Chapter 20

Tom goes to Susan’s office and confronts her about Renata Halpern. He is incensed that she did not tell him about Renata. Susan tells him to calm down. Susan tells Tom that Renata was Savannah’s friend; she says she will not tell him anymore.

Tom tells Susan that he has told her all the stories of their childhood. Susan tells him he is lying; he has only told her the ones that he keeps to preserve his memory—not the ones that really count. Susan admits that she has been taping their conversations and playing some of them for Savannah. Tom is outraged.


Susan tells Tom that it is his self-pitying male ego that she fears the most when he finally goes to see Savannah. They enter into a long discussion about the American male. Tom says that being male is much more difficult than Susan can imagine. He considers himself a feminist; however, his male friends tease him and females do not believe him.

Finally, Susan tells Tom about Renata—she was Savannah’s friend, a lesbian, and she was Jewish. Renata helped Savannah through a psychotic episode before she died. When Renata killed herself, Savannah went downhill. She began wandering the streets. She could remember nothing from her childhood. One night, Savannah had a dream about three men that came to their island. She could not remember what happened, but she wrote the children’s story right after the dream. She signed Renata’s name to the story as an act of homage.

It was after the publication of the story that Savannah decided to become Renata. The first time Susan met Savannah, she told her she was Renata Halpern. Susan was able to figure out that Savannah was lying because she could not convince Susan that she was Jewish.

Tom becomes very angry with Susan for tying to help Savannah become someone else. He asks her what she would do if he helped Bernard do the same thing—escape form his family and assume another identity. Susan says it is a different story because Bernard has not tried to kill himself. Tom says just to give Bernard time. When Tom says this, Susan becomes extremely angry and throws a dictionary at him. The dictionary hits his nose, and he bleeds. Susan feels terrible and offers Tom some Valium. She tells Tom she will buy him lunch and explain further about Savannah, Renata and herself.

Susan and Tom go to an expensive French restaurant. Susan tells Tom that Savannah has blanked out entire periods of her life. She calls them her white periods. Susan tells Tom that Savannah remembers far more than he does of their early childhood; Savannah remembers their mother’s brutality. Tom says that Savannah is mixing their mother up with their father. Tom tells Susan how hard it is for him to hear that Savannah was trying to become a new person. Susan tells Tom that if he continues to help her, she will give him back his sister. Susan takes Tom’s hand, puts her lips to it, and bites the flesh. That is what Tom remembers best about that afternoon with Susan.

Notes
In this chapter the mystery of Renata Halpern develops. Renata apparently had mental problems, just like Savannah. Renata helped Savannah through one of the most difficult periods of her life, then killed herself. Savannah tried to become Renata. In a way, this total identity change makes sense because Savannah could barely remember the life of Savannah Wingo.

Tom and Susan grow more intimate. Tom mentions that Susan’s imperturbable nature disturbs him. He then is able to make her so angry that she throws a dictionary at him. Their discussion about the difficulties of being a man or a woman are central to this novel. While this novel deals mainly with the deterioration of the American male, it also considers gender, class, and ethnicity. Susan and Tom are each correct about the difficulties that are associated with their genders; yet, they are unable (or unwilling) to understand the others point of view.

Cite this page:

Staff, TheBestNotes. "TheBestNotes on Prince of Tides". TheBestNotes.com. . 09 May 2017
             <>.