Soon after she returned from her world-travels, Tolitha took her grandchildren with her to pick out her casket. She wanted the cheapest one they had. On their way to the undertakers, they passed Mr. Fruit. Mr. Fruit directed traffic on the Street of Tides and no one questioned him. He disregarded the traffic lights and let people cross whenever he wanted.
When they got to the funeral home the undertaker, Winthrop Olgetree, left Tolitha to look at the caskets. She decided to lie in them to see what felt right. As she was lying in a casket, Mrs. Blankenship, a busy body from the town, came in. She was shocked to see Tolitha “dead.” She told the children that Tolitha drank too much and that she was burning in hell. When Mrs. Blankenship offered the children gum, Tolitha sat up and took a piece from her, sending Mrs. Blankenship running in terror. Tolitha and the children ran out the back door and laughed until Tolitha had to pee in a bush.
This story is not introduced by any of Tom’s present-day thoughts and it offers a seemingly random glimpse into Tolitha’s sense of humor. This chapter shows how the children did have some good times despite their father’s violent nature. More significant, however, is the mention of Mr. Fruit. Mr. Fruit is a crazy old man who has taken it upon himself to direct traffic. The name Fruit is a reference to his craziness-such as “fruitcake,” or any other various ways in which fruit refers to madness. Tom mentions the street on which Mr. Fruit directs traffic three times: Street of Tides. This is an odd name for a street, as most streets are a single word for example,--Franklin Dr., New Jersey Ave., Main St., et cetera. This street name is more important given the title of this novel, The Prince of Tides. At this point, the reader should keep this information in mind and consider how it might apply to the novel as a whole. The full meaning of the novel’s title will not be apparent until the final chapter.
When Tom was a child, Lila Wingo always wore gardenias in her hair during the spring. One day she went shopping in town, wearing a flower in her hair. Lila was trying on a dress that she could not afford when Isabel Newbury made a rude comment about Lila’s flower--not knowing Lila was still in the store. Lila waited until Isabel left the store to exit the dressing room. Lila never wore gardenias again.
Later that same year, Tom got into a fight with Isabel’s son, Todd Newbury. Todd made fun of Tom’s shoes and said that Tom’s family was poor. The Todd threw five dollars at Tom. Tom nicely asked Todd to take the money back. Todd continued antagonizing Tom. Tom punched Todd. Todd cried, and Tom told him to eat the money. Todd swallowed the money. A teacher came and took Tom to the principal’s office. Tom told the principal that Todd called his family river shit and gave him five dollars to buy new shoes, so he hit him. Todd stormed into the office yelling that Tom better learn not to mess with a Newbury and that the principal better paddle him good. The principal told Todd to shut up and assured him Tom would be paddled. When Todd left, the principal told Tom he better never fight in his school again and if he did not do a better job of shutting Todd’s mouth next time he would beat him. The principal told Tom to scream as he hit a text book.
Lila Wingo, always concerned with what people thought, told Tom he had to apologize to Todd. Tom refused at first but then acceded to his mother’s wishes. Tom and Lila went to the Newbury’s home, where Isabel Newbury made them wait on the porch and Todd would not speak to Tom. As they were leaving, Tom and Lila ran into Reese Newbury, Todd’s father. Reese told them to come in and offered Lila a drink. Reese took the boys into his study and told Tom that his family was shit and he better never touch Todd again. Reese told Todd to slap Tom across the face, and then he made them shake hands. Todd was shaken by his father’s actions. When Reese left, Todd broke down and told Tom how much he disliked his father. Todd was apologetic and asked Tom if he would want to come over to hang out sometime. Tom refused. Todd asked if maybe he could come to Tom’s house sometime. When Tom said that Todd did not even know where his house was, Todd showed Tom a map on which Reese placed a red pin on Tom’s island. Reese wanted to buy it.
The story switches back to the present and Susan asks Tom why he told her that story. She wants to know what it has to do with Savannah. Tom says it has everything to do with Savannah. Tom asks Susan to look at a letter Lila sent her. He asks her to look at the return address and Susan gasps.
This chapter illuminates the social status of the Wingo family. Lila is overly concerned with what everyone thinks about her and her family. She is always seeking the approval of the society women, who only mock her. Tom experiences the same pressure at school from Todd Newbury; the only difference is that Tom is not concerned about how people view him.
The encounter between Todd and Tom, and later between Reese, Todd and Tom, shows that what Tom lacks in money and power he makes up for with integrity. This novel deals largely with the character of the American male and the nuances of Southern society. In this chapter Reese and Todd have power because they have money, but they are not courageous men. Todd will not fight Tom. Todd also lies to Reese by telling him that Luke helped Tom beat him up because he is afraid to look cowardly. Ironically, Reese is as cowardly as his son. He resorts to threatening a child (Tom) and manipulating his son for his own pleasure. He is not “man” enough to admit that his son is wrong; he also will not admit that his son is just like him.
While Todd and Tom are very different, they share the same problem of having a deficient father. Henry Wingo beats his children with his fists and shows no emotion. Reese Newbury manipulates his son mentally and also shows him no affection.
The final section with Susan and Tom suggests that there has been a radical development that has somehow intertwined the lives of the Newburys and the Wingos. The reader should be able to guess what this development may be; the answer will be revealed in a later chapter.