Tom spends the day reading case studies of various psychotics, given to him by Susan. He notices that all the patients were trying to hide terrible childhoods and terrible families. After two shots of bourbon, Tom called his mother. Tom tells his mother that he is going to tell Susan about “that night” on the island. At first, she denies that anything happened on that day. Then she reminds Tom that they made a pact to never say anything. Tom tells her it was a stupid pact and that he thinks it will help Savannah if he tells Susan the story. Lila tells Tom she knows about Sallie and her affair. She threatens to call Sallie. Tom and Lila argue about everything until Lila hangs up on him.
Tom calls Sallie to warn her about his mother’s intention of calling. Tom asks her if she has made any decisions regarding their relationship; he tells Sallie he wants her back. Sallie is unsure. She says that she cannot remember a time that Tom told her he loved her without making a joke of it. After they hang up—Tom says, “I love you, Sallie.”
This chapter suggests that Tom’s trouble in his relationship with Sallie is a direct result of his troubled past with his mother. It is important to note that Tom (who has had few phone conversations recorded in this novel) speaks to both his mother and his wife in this short chapter. His mother is cold and cruel, and concerned only about the embarrassment that comes with telling their secret. She tries to hurt Tom by mentioning Sallie’s affair. Tom tries to hurt Lila by mentioning Luke.
When Tom speaks to Sallie we learn that he has had trouble expressing his love for Sallie. She appreciates that Jack (her lover) tells her how he feels all the time. From what we know about Lila (though the stories of Tom’s childhood as well as how she speaks to him in the present) she does not express her love for him very well. This seems to have deeply affected Tom and his relationship with his wife. This type of analysis is known as psychoanalysis in literary theory. While there are many approaches to understanding literature, psychoanalysis seems appropriate for this novel because of the strong emphasis on mental deterioration.
On the night of Wingo siblings’ graduation, their mother gave Luke and Tom homemade sports coats; she gave Savannah a fountain pen. Savannah was valedictorian of the class and gave a touching speech, which their father filmed for posterity. That night, Luke, Tom and Savannah sit on the bridge near their house and share a bottle of bourbon. They discussed their futures: Tom was going to college on a football scholarship; Luke was getting his own shrimp boat; Savannah was moving to New York City. Savannah told them that she was able to see what their IQs were one day at school. Luke and Tom were surprised to hear that Luke’s IQ was higher than Tom’s IQ. Their mother always said Luke was the stupid one. Savannah told them about her nightmares and delusions. The boys were surprised and upset.
It was the best summer Tom ever spent on the island. Tom, Luke and Savannah spent much of their time together. Their mother turned thirty-seven. Luke broke down and told them how much he was going to miss them when they left.
One night, while Luke and Henry were gone, there was a knock at the door. Tom answered the door and found three men. One of them was Callanwolde, and he held a gun to Tom’s head. Callanwolde showed Lila a letter he had stolen from Tolitha’s mailbox in Atlanta. Lila had sent it to the Wingo’s address for Amos, who was taking care of their house. Callanwolde kept it with him in prison, and that is how he knew her address. Savannah and Lila called for Tom to help them, but he was unable. Callanwolde took Lila into her bedroom and one of the other men took Savannah into her bedroom. The third man stayed with Tom. The men raped Savannah, Lila and Tom.
Luke came to the window and witnessed Tom’s rape. Moments later, there was a knock at the door. The rapists, thinking the knock was a neighbor, came to the door and opened it. Caesar (the tiger) ran into the house and attacked. Tom hit his rapist over the head with a marble statue. Savannah shot the man that raped her in his groin. When the scene concluded all the rapists were dead, and Caesar was injured by a gunshot to his shoulder. Blood and body fragments covered the living room. The Wingos broke down into tears.
Luke said they better call the sheriff. Lila grew furious and said they would tell no one. She would not even let Tom, who was badly bleeding, see a doctor. She gave him a Kotex to stop the bleeding. Luke and Tom buried the bodies while Savannah and Lila scrubbed the house. Luke had to shoot Caesar. Lila said they could not even tell Henry what happened because he would never touch her again if he knew. Three days later, Savannah cut her wrists for the first time.
Tom has been telling this story to Susan. When Tom finishes the story, Susan says she thinks that is the worst thing that has ever happened to a family. Tom says he thought it was too, until the incident with Luke occurred.
Conroy has a method of juxtaposing happy events with sad or, in this case, horrific events. In the beginning of this chapter, Tom tells us that this had been his happiest summer ever. His mother gave him a truly thoughtful present. He was having fun with his brother and sister. He received a full scholarship to college. Then, the family is brutally attacked by the escaped convicts. Lila handles the situation selfishly—she is only concerned with what people with think of her.
The chapter produces a feeling of elevation followed by a feeling of deep sadness and horror. The consistent rise and fall in emotion seen throughout this novel mimics the rise and fall of the tides. The reader should consider that, given the title of this novel, this is the type of emotional response that Conroy is seeking.