Tar Baby: Chapter 9
Jadine and Son arrive in Poncie, Florida, just fourteen miles from Eloe. They then get a ride into the tiny town, where Son’s first stop is to see his old friend Soldier. The two men greet each other joyfully. Son asks Jadine whether she would mind staying at Soldier’s house with his wife Ellen and their children while he goes to visit his father, known as Old Man, whom Son has not seen for eight years. Jadine agrees only reluctantly, since she has nothing in common with Ellen and feels out of place in their house.
Son walks to his father’s house. Old Man is not there, but Son enters the house anyway, knowing his father will not be long. Old Man returns and drops some onions in surprise when he sees Son. It transpires that Son has been sending his father money orders for eight years, but Old Man has only cashed a few of them. He also tells Son that Sally Brown, the woman whose house Son drove into when he was angry with her for sleeping with someone else, is dead.
Son then tells his father everything he has been doing for the previous eight years, and tells him that he has brought Jadine with him. Son asks if she can stay there, at Old Man’s house, but when Old Man finds out they are not married, he says Jadine will have to stay at Aunt Rosa’s.
When Son returns, Jadine is outside taking photographs of the children. That night, Son takes her to Rosa’s, where she sleeps in a tiny, windowless, stuffy room. She can barely wait until they return to New York the next day.
In the morning, Jadine talks with Soldier and another friend of Son’s, Drake, in Rosa’s house while Son takes Rosa to church. Jadine does not like Soldier’s conversation, which is vulgar and suggestive. She thinks he asks too many questions.
When she finds out that Son plans to spend another day in Eloe because he wants to meet an old friend named Ernie Paul who won’t be there until Monday, Jadine rebels at the prospect of spending another night in that room at Aunt Rosa’s. She only agrees when Son says he will come to her in secret during the night.
In the morning she insists on leaving. Eloe bores her and she cannot stand another day there. Son drives her to the train station and agrees to return to New York himself the next day. But over a week goes by and he does not come. Jadine does not know how to contact him. When he eventually returns, they fall to quarreling. She tells him he should enroll in business school or law school, but he is not interested. She then says that Valerian will lend them money to open a shop or start an agency, but Son will not accept any money from him. They physically fight; she bites him and he punches her. They forgive each other, but the quarreling goes on. Jadine defends the life she has chosen for herself, but Son does not accept that her education has any value. At one point he pushes her out of the window and holds her by her wrists, ten feet above the ground, as they continue to argue. In another argument, she insists that he either go to school while she works or she will ask Valerian to invest in a business. He agrees, on condition that she marries him.
By August, Jadine has sent for his college application forms and fills them out for him. Son is frustrated because he knows Jadine understands nothing of his upbringing in Eloe and how tough it was. She always calls it his cradle and thinks that coming to New York is being grown up, but he knows otherwise and still wants nothing of her world. During one quarrel he tells her to marry the white man in Europe she had been seeing and have his children, “Then you can do exactly what you bitches have always done: take care of white folks’ children” (p. 269). He storms out but returns four hours later, repentant. After another bitter quarrel, he leaves the apartment again. When he returns the next night Jadine is gone. He decides he must find her, wherever she is.
This chapter constitutes a turning point for Jadine. In Eloe, she is like a fish out of water; small-town life in Florida is not for her. She feels stifled, out of place and is totally uninterested in anything Eloe might have to offer. The key moment comes in her dream vision on her last night there, when she sleeps with Son. She senses the presence of a host of women in the room: Rosa, Thérèse, Son’s dead mother, Sally Brown, Ondine, Soldier’s wife Ellen, even her own dead mother and the woman in yellow who had insulted her in Paris. In the vision, each woman takes out her breasts and shows them to Jadine. The woman in yellow shows her three large eggs. Jadine is distressed by the vision and wants the women to leave her alone. They are all black women who represent a more traditional way of being a woman than Jadine embodies, and it is if they are taunting her, showing her their breasts as if to say that they are the real women, and challenging her to be like them. Jadine interprets this as a reproach; she does not and will not fit into this mold. The dream vision haunts her still in New York; she feels that the women are out to get her, to “tie her, bind her” (p. 262), to “grab the person she had worked hard to become and choke it off with their soft loose tits” (p. 262).
The vision conveys a sense of how far Jadine has come from her origins, and how strongly she affirms the life she has chosen for herself. This is why she has to resist Son’s desire to make her conventional once more, to settle for “fertility rather than originality, nurturing instead of building” (p. 269). Son is so implacably opposed to what she stands for that there can be reconciliation between them. The question he asks her is a telling one: “Culture-bearing black woman, whose culture are you bearing?” (p. 269). In his view, Jadine is a willing accomplice of a superficial and destructive white culture, hardly a black woman at all.