The Vanishing Half Part II: Maps (1978) Summary and Analysis
by Brit Bennett

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Part II: Maps (1978) Summary and Analysis

Chapter 4

Ten years after the principal narrative thread of Part I, Desiree’s daughter Jude goes to Los Angeles to attend UCLA on an athletic scholarship. As she is heading there on a Greyhound bus, she recalls numerous incidents and impressions from her girlhood in Mallard. Early Jones, who is in a relationship with her mother, has bonded with Jude and essentially become her stepfather. 

Much of her childhood was passed with the special awareness of the darkness of her skin, with other kids in school cruelly joking that when she stands up in front of the chalkboard she blends in with it. She is nicknamed “Tar Baby.” When she first attends school, the other children are skeptical that Desiree is her mother because of the contrast in their skin shade, and Jude herself asks her mother, “why don’t I look like you?” Athletics—especially running—provides an escape for her from the troubling interactions with others. Despite her bond with Early, Jude finds his on-and-off presence and his relationship with Desiree to be troubling. In some ways Jude becomes closer to her grandmother Adele, whom she calls maman, than to her mother. 

Early comes and goes, sustaining a relationship with Desiree but not exactly living with her. She meets him, to her mother’s criticisms, at a boarding house in the area as she holds down her job as a waitress at Lou’s Egg House. Meanwhile, Early is still “tracking” Stella, finding where she had lived in Boston, but nothing else, and not wishing to discover more about her. 

In Los Angeles, Jude meets a man named Reese Carter, who is from the south but, like almost everyone else, has never heard of Mallard, Louisiana. Jude puzzles over the wideness of the world, realizing that there is so much of it that she has so far not experienced at all. 

Chapter 5

Reese’s back-story is revealed. He is a transgender man, having been assigned female at birth as Therese Anne Carter. Moving from El Dorado, Texas, to California, he gets a job at a gym in Los Angeles and begins hormone treatments on his own. When he meets Jude, Reese has not yet had any surgical reassignment, and he keeps his chest tightly covered with bandages under his shirt. Reese aspires to be a photographer. In the darkroom developing photos, he reveals his story to Jude, who reflects on the ability of men or women to be two people at the same time. She recalls her own thoughts about possibly trying to lighten her skin—and the potions her grandmother made her that would supposedly accomplish this. But Reese tells her that her dark skin is beautiful. Reese has shed his entire family history. He asks Jude about her first kiss, and she tells him it was with a boy back in Mallard named Lonnie. The parallel between Reese’s and Jude’s forms of Otherness is clear.

Reese introduces Jude to a group of his alternative-lifestyle friends, including a man named Barry who performs part-time as a female impersonator. More of Jude’s relationship with Lonnie during her teenage years is revealed. Her connection with him was sexual, but he wasn’t her “boyfriend,” because he felt nothing personal for her. It contrasts with her present relationship with Reese: as yet there is nothing sexual between them, but both feel strongly about each other as people. 

In the summer after her first year at UCLA, Jude moves from the dormitories and into Reese’s apartment. Although Jude presumably knows Reese is biologically still female, when she surprises him in the apartment and sees the tight bandages that are bruising him, she urges him to take them off, saying she doesn’t care what he looks like. Reese gets angry, saying that his appearance, or what he wishes it to be, is not “about you.” After an argument Reese reveals he has found a doctor who will perform reassignment surgery on him. Though it appears at first as though their relationship has been altered or even brought to an end, Reese and Jude’s love for each other has actually...

(The entire section is 1,349 words.)