget about her. Son is depressed by this news and says he cannot just let her go. But Alma Estée, who works at the airport, tells him she saw Jadine get on the plane with a white man, and the two appeared very affectionate with each other. Son wonders who that white man might have been, and tells Gideon he will go to Paris to find her. He wants to go to the Streets’ house to see if they will give him Jadine’s address. At night, Thérèse takes him across in a boat to the island. When they get there, she advises him not to go to the Streets’ house and to forget Jadine. But as he clambers over the rocks and then begins to run, he shows no signs that he has taken her advice.
As the novel ends, there have been some shifts in power. The sick Valerian is weakened, which strengthens Margaret’s position. She talks about him as if he were a patient or a baby and seems reconciled, even enthusiastic, about looking after him. Once again, she seems to be more of a survivor than he is.
There is also a shift in relations between Valerian and Sydney and Ondine. The servants are empowered, now that their positions are safe. In the little scene between Sydney and Valerian, it is Sydney who is very much in charge. He turns the music off and takes no notice when Valerian asks him to put it back on. He gets a bottle of wine for himself from Valerian’s refrigerator without even asking permission. Sydney and Ondine may have failed in persuading Jadine to stay and look after them, but they in a sense are the masters of the house now.
Oddly, the two central characters in the novel’s one love affair are changed less by their experiences. Jadine reaffirms the lifestyle she has chosen, and the last glimpse we have of Son landing furtively on the Isle des Chevaliers, running in the dark toward the Streets’ house, reminds us of how he was presented at the beginning of the novel. He remains an outsider, living according to his own rules. True, he still seems obsessed with Jadine, but the reader wonders how long it will be before he reverts to the kind of lonely, uncompromising independence that has defined his life for the last eight years.