Summary and Analysis: Part II and Conclusion, pp. 242-312
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2047
Cocoa and George both seek a “way out” of the fight the next day. They are each paralyzed, however, by conviction of their own righteousness, and so they each go their separate ways as the hurricane approaches. George completes a few chores and goes on a walk in the woods; Cocoa goes shopping with Bernice and lets Ruby braid her hair. The apology she receives from Ruby for Junior Lee’s behavior the night before seems to soften her anger at George. Yet Cocoa still resists the urge to approach, or even acknowledge, him.
Although the coast is being evacuated, the people of Willow Springs opt to remain on the island. Miranda senses that this experience will be like no other as she observes the storm already raging in her home between Cocoa and George and waits for the one outside to begin. She is plagued by an unusual “heaviness” that refuses to subside. As the storm finally hits, Miranda imagines that it is a “woman” of “no name” who destroys much of the island with wind and water. The destruction of the storm is seen through her vision. The waterways on both sides of the island rise—from the ocean and the Sound—and the bridge that connects Willow Springs to the mainland falls. Abigail and Miranda sit in their small house “listening” and waiting.
The perspective then shifts to Cocoa and George. George contemplates the sheer power of the storm while Cocoa sleeps through it. She is briefly awoken from the recurrent nightmare of George’s drowning. They finally manage to laugh about the fight and secure a truce before Cocoa falls asleep again.
The storm passes, and the narration switches to scenes of its aftermath. Miranda walks through the garden at the other place; the house and grounds have been heavily damaged but not completely destroyed. She feels relief and then fear. Her hand, resting on a fallen tree trunk, suddenly takes the shape of a branch itself. Miranda recoils, tastes her own blood, and then sees a woman approaching through the woods.
The damage from the storm at first seems bearable, but the storm has taken the life of Bernice’s child, who was nicknamed Little Caesar. Bernice takes the body to the Day homestead. At the other place it becomes apparent that Bernice is the woman who had approached through the woods. Night passes, and the next day Bernice is bidden to “go home and bury [her] child.”
Cocoa, in the meantime, has fallen ill. She retreats into a deep sleep. George, unable to help her, feels helpless. Miranda, seemingly powerless as well, cannot shake a sudden chill. She merely sits, rocking in the chair at the other place while contemplating her own role in Bernice’s tragedy. Her thoughts are interrupted by Abigail, who has come to seek help for Cocoa. Both sisters realize that it's "gonna take a man to bring [Cocoa] peace.”
Miranda returns to discover that Cocoa has been poisoned; nightshade has been worked into her scalp with the braids that Ruby had done. The effects can be lessened, but not wholly cured, by Miranda. Instead, she resolves to wait at the other place until George offers his assistance. On the way back into the woods, Miranda exacts revenge. She encircles Ruby’s house with silver powder, which attracts lightning later that evening, and both the house and its owner are destroyed.
Cocoa wakes up but does not recover completely. Her body is covered in red welts, and her mind is plagued by hallucinations. George becomes desperate to leave the island and find medical help on the mainland. He first becomes obsessed with rebuilding the bridge, and then with taking a rowboat across the channel. Cocoa knows it is useless to try to interfere with his stubborn determination.
At the other place, Miranda finds a weathered book hidden in the attic. It is a ledger that contains a record of sale for her ancestor; she attempts to make out the blurred words, for the name “Sapphira” has been lost in the family record and is no longer known to the Days. She falls asleep that night and dreams of Sapphira Wade. Her visions reveal an answer to Cocoa’s illness; she must integrate the faith that George has in his ability to save Cocoa into the Day family history. His belief must be connected with that of the men who preceded him, husbands who never stopped believing that they could save their wives from suffering and death.
In the meantime, Cocoa’s condition worsens. The welts disappear, but her body looks and smells like that of a corpse. George becomes more desperate. The men at the bridge, however, have burned his boat and destroyed his plans. He has no choice now but to seek help from Mama Day. George spends one more night working on the bridge. He finally resolves to walk to the other place as dawn breaks. Miranda is waiting for him and offers him a cure; he must walk with her cane and the ledger to her chicken coop, retrieve what he finds there, and return to the homestead. Yet George is still not ready to trust her. He leaves in anger after hearing this strange command.
Upon his return to Abigail’s home, however, he discovers that Cocoa’s body is infected with worms, which prompts George to change his mind. He returns to the other place, retrieves the cane and ledger, and makes the journey back to the chicken coop. Once there, George is mystified; he tears apart the coop but finds nothing. He imagines that only his own hands remain; unbeknownst to George, his hands are the tools Miranda needs. The physical and emotional stress of the ordeal finally overcomes him. George stumbles back to the house. His heart, which was already weak due to a childhood case of rheumatic fever, fails him. He lies down on the bed next to Cocoa and dies.
Cocoa recovers after George dies. Her body heals, but her soul grieves for George. She returns to New York to gather her things and to close the house. Cocoa has resolved to return to Willow Springs and leave the city behind; New York contains too many memories of George.
In the next scene, it is Candle Walk night in Willow Springs. Miranda completes the night with a solitary walk to the family plot. She talks to George while standing at his headstone. Her words bring meaning to the tragedy of his death. Miranda suggests that George revealed the past to her, the truth that Sapphira, the slave woman, was always free in spirit. She assures George that his spirit still governs Cocoa. She will continue to learn from her love for him. Miranda closes the monologue with words of comfort for George: “Whatever roads take her from here, they’ll always lead back to you.”
Eleven years pass, and it is Cocoa’s turn to speak to George’s grave. She has moved to Charleston and established a life with her new husband and two sons. The youngest son is named George. She attempts to tell her son about his namesake. She finds that she can only say that “he was named after a man who looked just like love.” At this point Cocoa finally grieves not for herself but for the great love that was lost with George. The book ends as Mama Day joins Cocoa on the bluff. The old woman imagines that her niece has finally “been given the meaning of peace.” They stand together beneath the trees at the graveyard and listen to the now “still waters” surrounding them.
The arrival of the hurricane marks the climax of the novel. As the winds and waters rise, the characters must face not only the problem of resolving their own conflicts but also the challenge of avoiding their own deaths. No character is tested to a greater degree, or with more serious consequences, than George. At the beginning of the storm, George has a revelation that establishes the parameters of his test. He imagines that the winds are like the “power of God,” sent to remind him of his weakness against the forces of nature and relative insignificance within the scope of creation. He is unable to exert his reason, perhaps for the first time in his life, against this power. Instead, George seeks the comfort of human “company” rather than the assurance of logic. It seems that the hurricane has finally changed George by combining his dependence on reason with a respect for mystery.
Naylor does not allow George, however, to escape the limitations of his character. The events that follow the hurricane simply stretch the boundaries of his patience and belief too far. Cocoa has been poisoned by Ruby; she lies dying in her bedroom. Miranda has retreated to the other place; she patiently waits for a solution to materialize. The only bridge on the island has been destroyed; a local crew slowly builds a new link to the mainland. This is all too much for George to fathom. He reverts to his engineering skills and plans to rebuild the bridge and find medical help on the mainland. These seemingly reasonable decisions, however, only seal his fate. George is exhausted and desperate by the time that his plan fails. He finally seeks help from Miranda but is too weak to complete the ritual. He dies having saved Cocoa but not himself.
George suffers a fate that threatens the entire Day family. He becomes a victim of desperate circumstances seemingly beyond his control. Likewise, it seems that the Day women cannot escape the awful tradition of their history. As Miranda had feared, Cocoa becomes the heiress to an experience of loss allotted to her at birth. Cocoa survives but grieves George deeply. It is a grief that will stay with her throughout her life, even after remarrying and bearing two long-awaited children.
It is notable, however, that the Day women ultimately do not become tragic victims in this novel. Instead, the family history changes with Cocoa’s story; it brings an assurance of hope to a family unaccustomed to believing in the future. After all, her story suggests that meaning can be created from the experience of loss. Cocoa does not choose the easy solution offered by her own death like her mother and great-grandmother did. Neither does she seek revenge for her unfair fate. Instead, she allows herself to experience grief and thus comes to accept its terms. It becomes apparent that the process will never end, but rather it continues to evolve over the years. Nevertheless, she can form new relationships without losing her memories of the past. George remains the primary symbol for love in her life, a “man who looked just like love,” and who will remain that until she “sees [him] again.” Cocoa is thus able to thwart the curse of “breaking someone’s heart” that has plagued her family for so long.
The tragedy of Cocoa and George brings a similar sense of peace to Miranda. The pain associated with motherhood has finally been eased for her; she no longer regrets her past, the loss of her mother in childhood, nor fears the future, the fates that await her nieces and nephews. Instead, she takes comfort in the significance of the Day family history, which finally has been revealed to her. In a final monologue delivered to George at the graveyard on Candle Walk night, she claims that their unique history demonstrates the power of freedom over slavery, survival over suffering. She has foreseen that her great-grandmother was not a slave to Bascombe; instead, “what she gave of her own will, she took away.” The lights of Candle Walk, then, signify the ability of love to free the spirit, whether between Bascombe and Sapphira or Cocoa and George. This vision finally bequeaths understanding and love, not suffering and death, to Miranda’s descendents. It gives her an assurance of peace that offers protection for Miranda and Cocoa as they stand side by side between the now “still waters” surrounding Willow Springs. The year “1823” ultimately comes to denote love and survival, not betrayal and loss, for this family.