Tar Baby By Toni Morrison

Author Biography
Toni Morrison was born Chloe Ardelia Wofford in Lorain, Ohio on February 18, 1931.Her father George Wofford was a shipyard welder and her mother Ramah Wofford was a stay-at-home mom.In first grade she was the only black student in her class and the only one who could read.In 1949 she graduated Lorain High School with honors.After graduating she then attended Howard University.In 1953 she graduated with a B.A. In English.She then attended Cornell University and graduated with a Masters Degree also in English.After graduation she became an English teacher at Texas Southern University. In 1957 she returned to howard to teach english there.While working at Howard she met and married a Jamaican architect named Harold Morrison in 1958.Her first son Harold Ford was born in 1961.While pregnant with her second child, she left her husband and job and took a trip to Europe with her son.Her first novel The Bluest Eye was published in 1970.In the next 22 years she published 5 more novels.In 1993 she received the Nobel Prize in Literature.

Summary of Novel​

Setting:Tar Baby is set in the 1930's on the Caribbean island of Isle de Chevaliers.The plot takes place mostly on the wealthy Isle de Chevaliers but ends in Eloe,a small ghetto town in Florida.


  • The two protagonists of the book are wealthy orphan Jadine Childs and violent uneducated Son.Jadine Childs is a wealthy naive orhan who throughout her life has never grasped her black culture.Son is a violent uneducated man who forces Jadine and black culture to mix.Upon his arrival Jadine instantly hates him but further in the novel Jadine and Son become lovers.
  • Valerian Street is the wealthy employer of most of the main balck characters.He owns a candy manufacturing business called L'Arbe de la Croix.
  • Margaret Street is the vain second wife of Valerian Street and mother of Michael Street.
  • Sydney is Valerian's butler,Ondines husband, and Jadine's uncle.
  • Ondine is Sydneys' wife and Jadines aunt who is a very opinionated woman.
  • Gideon(a.k.a. Yardman) is the black handyman and husband of Therese.
  • Therese is the wife of Gideon and is prejudice against anyone who isn't from the island.She hates Ondine and Sydney for just that reason.
  • Michael Street is the son of Margaret and Valerian Street.
  • Soldier is Sons' childhood friend.He irritates Jadine because he discourages her relationship with son.Although he irritates her he does give her some tips on dealing with son.

Plot Summary

The novel starts with a sailor who jumps overboard a ship and tries to swim to shore.He stows away on a yacht when he is unable to reach the shore.He arrives on an island called Isle de Chevaliers.He arrives at a house called L'Arbe de la Croix and hides.The house belongs to wealthy Valerian Street and his wife Margaret.Their servants Ondine and Sydney live there as well.The niece of Ondine and Sydney, Jadine Childs,has come to visit.Margaret Street has invited her son Michael to come and visit her but Valerian feels he will not come.One night after a big fight with Valerian she goes to her room but a moment later she comes back screaming.Sydney goes to see what's the matter and discovers a man hiding in her closet.Valerian invites the man who reveals his name is Son,to stay for the night.While in her room, Jadine tries on a sealskin coat that her rich white boyfriend had sent her.Son shows up in her room and they begin to start flirting.After some obscene remarks she threatens to tell Valerian.While Jadine was gone Son decided to take a shower in her bathroom.After his shower Son finds Valerian before Jadine.Knowing he might get into trouble,Son decided to impress Valerian with hs gardening skills and his sense of humor.Impressed, Valerian tells Sydney to buy him some new clothes.When Jadine sees the new and improved Son she decides not to tell on him to Valerian.Instead, Jadine invites Son to a picnic where they talk about their backgrounds.While conversing they connect,despite their differences.When Michael doesn't show up for Christmas like Valerian said it upsets Margaret. At Christmas dinner Valerian announces that he has fired Gideon and Therese for stealing apples,which upsets Ondine,Sydney,and Son.Valerian's announcement starts an argument.At the end of the argument Ondine reveals that Margaret used to abuse her son michael when he was little.This causes Valerian to go into shock and is bedridden.Jadine and Son leave and go to bed together.The next day Jadine and Son leave for New York.The spend their days in New York as carefree lovers.Back on the island Valerian is furious with Margaret and refuses to let her explain what she did.Ondine and Sydney worry that they will be fired for announcing the secret.In the springtime Jadine and Son visit Eloe, Florida,Son's hometown.Their relationship start to take a turn for the worse because Son loves his hometown but Jadine doesn't. All of a sudden they start arguing more and more.After a violent argument,Jadine leaves Son and New York.She decides to return to Paris but not before going back to Isle de Chevaliers to get her sealskin coat.She heads to Paris telling Ondine and Sydney not to tell Son where she has gone.Therese finds Son and leaves him on Queen of France and tells him to make a choice.He can either keep looking for Jadine or he can join a rebellion with the wild horsemen on the island.He decided to join the horsemen.

Literary Criticism

Pearl K. Bell argues that Tar Baby is not a convincing book.She says that it is confusing because she misuses her metaphors.In the Uncle Remus Story,"Uncle Remus and His Tales Of Brer Rabbit", a tar baby is a black doll a white farmer puts in his garden to trap a thieving rabbit.Toni Morrrison's version suggests that Valerian is the white farmer that made Jadine the tar baby. "How does Son stand for the rabbit who outsmarts the farmerand runs away? Why does he desperately try to find Jadine after she runs back to Paris?Perhaps Miss Morrison had nothing more allusive in mind than the blackness and stickiness of tar,which will cling to Jadine no matter how completely she imagines herself accepted in the white world". external image waltdisney_brerrabbit.jpg

Literary Devices

Metaphor:Valerian is the white farmer and Jadine is the tar baby.

Personal Review

I thought the book was boring and confusing .It starts off with an unknown man jumping overboard a ship.You don't know whether he was forced on the ship as a slave,suicidal,or just insane.The book has way too many flashbacks,you don't even know if their talking about a memory or the present.It is also doesn't have enough conversation,the book mainly describes things which make it boring.I didn't like how the summary said it was alove affair between two people and the affair doesn't even start until the middle of the book.Annother thing that irritated me was the cover,it just wasn't appealing to me. The thing I hated most about the book was the ending because the lovers Jadine and Son didn't even end up with each other.


Bell, Pearl K. "Self-Seekers." Contemporary Literary Criticism. Vol. 22. Detroit: Gale Research Company, 1982. 323. Print.
Haskins, James. Toni Morrison:Telling A Story Untold. Brookfield: Twenty-First Century, 2002. Print.
Bois, Danuta. "Toni Morrison." Web