Who Is Tate in Where the Crawdads Sing?

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform summary of "Where the Crawdads Sing" by Delia Owens. Shortform has the world's best summaries of books you should be reading.

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Who is Tate in Where the Crawdads Sing? What role does Tate have in the story?

A lifelong friend of main character Kya, Tate in Where the Crawdads Sing later becomes her life partner and biggest supporter. Tate in Where the Crawdads Sing plays an important role in helping Kya make something out of her life, and teaching her the importance of love.

Tate in Where the Crawdads Sing: A Friend, And Then Family

When Kya went back to the stump, she saw not just another rare feather, but a milk carton containing vegetable seeds, a spark plug for her boat, and a note she couldn’t read. The boy had upped his ante, and she knew she had to do the same. Kya went home and grabbed a beautiful swan feather, but when she went by the stump to leave it, she was surprised to find the boy waiting against a tree. 

At once, she recognized the boy as Tate, even aged as he was at eighteen years old. His golden curls were longer, his face tan and handsome. He was staring at her with bronze and green eyes, watching like a heron gazing at its prey. Kya felt the urge to run, but Tate called to her and told her not to be afraid. He couldn’t help but be taken aback by the sight of her. She had grown into a striking young woman. 

Not only Tate’s words, but also a warm sensation inside kept Kya from running. She held out the swan feather, her movements slow. With equally slow movements, so as not to startle her, Tate took the feather. They stood in awkward silence for a long moment before Kya finally admitted she couldn’t read his note. Before he left, Tate said he would teach her how to read

For the next few weeks, Tate in Where the Crawdads Sing taught Kya how to read sitting on a log near the beach. He brought old grammar books from school and worked with her on the alphabet. She learned to write each letter and make their sounds. Slowly and patiently (Tate was always so patient), she was able to form words and sound others out. 

When she was finally able to read a whole sentence by herself, Kya beamed. Not only could she now read, but she’d never known that words could be put together to create meaning. The way she lit up made something inside Tate light up, as well.

Kya was also feeling something stir inside her for Tate. When they would sit close going over a lesson, she longed to grab his hand. She wanted to know more about him and his home life, but she was afraid to bring up the outside world, afraid he’d come to his senses about hanging out with swamp trash. 

Shortly after Kya learned to read, she asked Tate what came after twenty-nine. She was finally going to get her answer. Tate helped her learn to count higher, showing her all the different numbers and groupings. He never made her feel stupid during any of those lessons. 

With her new skills, Kya labeled her specimens with the proper names and read everything she could get her hands on. One night, she opened the old Bible and saw the names of all the family members and their birthdates written inside. For the first time, Kya learned the names of her siblings, the date of her birth, and her full name: Catherine Danielle Clark. 

After a concerning encounter with social services, Kya stayed in the marsh. Her money was still coming from digging mussels and smoking fish, but now Tate in Where the Crawdads Sing delivered her goods to Jumpin’ and brought her supplies to the shack so she wouldn’t be exposed.

Tate in Where the Crawdads Sing: An Old Flame of New Romance?

Kya was gliding through the channels one day when she saw Tate in the distance. It wasn’t the first time she had spotted Tate out in the waterways, but he was closer than before. She watched as he now expertly collected samples in official-looking lab vials. Tate was out of her league, and she knew it. She rowed silently away. 

A while later, Tate was home from graduate school and decided he was going to visit Kya. It had been five years since he’d left her on the shore before heading to college. He knew he’d been a coward for never contacting her, but he wanted her back and would beg for her forgiveness. 

Since that day he’d come back after the Fourth of July, he’d continued to believe that Kya wouldn’t fit in his new world. He’d tried dating a few women, but they were never Kya. So when Tate heard that a federal research lab was being built in Sea Oaks, he decided he would apply to be a scientist there. He would finish his degree and move to the marsh with Kya. 

Tate neared the channel to the marsh and saw Kya motoring fast in her boat. He tried to get her attention, but it was focused elsewhere. Chase’s boat was coming toward her. Tate’s heart dropped. He’d heard people talking in town about the possibility of this relationship, but seeing it hurt him. It also hurt Tate that Kya had no idea that Chase was living a different life in Barkley Cove, one that included other women. Still, Tate had mistreated Kya, too, and could not bear judgment on Chase’s actions. In Where the Crawdads Sing, Tate cursed himself for leaving Kya and returned to town.

Self-Sufficient

A year had passed since Kya had seen Chase’s wedding announcement. It was now 1968, and she was twenty-two years old. One morning, she walked to the mailbox and found a large package inside. She opened it and pulled out an advance copy of The Sea Shells of the Eastern Seaboard by Catherine Danielle Clark. Her heart soared at seeing her name on her book, but she had no one to share her joy with. 

After Tate took Kya’s samples to a publisher, Kya had submitted more drawings through the mail. An editor, Robert Foster, allowed the entire interaction to take place through the postal service and sent her a five-thousand-dollar advance for two books: the shell book and another on birds. It was more money than she’d ever thought about. 

Kya’s book felt more like a family album with its pages filled with years of her collections. It sold well, and bookstores all along the Eastern Seaboard displayed it in their windows. Royalty checks started to flood in, sometimes made out for thousands of dollars. 

Kya knew Tate was to thank for pushing her to publish. He’d helped her turn her passion into a career and made it so she never had to dig for mussels to survive again. She sent him a note at the Sea Oaks laboratory, where he now worked. She still didn’t trust Tate, but she extended an offer for him to stop by if he was ever nearby to pick up a copy of the book. 

The Love of Others

Tate in Where the Crawdads Sing supported Kya throughout her trial.

Shortly after returning to her cell, a guard came to take Kya to meet with her lawyer. Tom wanted talk options. Because of the town’s prejudice against her, it would be hard to win the case. If she plead guilty to manslaughter, saying that she’d been at the tower with Chase and he’d fallen as part of a horrible accident, she could probably get ten years and be out in six. Kya outright refused. She wouldn’t say she was guilty and wouldn’t go to prison. 

Back in her cell, Kya went through the events that led her there. Her family leaving, Jodie leaving, Tate leaving. If any of them had stayed, she wouldn’t be sitting in jail. That fall, Kya had become more inclined to take Jodie’s advice about Tate, but since her arrest, she’d refused to accept Tate’s visits. She hadn’t called Jodie either. Imagine finding each other after so long and then telling Jodie she’d been accused of murder. She couldn’t ask for his support. Depending on people only led to trouble.

Court was out of session the next day, and the guard told Kya the same young man who kept coming to see her was back. Kya wouldn’t budge, but after the guard said there was nothing to do all day but be cooped up in there, she went to the meeting room, where Tate was waiting.  

Tate jumped to his feet and tried to hide his emotions about seeing Kya in jail. He said he’d been feeding the gulls and promised that when Kya was free, they would explore the lagoons again, like they did when they were together. 

Kya told Tate to forget her, but Tate wouldn’t and never could. He’d be in court every day until it was over. Kya pleaded with him to understand. It was too late. She couldn’t trust people, didn’t belong in his world, and didn’t want to. They could be friends, but that was the best she could do. Kya thanked him for coming and went back to her cell. 

The next day, when Kya was led into court, she saw Tate, Jumpin’, Mabel, and Jodie in the front row. Despite what she’d said to Tate and to herself, seeing them there filled her with renewed strength. In Where the Crawdads Sing, Tate was a part of Kya’s family, and his love for her helped her through difficult times.

Tate and Kya: Growing Old Together At Last

Barkley Cove was not spared from gentrification over the years. Jumpin’s wharf became an upscale marina, and the little shops on Main Street became boutiques. Grits became polenta, and every establishment was desegregated. Tate worked at the lab for the rest of his career, and Kya published seven more books, all of which won awards. She was given an honorary doctoral degree from UNC but never accepted invitations to speak. 

In Where the Crawdads Sing, Tate and Kya were inseparable. They’d tried to conceive a child, but it never happened. As her relationship grew on solid ground, so did Kya’s understanding of connection. She saw that human love was more than just mating rituals, but she didn’t regret growing up in a world dictated by the laws of nature. She was connected to the land in a way no one else could understand. The land had raised her, and it was as much a fabric of her life as anything humans could provide

One afternoon, when Kya was sixty-four, she didn’t return from exploring in her boat. Tate went to search for her and found her lying back in the boat, seeming to be sleeping. When he got closer, fear gripped his heart. He shouted her name, but she didn’t move. Tate pulled her up by the shoulders, her long hair, now stark white, flowed behind her. He screamed his anguish to the sky and held her, rocking back and forth. 

Tate buried Kya below an oak tree near the water. All the people who had once condemned her lined up to pay their respects. They had grown to marvel at the way she had survived and the life she was able to make for herself with everything that had happened. On her tombstone, Tate chose an epitaph he felt represented Kya’s life well. She had become a legend in their community, and her nickname was now distinguished. The tombstone read: “Catherine Danielle Clark, ‘Kya’, The Marsh Girl, 1945–2009.” 

Tate in Where the Crawdads Sing is one of the most important people in Kya’s life. As you read the book, consider how Tate in Where the Crawdads Sing helped Kya live a life she was proud of.

Who Is Tate in Where the Crawdads Sing?

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Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best summary of Delia Owens's "Where the Crawdads Sing" at Shortform.

Here's what you'll find in our full Where the Crawdads Sing summary:

  • How Kya Clark's abandonment as a child affected her through her entire life
  • How Kya discovered love despite steep obstacles
  • The murder trial that embroiled Kya's town, and the ultimate truth behind the murder

Carrie Cabral

Carrie has been reading and writing for as long as she can remember, and has always been open to reading anything put in front of her. She wrote her first short story at the age of six, about a lost dog who meets animal friends on his journey home. Surprisingly, it was never picked up by any major publishers, but did spark her passion for books. Carrie worked in book publishing for several years before getting an MFA in Creative Writing. She especially loves literary fiction, historical fiction, and social, cultural, and historical nonfiction that gets into the weeds of daily life.

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