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MonkeyNotes-Tar Baby by Toni Morrison
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Chapter ONE

The Caribbean Island that the three characters have reached is described in detail in the beginning of this chapter. The plight of the trees, fish and streams when the humans arrive is related. Now the island has houses growing instead of trees and even the pattern of the rains has changed.

One of the houses -- L'Arbe de la Croix -- is outlined in great detail. It is a wonderful house owned by Valerian Street, an American from Philadelphia who is a candy magnate. He had bought it with the intention of staying there after his retirement. It has now been three years since he has retired and his idiosyncrasies are recounted. He is an obsessive gardener and has hydrangeas exported to this island so he can grow them in his greenhouse. He often plays classical music for the benefit of the plants.

The house is compared to a hotel because of its air of people coming and going. The 'Principal Beauty' is Margaret, Valerian's wife. She needs to make trips to Philadelphia, where they have their permanent house, and spends half the year up north. Her husband tries to make her comfortable by hinting that they will finally return there. However, Sydney, one of the black servants who moved down to the island with Mr. Street, thinks otherwise: the greenhouse would have to be burn down to get Valerian out of this island.

An interesting conversation takes place between Sydney and his wife, Ondine, who is the chef of the household about how Valerian passes his time in the greenhouse. Ondine hopes that nothing happens to the greenhouse, so that they may continue to stay there.

Valerian's eccentricities are related as well as his meeting with the French dentist, Dr. Michelin. After their initial meeting where Valerian was suffering mightily from an abscessed tooth, they have become good friends and occasionally spend time together. They have two things in common: both feel as though they have run out of their homes, Michelin from Algeria, and Street, voluntarily from America, and both have been married twice. The long years of their respective second marriages have not been able to erase the memories of the first. While Michelin had remarried within a year of his divorce, Valerian had stayed a bachelor for a long time. He had seen Margaret on a wintry day at Maine and had instantly wanted to marry her. She is much younger than he is and was the town beauty.


The reader is brought back to the present when Morrison describes Valerian watching his servant pour coffee into his cup. Sydney and Valerian talk about mundane things. When Valerian figures out why his wife has summoned for Sydney, he complains that he doesn't want any visitors. He then argues playfully with his butler about bunions and corns before asking who intended to come down to the island. On learning that it is his son Michael, Valerian states that he is sure he won't come.

Margaret now joins them in the greenhouse and begins talking to her husband. She complains about petty things and they discuss food and calories. He teases and scolds Margaret for inviting guests for Christmas. He reiterates that Michael will not come. An argument follows and Margaret complains that he hates everybody and pays more attention to the dentist Dr. Michelin than his own son. She wants to stay with Michael in America after the holiday but Valerian doesn't think that it is a good idea. Anyway, Valerian wants her to promise that she won't stay with Michael unless he agrees to it.

They then discuss Jadine, Ondine and Sydney's niece who is staying with them for a holiday. Valerian expresses his fears about Ondine and Sydney leaving with Jadine to set up a retail shop and living together. Margaret reassures her husband that the two senior servants will not leave so easily. Margaret once again asks Sydney about the trunk and leaves.

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