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CHAPTER SUMMARIES WITH NOTES
The reader is introduced to a sailor, a black man named Son, as he is standing on the deck of a ship. He suddenly jumps into the water and tries to swim toward the shore, but the current carries him away. He sees a small craft and climbs aboard it. While crossing the deck, he hears music from below and smells cooked food. He hides in a dark closet and falls asleep. He wakes up on hearing a woman's voice and listens to a part of her conversation with another woman. He realizes that he is the only man on the boat and is reassured by the fact.
The light from the passage allows him to explore the closet where he finds oranges that he can eat. When the boat reaches shore and the women leave, he comes out of the closet and moves below to the galley. He finds something to eat in the refrigerator. After eating and drinking, he goes back to the deck and gazes at the stars and the moon.
The novel begins with the words: "He believed he was safe." The gap between belief and reality is highlighted by this man's immediate adventure with the stubborn current of the sea, in which his safety is threatened. 'He' turns out to be one of the main characters in the novel. He has borne many names in his life but the reader will know him as 'Son.' His jump off the ship is an escape of some type but the reader is not sure of what. This man is running from something and wants to be free. He wishes to swim to a deserted pier and does not want to be seen from the shore. These details make the reader wonder about his identity and a cloud of mystery surrounds this man who happens to swim so well.
While swimming, he is suddenly sucked into a whirlpool and the passage that describes his struggle with the current reveals Morrison's excellent imagination. She personifies the current to be a woman who tightens her 'bracelet' around his ankles; who has a 'wet throat' and who has 'the hand of an insistent woman.' The hand finally forces him away from the shore, away from his previous target. His encounter with this watery women foreshadows his subsequent meeting with Jadine, his falling in love with her and the way in which she changes the course of his life. Toni Morrison's style is extremely sinuous here.
It is only when the 'water-lady' removes her hand that he can climb over a smaller craft. The reader realizes that he is a gifted liar when he thinks that: "the sex, weight, the demeanor of whomever he encountered would inform and determine his tale."
The reader later learns that it was Jadine's voice that he had heard while dozing and that it is very different from the 'inviting voice' of his dreams. Later, he falls in love with Jadine but she never really manages to replace the dream he has of a warm, inviting woman at the door of a friendly-looking house. A distinct sense of loneliness surrounds him here that stays with him until the end of the book.
The conversation that the man overhears gives the reader an insight into the nature of the two women involved. While one states that she is never lonely, the other expresses her envy. The curiosity of the reader is naturally aroused about these women who go about in a boat at night.
The prologue ends with these three people having reached the shore of an island that "three hundred years ago, had struck slaves blind the moment they saw it." The main action of the novel takes place on this island in the Caribbean and the three characters that are briefly introduced in the prologue are later described more vividly. Toni Morrison succeeds in creating a level of suspense by briefly alluding to the interesting traits of these characters and their environment, without giving specific details.