Symbolism In Toni Morrison's Tar Baby

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Toni Morrison’s 1981 novel Tar Baby can be seen as a fictional examination of questions raised by the changes brought about in African American communities and their consciousness by the Civil Rights Movements. Like most Morrison novels, Tar Baby deploys folklore and vernacular language to foreground her concerns with identity, oppression and subversion. The novel constitutes of dialogues that are both interracial, challenging the White American’s ordering of the world as well as intra-racial where the confrontation is between a privileged black middle class materialism and the vernacular discourse of the folk community. The novel begins with a dedication that reads: The ‘ancient properties’ here is an important phrase because it alludes to…show more content…
In the novel it is the woman in yellow whom Jadine sees in the departmental store in Paris who signifies the ‘ancient properties’. For Jadine, after their confrontation, the woman in yellow becomes the symbol of the authenticity that the jaded Jadine lacks. The woman is unapologetic about her appearance and her blackness. There is something so ‘powerful’ about her eyes that they ‘burn the eyelashes’ (45). She is described as the ‘woman’s woman – that mother/ sister/ she; that unphotographable beauty’ (46). Her beauty cannot be photographed because unlike Jadine’s, it cannot be co-opted by the dominant society. It is jarring for Jadine when that woman looks back at her and spits, in a gesture that is damning because it signifies that Jadine, by falling in with the white society she considers herself a part of, has committed an act of betrayal towards her community, or race, or black womanhood. In a 1985 conversation with Gloria Naylor, Toni Morrison says that that woman in yellow ‘is the real chic. The one that authenticates everything. The one that is very clear in some deep way about what her womanhood is…. A complete individual who owns herself. She is the original self’ (O’Reilly 65). It is her confrontation with this original self that makes Jadine question her identity and she consequently comes to the Caribbean…show more content…
His signifying trait is his racial and cultural difference from other characters in the novel. He is a decentralizing force who challenges Jadine about her education and its value to her as a black woman. Elliot butler Evans claims that Son is ‘a black male whose existence is informed by an ideal and authentic black culture’ (158). Often, he is identified with the feminine and the maternal. However, he cannot really be considered the authentic bearer or healer of culture that he initially appears to be. He lives through the script of traditional patriarchal masculinity. He is violent, even though his acts of violence in the novel are often trivialized or justified. A very common interpretation of the title of the novel, through the frame of the folk tale of the ‘Tar Baby and the Briar Rabbit’ is to see Jadine as the tar baby, whose temptation the briar rabbit Son cannot shake off even at the end when he is still looking for her. But this seems to be a fallacious interpretation. Seeing Jadine as a tar baby implies that Son is the victim or the wronged one, but that cannot be upheld by the novel. In the novel, Son is as much an instrument of violence as he is a target or victim of. He forces himself on Jadine, and elsewhere expresses a desire ‘to insert his dreams into her’ (119). For the black woman, black men like Son are figures as oppressive as white men. It is perhaps through
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