Tar Baby, Toni Morrison, Reviewed by Hend K., Southwest Community College
One thing you may not know about Toni Morrison, the author of Tar Baby, is that she was the first African American woman to ever win a Nobel Prize. Her many famous works along with Tar baby include Song of Solomon, Jazz, and Beloved. Toni Morrison won the Nobel Prize for Literature due to her courageous outlook into American Reality. Although racism has come a long way since Martin Luther King Jr’s time, we cannot deny the fact that it still persists even today and most evidently toward African-Americans. Miss Morrison is able to showcase these realities through her pragmatic novels.
The action of Tar Baby takes place in the 1930’s on the Caribbean island of Isle de Chevaliers. Valerian Street, a wealthy man, builds a mansion on this island and makes it his getaway vacation house. Margaret, his wife, occasionally goes back home to Philadelphia whereas her husband chooses to spend most of his time on the island. Michael, their son, does not always come to visit his mother and father, and every holiday this is hotly debated. The couple also has employed Sydney and Ondine which are their African-American servants. Jadine (Sydney and Ondine’s niece) is a busy fashion model who occasionally takes a break from her career as a social secretary for Margaret.
With Christmas right around the corner, one night Margaret finds a runaway black man named Son hiding in her closet. Instead of immediately calling the authorities, Margaret invites the man to stay which dismays everyone in the family. Throughout the novel, Son and Jadine begin to grow a relationship which displays the challenges that color and stereotype can bring. Son and Jadine at first begin their relationship based on equality and agreement, but later push each other away.
We can see an example of this toward the end of chapter four when Jadine reflects: “Was this really a funny story she could tell later or was there real danger? But there was more. She felt a curious embarrassment in the picture of herself telling on a black man to a white man and then watching those red-necked gendarmes zoom him away in a boat.” Before this, Jadine and Son experience a flirtatious encounter that also contains threatening elements. Based on this encounter, Jadine contemplates going to Valerian and telling him about Son’s actions, but after careful consideration she begins to take back her initial judgement. The novel shows how Jadine is stuck in between the “white” world and the “black” world. She sees herself acting as a European person and that this encounter can become a funny story to tell. On the other hand, though she feels like she owes racial solidarity to Son, he deserves much better than to be told off by another white man (Valerian). This is just one of many examples showcased throughout the novel.