This 1981 novel Tar Baby by Toni Morrison explores the mythic image of Tar Baby to evoke the racial stereotyping. The novel brings together different oppositions like white and black, high and low culture, north and south etc. The title of the novel suggests the folk tale of Tar baby. The fable is an archetypal trickster tale and it describes how a fox entraps a rabbit by using the tar figure. The doll or ‘tar baby’ is made by Br’er fox and placed in the roadside to trap his archenemy Br’er Rabbit. Br’er Rabbit speaks to the doll or tar baby and gets angry as it is not responding, and strikes it and get struck. The more the Br’er Rabbit kicks, the more he becomes attached. In the modern scenario, we can consider this theme as a problematic situation that is only aggravated by additional involvement with it.
In the novel Morrison portrays the love and relation between central characters Jadine and Son, two African Americans, with the social background of a racial hierarchy and high and low cultures. Jadine is a beautiful fashion model, who has been sponsored by Valerian Street, a white man , candy manufacturer who marries Margaret Street, the principle beauty of Maine. When the novel begins Valerian is spending his life on the Caribbean island, Isle des Chevaliers. Son is a strong minded man, who washes up on the streets. Ondine and her husband Sydney, through their dialogues reveal the fact that, they have devoted most of their life serving Valerian Street, who considers them as “good Negroes”. There is another major mysterious character named Charlie, who never appears on the course of events of the novel. The novel progresses through the events that happened after the arrival of Son in the island.
The novel revolves around themes like nature v/s civilization, the subordinate black life and the shades of femininity. Morrison made the novel rich with dialogue episodes, symbolism and mythological involvement. Tar Baby powerfully portrays the plight and struggle of African Americans for livelihood in the second half of twentieth century. And this makes Tar Baby an essential read in the historical and cultural writings of American literature.
Categories: Book Reviews