Summary and Analysis
Chapter 9 - Camille Willson
This chapter and the one following are complements to one another. Camille's viewpoint in this chapter is only half of the story of the marriage; after we hear her side of the story, we will hear David's case. First of all, Camille is not the often stereotyped, empty-headed southern belle. Kelley has been careful to show that her emotions are strong and real; she is no shallow, fragile southern lady. Her concern for her family is quite real. Like other characters in this novel, Camille refers to the idea of loss. She admits that she and David will never be able to compensate for the twenty years of silence in their marriage. Her feeling is that David has finally found in himself the qualities which he buried when he returned to Sutton to manage the family property.
Camille describes the days of their courtship and the early days of their marriage. Camille, who had been sent to a finishing school in Atlanta, returned to New Marsails and her old friends and went to a party given by a group of young southern bohemians — students and writers — who were sitting on the floor, discussing Marx. She and David met there and began going out together. Camille refers to the fact that although there were times when he didn't want her around, she trusted and loved him. She did not attempt to understand him, but she trusted him, and that was enough for her. It was this lack of a basic understanding, then, that kept her and David apart. But perhaps David was more to blame for this than Camille because he never told Camille about his troubles and desires. Here the author has set up a sort of parallel situation to that of Tucker and Bethrah. Bethrah, however, was able to reconcile her ways with those of Tucker, whereas Camille was unable to do this with David.
When Camille became pregnant with Dewey, David was fired from his job because he wrote "communistic" articles about race relations in the South. Once more, Camille had to admit that she didn't fully understand the situation, but she did declare her faith in David. She was willing to travel to New York to live if he wanted to; but David, unlike Tucker, was not willing to do what was necessary to free himself. Instead, he used his wife and baby as an excuse to become part of the system he detests. Kelley shows here that Tucker is the better man; Tucker is faced with less certainty about his future than David was, yet he resolves to be free — and so he frees himself. Interestingly, Tucker's domestic circumstances are much the same as David's — that is, he was recently married and Bethrah is expecting a child.
When Camille describes David's desperate, unsuccessful attempts to find other work, she notes that David was receiving letters from New York. The letters were very disturbing to David, and Camille reacted by saying that she daydreamed about killing the writer. But it was more than the letters which upset David; the letters echoed what was within David's conscience. He continually reminded himself of his pledge to change the southern racist system — of which he was now a part. David failed. And recalling David's war experiences, Camille says that had David been sent overseas and spent some time in a combat situation, perhaps that sense of "real action" might have given him a better image of himself. His war experience, she says, was too much like working on his father's land and being a landlord. David did not want to become part of the system of oppression, but, ultimately, he was unable to avoid it.
Camille describes how desperately lonely she felt in the Willson house. Since David did not talk to her, there was no one in whom she could confide. One day, however, she did confide in little Tucker Caliban-and received advice from him. In the guise of telling a fairy tale, Camille asked Tucker if the princess (herself) should leave the prince who had become so cold to her. Tucker suggested that the princess wait; one day the prince would be himself again. Tucker said further that he enjoyed the story about the prince and princess because it was about real people, people like the ones he knew. He explained that he was able to believe in Camille's story, whereas he really couldn't believe in fairy tales. Camille was taken aback; even now, she is inclined to think that Tucker's insight was accidental. Again, this attitude emphasizes Kelley’s belief about the paternalistic attitude of whites toward blacks, no matter what the respective ages are.
Camille, using age as an excuse, does not expect Tucker to know what she is referring to. However, the harsh realities of black-white relationships have traditionally necessitated that blacks develop an early awareness of the nature of the Master, the Mistress, and their children. Tucker has inherited that aspect of southern tradition; he notices, assesses, and interprets the relationship between Camille and David.
More important than explaining Camille's relationship with David, however, this episode shows that already Tucker is different. He seems more intelligent than the usual child his age would be. Tucker, the symbol of blacks who have determined to free themselves, symbolically has lifted the average man to a higher plane. Kelley has given us a character that represents a new species of man, a man who has acquired superhuman traits in his efforts to survive in a hostile America.
There is an interesting bit of symbolism in Camille's reference to Tucker, sitting in bed, looking as if he were waist-deep in white water. Tucker is symbolically encased in white water and in danger of drowning. The water, which can be interpreted as an image of white society and culture, has all but absorbed the American black man. In other words, Kelley suggests that black people are being absorbed in a sea of whiteness that will eradicate all aspects of a separate black culture. The result: Blacks will lose all control over their wills. It is this intertwining of blacks and whites that is one of the primary motifs of the novel. Whites have depended upon blacks for labor and comfort. And, as a result, blacks have depended upon whites for economic support and social values.