Summary and Analysis: Part II, pp. 166-242

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Miranda finds a mysterious packet of herbs under her front porch and suspects that Ruby has been practicing hoodoo magic; the target of the spell is presumably Cocoa, who will arrive on the island soon with George.

Cocoa and George arrive shortly after this ominous sign for their first visit to Willow Springs as a couple. The beginning of the trip is strained by the expectations that each holds for the visit. George is frustrated by his inability to prepare for the trip. He is unable to research even the geography or climate of Willow Springs, much less to devise a strategy for winning over the Day sisters. He is anxious about his lack of knowledge as well as a possible rejection from the family. Cocoa, on the other hand, is worried that she will appear differently to her husband after the vacation on the island. She is fearful that he will dislike what he sees in her or with the island and that he will come to resent the “bond” that ties her to Willow Springs. The warm welcome and elaborate meal provided by Miranda and Abigail upon their arrival seems to ease the growing tension between the couple.

In fact, the aura of hospitality seems to put everyone at ease. George is even able to ignore a troubling dream that he had, during his first night in the Day home, in which he was drowning and could not save his wife from an unseen threat. Instead of worrying about the nightmare, George takes a walk early the next morning, and Cocoa panics over his prolonged absence. She remembers a strange dream from the night before that only increases her fear; oddly, Cocoa’s dream resembles George’s nightmare. Cocoa reprimands George when he finally returns. George retreats from his wife and seeks companionship with Mama Day instead. The visit to the island continues with conversations among the family, with evenings at the homes of neighbors such as Bernice and Ambush, and nights spent in the comfort of Cocoa’s old bedroom.

The calm routine of the visit seems to inspire faith in the future again for Miranda. She imagines that her nieces and nephews, who are yet to be born, will care for her in old age when her body fails her. The vision comes the day before Miranda and George hike through the woods and fish along the coastline. George returns exhausted, and Miranda is pleased with her ability to both outwalk and outtalk him. Although the sisters seem to believe in George's goodness, such tests of his endurance continue throughout the visit. After a night spent playing poker and drinking from Buzzard’s still, Miranda and Abigail are particularly determined to keep George busy, and out of trouble, with endless chores at home.

Cocoa, in the meantime, has lost patience with both her family and her husband. She observes this manipulation of George with disdain. Cocoa’s frustration with George’s behavior grows during a walk to the other place. He seems to have nothing but questions for her about the rationale for putting moss in his shoes before entering the family graveyard, the varying shapes of the headstones, and the truth of the mysterious family history. The conversation turns to George’s vision of a future life on the island and Cocoa’s refusal to accompany him should that vision become reality. She redirects the discussion instead to a more immediate concern. Cocoa is worried that she will not be able to conceive a child. She wonders if they have waited too long to start a family and feels that the matter...

(This entire section contains 1493 words.)

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is more urgent than it seems to be for George. What George doesn’t know is that Cocoa hears “whispers” in the graveyard; the voices are telling her that “she [will] break his heart.”

The warnings finally reach Miranda as well. She suddenly senses death one morning while making pies and notices the now obvious signs of an approaching hurricane. The growing mood of unease infects George and Cocoa as they have their “worst fight ever” while preparing for a party dedicated to them. The argument begins with a discussion of Cocoa’s light skin, which she tries to hide with dark make-up, and quickly turns to George’s involvement with Shawn, his former white girlfriend. It all ends when Cocoa throws a vase that cuts George.

The party is a success for everyone but the guests of honor. Cocoa and George fail to reconcile despite the efforts of both Mama Day and Doctor Buzzard. Cocoa, frustrated after finally trying to placate George, retreats to the front porch. Junior Lee follows Cocoa and makes a drunken pass at her. Cocoa flees just as Ruby arrives on the porch to hear Junior Lee’s transparent attempt at a lie. The conflict between Cocoa and George extends through the evening and into the next morning as preparations begin for the now imminent storm.

The first half of Part II is dedicated to developing the conflict between Cocoa and George. The trip to Willow Springs becomes the catalyst that sparks the conflict between the couple. The island has provided a primary symbol of the differences between Cocoa and George; the trip to visit the Days consequently magnifies those differences and heightens the discord already present in the relationship.

Even before departing from New York, George is frustrated by Willow Springs. He fails to locate it on a map, much less learn anything about it. The mystery surrounding the place is unsettling, for it disrupts his practical nature. George is always informed and prepared. He imagines that these skills form the core of his identity; after all, they helped him to survive life in the orphanage and build a successful career. Yet the island deems such practical skills useless. It is thus fitting that George fears rejection from both Miranda and Abigail more than anything else upon his arrival in Willow Springs. The trip offers a challenge to the beliefs and assumptions that are most integral to his character.

Cocoa’s misgivings, like George’s, center on rejection. She knows that the island will reveal new parts of her life that he could dislike and reject. The contemplation of this fact multiplies her doubts. Cocoa dreads, in particular, the possibility that George then might be excluded from both her family and the island, both of which are important to her life. Her fear of the impotence that he would then feel only contributes to the tension between them and heightens the anxiety surrounding their arrival on the island.

A change in mood, however, shifts the focus of the plot momentarily from conflict to contentment. The first week on the island is marked by gestures of good will and hope for the future. George feels accepted by the Days. The sisters, in turn, engage in the light-hearted game of testing him with endless chores and long walks. Even Miranda allows herself to entertain visions of the nieces and nephews that this man will finally bring into the family. Only Cocoa seems to notice the signs of impending danger, such as the voices in the graveyard, her inability to conceive a child, and the recurrent nightmare that George and Cocoa share. The fact that they unknowingly share the dream becomes a particularly clear sign that tragedy is inevitable. Despite any efforts to ignore or prevent conflict, the battles that have been brewing throughout the book seem destined to unfold. This interlude is merely the calm before the storm.

The fight that finally erupts between Cocoa and George is significant because it not only returns the plot to its inevitable course but also emphasizes the central themes of the book: history and identity. Cocoa becomes upset while preparing for the party that was planned to welcome George into the community that night. She asks George to approve her make-up, which he believes is too dark for her skin. The comment unleashes Cocoa’s wrath as she recalls George’s previous involvement with a white woman. The angry argument quickly degenerates into humiliation; a vase is thrown, which hits and injures George. He is forced to cover the wound with a dressing that only advertises, rather than hides, evidence of the fight.

It is clear that the pair cannot escape the wounds of their past. Cocoa still harbors insecurity about her light skin; George is still insensitive to her need for reassurance. The inclusion of race into the squabble highlights the uncertainty of their future as a couple; both characters are still unsure of themselves, particularly of their identities after their marriage. In view of this fact, their failure to resolve the conflict throughout the evening and into the next day does not seem surprising. Instead, its continuation suggests that more powerful forces must intervene if the pair is to resolve the problems of the past and continue into the future together.


Summary and Analysis: Part I, pp. 66-165


Summary and Analysis: Part II and Conclusion, pp. 242-312