Essay on Tar Baby by Toni Morrison

“Tar Baby” by Toni Morrison is one of the most interesting novels written by the author. This book deals with many problems and themes but probably one of the central themes of the novel is the conflict between its main characters Jadine and Son. Actually, the writer has managed to depict a paradoxical situation when two persons love each other, or at least they tell so, but they cannot really be together between of the dramatic difference in their views and perception of the world. In fact the difference in their ideologies becomes the main problem that separates them and make their love practically impossible and doomed to fail.

In order to better understand the essence of the relationship of Son and Jadine and the main cause of their conflicts, it is necessary to thoroughly analyse what kind of personalities each of them were and what makes them so different that they cannot stay together.

First of all, it should be said that Son and Jadine are absolutely different people, with different level of education, different views and ideologies, different social status and background. Actually, they are so different that it seems to be strange enough how they could meet and fall in love. In this respect, it is noteworthy that Toni Morrison has introduced some myths in the story. Moreover, the main characters, Son and Jadine have built up their own myths that help them to survive in the surrounding reality. It seems that the origin of the main characters plays an extremely important role in the formation of their ideology and their ‘myths’.

Obviously, the origin is one of the key elements that make Son and Jadine absolutely different because Son originates from a small town Eloe, while Jadine is a typical city girl. Not surprisingly that Son absorbed old traditions and stereotypical views on life and surrounding people, which were probably enforced by his work of sailor and his lifestyle. As a result, he seems to be rather conservative in his views and he get used to accept certain stereotypes, especially concerning racial problems and relations between people to the extent that sometimes a reader can wonder as Jadine does: “Doesn’t he know the difference between one black and another…” (Morrison 1996, p.126).

Naturally, his views and ideology are absolutely different from those of a city girl Jadine. Sometimes he simply cannot accept and understand her way of thinking and lifestyle. It seems that he has an absolutely different set of values. For instance, he wonders “Rape? Why you little white girls always think somebody’s trying to rape you?… Than why don’t you settle down and stop acting like it?” (Morrison 1996, p.121). So, he can’t understand Jadine and her behaviour, moreover, he treats her as if she were a ‘white girl’ because, according to his views, she does not act as a black girl should.

By the way, it is one of the main problems that make Jadine spiritually distanced from Son. She is a model who works in such large cities as New York and Paris and she cannot understand the philosophy and mentality of such people as Son. In fact, unlike Son, Jadine “has forgotten her ancient properties” (Morrison 1996, p.308) and she gets to be assimilated into a new world where Son cannot really survive. She gets used to modern life, its conveniences, comfort, etc. Consequently, she cannot be like Son, ironically “smiling to think of what the leaden waves of the Atlantic had become in the hands of the civilization. The triumph of ingenuity that had transferred the bored treachery of the sea into a playful gush of water that did exactly what it was told” (Morrison 1996, p.222).

Naturally, she is absolutely different from Son, she is more advanced, more liberal, probably more democratic. In fact, her lifestyle made her more integrated in the world of big cities and she cannot share Son’s values. For instance, her words concerning Valerian that “he’s a person not a white man” (Morrison 1996, p.265) are very symbolic and indicate that she is absolutely different from Son, to a certain extent, racist views. Not surprisingly, “she was grateful to be faraway from his original-dime ways, his white-folks-black-folks primitivism” (Morrison 1996, p.277).

As a result, it seems to be logical that such contradictions in their set of values, mentality, lifestyle could not fail to ruin their love and the conflicts between them, which eventually resulted in quarrels and fights between them, were quite natural and caused by these contradictions. It is after one of such particularly nasty fights Jadine decides to leave Son. Unfortunately, despite unclear outcome of the novel, it is still hardly possible to believe that such people could be eventually united and live in love for a long time.

Thus, it is possible to conclude that Toni Morrison has managed to depict the failure of love between two people, which seem to be representatives of two absolutely different worlds. Unfortunately, it is not their personal fault that they cannot really love each other and live together but it is rather the fault of the worlds they lived and grew in, which made them so different and actually separated them.


1. Morrison, Toni. Tar Baby. New York: New Classics, 1996.
2. Ryan, Judylyn S. “Contested Visions/Double-Vision in Tar Baby.” Modern Fiction Studies, Volume 39. N3&4. Fall/Winter 1993. 597-621.

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