Essay Ondine

Decent Essays

“Yardmen,” Ondine said. “And beggars.” She poured the eggs into a frying pan of chicken livers. She was seventeen years her husband’s junior, but her hair, braided across the crown of her head, was completely white.
-Tar Baby, pages 33-34

Ondine is an employee of the Street household, responsible for cooking the family meals and helping to administer the estate. She has worked for the Street family for much of her patron’s life, and has developed a relatively familiar relationship with her employer. She is in some ways the “compass” of the black community in the text. She is representative of the unyielding past with which Jadine breaks.

Mythologically, ondines (also called undines) are water nymphs or naiads that resemble humans, but lack a soul. In order to acquire a soul and thus become immortal, the nymphs must marry a human. If that human breaks his commitment to the ondine, he dies (Bane 333). The ondine figure has been adapted many times into fictional and dramatic representations, which have occasionally been interpreted as class dramas. The most famous of these adaptations are the 1811 novella Undine, written by German Romanticist Friedrich de la Motte Fouqué (Fouqué and Yonge) and the 1938 play, Ondine, by French playwright Jean Giraudoux (Drake). In both versions, Ondine marries knight-errant Hans, and both ultimately betray each other. At the conclusion of both texts, Hans dies, while Ondine loses her memory.
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As an elder in the black community, her legacy depends on having someone to whom she can pass along a cultural heritage. Being that she has no children, she pins this heritage onto Jadine, who ultimately rejects it. To follow the myth, it would appear that Jadine, rejecting her blackness by returning to Paris, will necessarily “die” (metaphorically) without a connection to her heritage and
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