The Theme of Inner Conflict in Toni Morrison's Tar Baby
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Toni Morrison's Tar Baby, is a novel about contentions and conflicts based on learned biases and prejudices. These biases exist on a race level, gender level, and a class level. The central conflict, however, is the conflict within the main character, Jadine. This conflict, as Andrew W. A. LaVallee has suggested, is the conflict of the "race traitor."2 It is the conflict of a woman who has discarded her heritage and culture and adopted another trying to reconcile herself to the "night women" who want to bring back "the prodigal daughter."
The first of the contentions is that of race. As New York Times Book Review correspondent John Irving aptly puts it: "Miss Morrison uncovers all the stereotypical racial fears felt by whites and blacks alike." Prejudice exists between the white and black people in the house; between the black people of the house; the black people and the local populace. Sydney and Ondine Childs, the Cook and Butler in the house of Valerian Street, feel superior to the local black populace. Sydney remarks twice on how he is "A genuine Philadelphia Negro mentioned in the book of that name" (284). Part of this feeling of superiority might be class-related. The Childs' are very proud of their positions in the Street house-they are industrious and hardworking. The Dominique blacks are to them "swamp women" or "horsemen"--depersonalized figures. This is most apparent in their ignorance of their help's names--they dub Gideon, Thérèse, and Alma Estée "Yardman" and "the Marys." At Christmas dinner Valerian adds epithets calling them "Thérèse the Thief and Gideon the Get Away Man." (201). But as Judylyn Ryan points out, "Both the superordinate and the subordinate exercise this prerogative of nam...
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LaVallee, Andrew W. A. "'Faces as Black as His But Smug'-The Race Traitor in Morrison's Tar Baby."
Online Internet. 1 May, 1997. Available: http://ocaxp1.cc.oberlin.edu/~alavalle/morrison.html
Moon, Yonghee. "Rootedness." Paraphrase. Online. Internet. 1 May. 1997. Available: http://www.acsu.buffalo.edu/~yongmoon/root.html
Morrison, Toni. "An Interview with Toni Morrison." With Tom LeClair.Anything Can Happen: Interviews with Contemporary American Novelists.
Ed. Tom LeClair and Larry McCaffery. Urbana: U of Illinois P, 1983. 252-61.
Ryan, Judylyn S. "Contested Visions/Double-Vision in Tar Baby." Modern Fiction Studies Volume 39. N3&4. Fall/Winter 1993. 597-621.
"Toni Morrison," Contemporary Authors, Gale Research, 1993. Online. Internet. Available: http://www.en.utexas.edu/~mmaynard/Morrison/tarbaby.html