Tar Baby: Summary

Just before nightfall, about a mile from the harbor of a fictional Caribbean island called Isle de Chevaliers, an unnamed man, referred to only as “he,” jumps from a ship, the H.M.S. Stor Konigsgaarten, and swims for the shore. Encountering difficulties because of the current, he clambers aboard a small boat named the Seabird II, where he hides in a closet and quickly falls asleep. He awakes to the sound of two women’s voices. He concludes that he is the only man aboard, and guesses that the boat would soon dock at a private pier. When the engine stops he waits for the footsteps of the women to fade away, eats all he can find on the boat, and gazes at the shore of the island.
There is an element of mystery in the beginning of the novel. We are told little about this anonymous man, although we may conclude that he is black, since his skin “blended well with the dark waters” (p. 3). Is he in some kind of trouble, that he jumps ship? What is he planning to do in what is obviously unfamiliar territory for him? As yet, we do not know. One thing should be noted, however, because it will later become important. There is a marked contrast between the man—a disheveled, hungry fugitive—and the women on the boat. 
He catches sight of one of the women’s elegant hands, “Beautifully shaped, pink and polish, ivory fingers, wedding rings” (pp. 6-7). These are not hands that are used to doing any physical work. The women also drop a bottle of suntan oil that the man sees. They appear to be affluent women of leisure,  who do not bother to cook but bring carry-out food on board with them.
We would be safe in concluding that this man is going to be important for the story, but more details will have to wait until the author chooses to explain them.