Toni Morrison Essay, Research Paper
Finding Community and Identity in Works of Toni Morrison
Who re you, outsider? Ask me who am I.
-Langston Hughes, Visitors to the Black Belt
Toni Morrison s The Bluest Eye, Sula, and Tar Baby explore different types of communities. Such communities differ in race, class and gender respectively. They also include different learned biases and prejudices. In each, one or more of Morrison s characters struggle with the sense of there own identity within the community. Throughout this paper I will explore the different types of communities and take a closer look at the characters in which cannot identify with themselves or others within them.
In The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison, one of the most prevalent themes explored was that of one s dependency on society for identification, self value, and feelings of self worth. In an interview, Morrison indicated that her plan was to take love and the effects of its scarcity in the world as her major themes, concentrating on the individual loves of her characters, especially those of an enclosed community. (Kantz, 426) By constructing the chain of events that answered the question of how Pecola Breedlove was cast as the social outcast in her community, Toni Morrison in The Bluest Eye attempted to satisfy the more difficult question of why. By using what seemed like tangents in the story, the reader was shown examples of how forces beyond human control such as nature, an omniscient being and primarily a legacy of rejection have come together to establish the heritage of desolation that has been passed on to Pecola Breedlove.
A pattern of precedence was pieced together in the story, showing the seeds of Pecola’s present barrenness to have been planted in the lives of preceding generations. By profiling the lives of Soaphead Church and Pauline Breedlove, Morrison made a case for the validity of generational curses. Their narratives were appropriately placed in the Spring division of the novel as an indication of the characters sowing the seeds that would be reaped by Pecola.
Seemingly, as an example of the ways in which the transgressions of the fathers revisited the sons, the narrator gave an extensive account of Soaphead Church’s family history, constantly citing instances in which traits of the fathers (or effects of their traits) followed the sons for generations. Of his family the author said, “They transferred this Anglophilia to their six children and sixteen grandchildren” and the family was described as one entity. The accomplishments and convictions of the sons were the same as the fathers. Soaphead Church, or more formally, Elihue Micah Whitcomb, inherited a prejudice for ascribing selectively to truth and tendencies to ascribe to lies about their ethnicity and superiority. He inherited his bitterness and pedophilia from his ancestors’ practices and his religious fanaticism from his own father’s secret denomination.
In the same manner Pauline Breedlove’s personal history was shown to have played out in extreme measures in the life of her daughter. From the early part of her life up to the time the reader was introduced to Pauline, she had worn a shroud of shame. The novel said that it was due primarily to her injured foot that she felt a sense of separateness and unworthiness and also why she “never felt at home anywhere, or that she belonged anyplace” (Morrison, 111). This feeling was intensified by her experiences of exclusion and loneliness after moving up north. She was confronted by prejudice on a daily basis, both classism and racism, and for the first time, the white standard of beauty. These experiences worked to transform Pauline into a product of hatred and ignorance, leading her to hold herself up to standards that she didn’t fully understand or could realistically attain. These standards and feelings of rejection were the qualities that Pecola inherited from Pauline. Her mother, from her birth, placed upon her the same shroud of shame, loneliness, and inadequacy. More significantly, just as in the Whitcomb dynasty, the Breedloves as a whole were at one point described by the narrator as one distressing unit. They were unified in their acceptance of the mantle of unexplained ugliness, shame, and social dysfunctionality. The narrator told the reader that “No one could have convinced them that they were not relentlessly and aggressively ugly You looked at them and wondered why they were so ugly; you looked closely and could not find the source. Then you realized that it came from conviction, their conviction And they took the ugliness in their hands, threw it as a mantle over them, and went about the world with it. Dealing with it each according to his own way . (Morrison, 39)
This cycle of rejection was developed further in the metaphors that Morrison used throughout the novel. Nature was a recurring theme in the story and played an important role in answering why Pecola was rejected. Claudia, the novel’s narrator, and her sister Frieda, in their pre-adolescent mindsets could not completely understand why things happened as they did to Pecola. However, what they did know was stated in the beginning of the novel: that “there were no marigolds in the fall of 1941″ (Morrison, 9), the seeds of hope they themselves planted had shriveled and died, just like Pecola and Cholly’s baby. Morrison reiterated this simplistic alignment of Pecola s life with occurrences in nature as a means of understanding throughout the novel. She established nature as an important factor in life’s experiences by incorporating it into the structure of her novel.
Instead of conventional chapters and sections, The Bluest Eye was broken up into seasons-Fall, Winter, Spring, and Summer. These are constants in nature that cannot be controlled by any human influence and also suggested that the events had occurred before and will occur again. Such divisions in the novel marked a correlation between the seasons and the chain of events in the story.
For example, the section marked Autumn, which was characteristic of harvesting and reaping the results of spring planting, was the section of the novel where the reader was introduced to the Breedlove family reaping a “harvest” from the “seeds” of racism, poverty, anger, etc. described in Spring.
Additionally, in characters like Maginot Line, who was described in natural terms, a woman comfortable with herself and her surroundings, sought to fulfill the pleasures and standards dictated by her own volition, whether they were pleasant or severe. Pauline Breedlove, whose emotions were affected by the weather (Morrison, 111), was intimately acquainted with the colors, sites, and sounds of nature in the south. In their presence she became tranquil and almost whimsical. The lone description of Claudia’s father was set to the natural image of winter depicting him as steadfast and penetrating. The narrator said of her fathers face, “Winter moves in and presides there” (Morrison, 61). In all of these characters that natural laws not only governed the environment but were also paralleled to the way human nature governs its environment.
Morrison showed a pattern in the man-nature relationship and then applied it to Pecola in Claudia’s initial statement on her failed pregnancy and then also in the metaphors she used to explain Pecola’s dilemma. One such metaphor could be seen in Pecola’s perception of the dandelion and how it mirrored her perception of herself. In one scene Pecola passed a patch of dandelions as she walked into Mr. Yacobowski’s store. “Why, she wonders, do people call them weeds? She thought they were pretty” (Morrison, 47). Yet after suffering the embarrassment of Mr. Yacobowski’s vacant, shame inducing stare the faint glimmer of happiness she experienced in seeing the dandelion was destroyed. When she left and passed the dandelions again she thought, “They are ugly. They are weeds” (Morrison, 50). She had transferred society’s dislike of her to the dandelions and it was not until the end of the novel that Morrison fully explained these metaphors. Through an adult Claudia, Morrison says, “I even think now that the land of the entire country was hostile to marigolds that year. Certain seeds it will not nurture, certain fruits it will not bear and when the land kills of its own volition, we say that the victim had no right to live” (Morrison, 206). Even nature retained the right to dictate which seeds it would bear to fruition and those that it would reject. Pecola was one of these “certain seeds” that never had a chance to grow and succeed because she lived in an environment that rejected her, one that would not and maybe could not have nurtured her.
Morrison did not stop at the forces of nature, but she also placed a responsibility for this social dilemma on an ambiguous god and/or the church. This omniscient being, the creator of all things, both noble and corrupt, and his messengers had in a sense sanctioned the unfavorable in order to validate the hatred and scorn of the “righteous.” In her introduction to the Breedlove family, Morrison impugned the Breedlove’s acceptance of ugliness to a higher power saying, “It was as though some mysterious all-knowing master had given each one a cloak of ugliness to wear” (Morrison, 39). This divine being not only created ugliness for them but it also ambiguously created an environment that rejected and scorned this ugliness. In her youth Pauline struggled with the same type of ambiguity and contradiction in trying to “hold her mind on the wages of sin,” while “her body trembled for redemption, salvation and a mysterious rebirth that would simply happen, with no effort on her part” (Morrison, 113).
Ironically, at the end of the novel it was Soaphead Church, an individual well acquainted with theology, who alone gave an answer to Claudia’s initial question of why. His letter, addressed to “He who greatly ennobled human nature by creating it,” intended to familiarize an omniscient being with the “facts which have either escaped his notice, or which he has chosen to ignore” (Morrison, 176) saying that he had forgotten about the children.
“You said, ‘Suffer the little children to come unto me, and harm them not.’ Did you forget? Did you forget about the children? Yes. You forgot. You let them go wanting, sitting on road shoulders, crying next to their dead mothers. I’ve seen them charred, lame, halt. You forgot, Lord. You forgot how and when to be God That’s why I changed the little black girl’s eyes for her I did what You could not do. I looked at that ugly little black girl and I loved her. I played You” (Morrison, 181-2).
This letter not only incriminated God but it also incriminated the church. In their duty to come to the aid of the despised and dejected they had failed and instead begun to play God themselves, judging society’s mistakes in the name of righteous superiority. This was evident in Soaphead’s gift of the miraculous and Pauline’s successfully achieved martyrdom at the cost of her marriage and the lives of her children.
However, Morrison did not seem to place the blame on Pauline, neither did she blame it on racism, vulgarity nor ignorance. In The Bluest Eye she depicted Pecola as a victim of an evil that had roots deeper than human conviction and could not be understood in such terms. This vicious cycle of rejection, this embodiment of supernatural forces of the creator, creation, and the created combined to produce the evil that left Pecola Breedlove barren and unable to know how or why.
Toni Morrison treated community and identity differently in her second novel, Sula than in The Bluest Eye. Morrison s Sula ruminated on community values, detailing Medallion s residents interactions among themselves, and with the exterior, white community. In the novel, the characters espoused dissimilar notions of individual and communal responsibility because of their personal preferences and the impact of their past experiences. Literary critic Deborah McDowell, maintained that “Sula is rife with liberating possibilities in that it transgresses all deterministic oppositions”. The discontinuity among the characters’ mentalities allowed for numerous literary and sociological interpretations. (McDowell, 79)
To evaluate the controversy between the self and society in Sula, it was necessary to analyze the roots of the Bottom’s mentality, to discuss racism’s impact on the community, and to determine one person’s ability to subvert a community’s value system. Moreover, the novel displayed how authority figures implemented regulations that embraced black people generally and black women specifically. A society’s value system resembles not only the residents’ personal morals, but also the impact of exterior influences. (Stein, 146)
At the beginning of Sula, Morrison focused on the Bottom’s history to present racism’s latent effects. For example, she explained the outcome of a freed slave’s business deal with his master: “The nigger got the hilly land, where planting was backbreaking … and where the wind lingered all through the winter” (Morrison, 3). Because the master duped his slave, the Bottom becomes “a nigger joke,” leaving the residents with only the satisfaction of knowing that “they could literally look down on the white folks.” (Morrison, 5)
In the first, undated chapter, Morrison also detailed the Bottom’s destruction, noting that “generous funds” contributed to razing the Time and a Half Pool Hall and Irene’s Palace of Cosmetology. Critic, Karen Stein wrote that “This destruction, which sets the tone for the novel’s hovering doom, is both example and symbol of the steady erosion that the black community and its members suffer…the black community is vulnerable to the white society’s exploitative self-aggrandizement” (Stein, 147). By choosing golf, a form of recreation that middle to upper class whites would have participated in at the time Morrison sets the novel, she hinted at the economic forces that subdued Medallion. Additionally, Morrison omitted a time frame for the chapter, suggesting that those actions occurred everywhere. Also, the textual proximity of the community’s birth and death revealed that the Bottom advanced gradually. Although slavery ended in name, the institution persisted in new forms that conquered the black community.
Because white people’s thoughts and actions lingered in the back of the Medallion residents’ minds, they united to form a sense of “cultural identity.” Medallion’s social consciousness derived from their reaction to racism and to the influence of patriarchal control. Therefore, the community developed a series of social norms. Eva and Jude’s attempts to obtain security, for example, mitigated their dolesome notions, exemplifying the types of conformity that occurred in Medallion. Their lives highlighted the perpetual presence of patriarchal authority in Medallion, and as a result, conformity became the means by which they made sense of the world.
To cope with BoyBoy’s desertion, Eva gradually transposed her pain into hate, but she initially placed her anger in cessation to deal with her economic state. The narrator explained, “Eva had $1.65, five eggs, three beets, and no idea of what or how to feel” (Morrison, 32). Because BoyBoy controlled the family’s funds, Eva could not sustain the family alone. Critic, Michele Pessoni wrote, “Eva (like Sula) remained to some extent a victim of the patriarchal culture that reveled in possession and oppression, allowing one person control over another’s life”. With assistance from her neighbors, the Suggs’s, Eva gathered a sufficient amount of food to nourish the family, evincing Medallion’s sense of communal interconnection. (Pessoni, 443) As Pessoni noted, the patriarchal system suppressed Eva because it permitted one person (or group) to wield complete control over an individual. (Pessoni, 446) Morrison showed expressively that Eva stayed behind with the children with no form of sustenance, except her emotions, which permitted the patriarchy to capture physical possessions and demonstrated that she could not survive alone.
As Shadrack, Jude and Eva endured the effects of white racism and economic exploitation, people other than themselves dictated their decisions. In Jude s case, before proposing to Nel, he attempted to establish himself economically. Critics, Barbara Lounsberry and Grace Ann Hovet, held that “Jude had embraced the institution of marriage as a shield to protect him from outside hurts” (Lounsberry, 126). When Shadrack opposed the government, he confronted a patriarchal force, founded on a basis of authority. In Medallion, the patriarchy prevailed, but in the form of gender roles there was a power struggle between the sexes.
Through Jude and Eva, Morrison presented the patriarchal authority’s ability to stifle a person’s innermost desires. In Shadrack’s case, he individuated himself with boisterous behavior, and the community eventually accepted his holiday, National Suicide Day, “In fact they had simply stopped remarking on the holiday because they had absorbed it into their thoughts, into their language, into their lives” (Morrison, 15). Morrison illuminated the various levels on which Shadrack influenced their lives. On January 3, couples do not marry and the sound of a cow bell becomes background music. The narrator continued, “Once the people understood the boundaries and nature of his madness, they could fit him in, so to speak, into the scheme of things” (Morrison, 15). After they pigeonholed Shadrack and identified his limits, they consented to his behavior because the end result remained predictable.
Although Shadrack’s character established the foundation for the discussion of the role of the individual and community throughout the novel, when Sula returned in “1939,” she undercut the Bottom’s community values, which resulted in a number of positive and negative effects. Most importantly, Sula showed that either / or logic contains limitations. In addition, Morrison required not only that the reader questioned his/her own personal morality, but also argued that societies were susceptible to logical fallacies for the purpose of self-righteousness.
As the community values encountered resistance from Sula, the proper relationship between an individual and her/his community became increasingly confused. Sula s relationship with Ajax, for example, conveyed a desire to develop a monogamous relationship. Committing to Ajax, nevertheless, did not mean that she dismissed her search for self and signify a capitulation to Medallion’s norms. Rather, she remained susceptible to her community’s standards, suggesting that one consistently struggled with his/her relationship to the community.
As Sula’s relationship with Ajax intensified, she clung to him: “Sula began to discover what possession was. Not love perhaps, but possession or at least the desire for it. She was astounded by so new and alien a feeling” (Morrison, 92). Before Ajax, Sula dismissed monogamy, and preached that it destroyed a woman’s identity. While arguing with her mother, Sula declared, “I don’t want to make somebody else, I want to make myself” (Morrison, 92). Eva’s retort, although directed toward her daughter, summarized Medallion’s value system: “Selfish. Ain’t no woman got no business floatin’ around without no man” (Morrison, 92). Eva asserted that Sula disregarded her responsibility as a woman, addressing her selfishness, and she noted that a woman couldn t live without a man. Thus, Sula’s lifestyle contradicted Eva’s affirmation directly. As she fell for Ajax, though, her mind became consumed with his presence, juxtaposing the real with the ideal. According to Sula, she hoped to elude the trappings of gender roles and patriarchal control. But, her feelings for Ajax flooded her mind, meaning that she was tempted by the commonplace, a life devoted to monogamy.
With Sula, Morrison seemed to create a character that displayed a doubtful relationship between individual desires and communal needs. Nevertheless, the community values also seemed to affect Nel’s sense of personal and social responsibility. After returning for New Orleans as a child, Nel proclaimed, “I’m me. I’m not their daughter. I’m not Nel. I’m me. Me. Each time she said the word there was a gathering in her like power, like joy, like fear…I want…I want to be…wonderful. Oh Jesus, make me wonderful” (Morrison 29). Yet, Morrison semantically presented Nel s proclamation as unsteady and hesitating. The patriarchal authority, as with the other characters, eventually eradicated Nel’s sense of individualism, and she finally conceded and married Jude. Nel’s reasons for marrying Jude differed from her spouse’s and evinced the continued presence of gender roles: “Except for an occasional leadership role with Sula, Nel had no aggression. Her parents had succeeded in rubbing down to a dull glow any sparkly or splutter she had” (Morrison, 83). Nel couldn t act upon her desires because the community and her parents effected her personality. Additionally, Critic, Deborah McDowell contended that Morrison, in Sula, perceived that marriage, as an institution, stagnated women. (McDowell, 82) “Because Nel’s sexuality was harnessed and only enacted within the institutions that sanction sexuality for women–marriage and family–she did not own it” (Morrison, 83). According to McDowell, when Nel accepted Medallion’s morals, she relinquished her sense of self. (McDowell, 82) Morrison drew a line between Nel and the community: “Now Nel belonged to the town and all of its ways” (Morrison, 120). Instead of becoming “me,” Nel became more of “them.” Between childhood and the time that Nel married, her sense of individuality dissipated, she no longer strove to express her personal desires. As a result, she settled for the life that society and her parents claimed was appropriate for a woman.
Certainly, Nel’s and Sula’s thoughts and actions acted as an interesting juxtaposition regarding Medallion’s value system, but once Nel married, it separated herself from Sula, who alone, of all the women of the Bottom, rejected the limits, the obligations, and restrictions, of marriage and motherhood. Viewing marriage as compound of convenience and caution, Sula avoided all ties. While her repudiation of these bonds rendered her an outcast in the eyes of her community, she perceived herself as free, and therefore able, as none of the other women were, to be honest and to experience life and self fully.
Sula determined that her sexual desires were not restricted by marriage or monogamy, and she concluded that sleeping with Jude represented “moral” behavior. When Nel chided Sula for betraying her trust, the narrator conveyed Sula’s rationale honestly: “They have always shared the affection of other people: compared how a boy kissed: what line he used with one and then the other. Marriage, apparently, had changed all of that” (Morrison, 119). Sula’s thoughts displayed utter disregard for marriage, but Morrison supported her contentions because “she [Sula] was ill-prepared for the possessiveness of the one person she felt the closest to” (Morrison, 119). With Sula, Morrison questioned the patriarchal controls that dictate a woman’s behavior.
Even though Sula destroyed Nel’s marriage, rendering her thighs “useless,” Sula’s affair with Jude and her justification enticed me to overlook the logic. In addition to invoking a moral enigma in the reader, Sula presented a convincing anti-marriage rhetoric for all women. McDowell writes, “Like so many women writers, Morrison equates marriage with the death of the female and the stagnation of the self” (McDowell, 83). Looking beyond the confines of marriage, Sula rejected not only Medallion’s patriarchal control system, but she also utilized her imagination to defend her actions.
Even though Sula’s affair with Jude ignited a conflagration of rumors, the community determined that she was the embodiment of evil before they consummated sexually. Consequently, they bonded to resist the social outcast: “Such evil must be avoided, they felt, and precautions most naturally must be taken to protect themselves from it” (Morrison 89). The community attempted to suppress the spread of Sula’s morality and established a unity among the people. Morrison explained, “Their convictions of Sula’s evil changed them in accountable yet mysterious ways. Once the source of their personal misfortune was identified, they had to protect and love one another” (Morrison, 117). “Once she [Sula] was identified as total evil, she became necessary to the Bottom as something like a moral standard, a limit marking off right from wrong” (McKee, 22). Although the community interpreted her actions as contemptuous to their morals, in reality, Sula ameliorated Medallion. Her transgressions enabled the community to understand the importance of solidarity.
In “1939,” after a number of allegations spread throughout Medallion, the community’s angst toward Sula came to fruition once they had discovered that she placed her mother in Sunnydale, deeming her a “roach” and a “bitch” (Morrison 112). Name calling, however, paled in comparison to the harsh rumors that they spread about her. The narrator commented, “They said that Sula slept with white men. It may not have been true, but it certainly could have been” (Morrison, 112). To condemn Sula, the community convoluted logic, concluding that Sula most likely committed the most horrific crime, sexual intercourse with a white man. Consequently, “Sula takes the place of evils that are absent from the Bottom, specifically the evils of racism practiced by white people” (Morrison 23). Morrison also recapitulated the motif of racism that she established (with Shadrack) at the beginning of the novel. Once again, people measured propriety and ethics, reacting to the impact of white racism. Because Medallion’s residents determined that the white community acted as the strongest source of opposition and that they embodied unfavorable characteristics, they claimed that Sula slept with the enemy, representing an unforgivable offense to the community’s morals.
Thus, Medallion’s residents accumulated circumstantial evidence against Sula. First, Teapot, son of an alcoholic mother Betty, came to Sula’s home asking for bottles. When the boy turned away from the door, he stumbled, and “Betty fell into a fit of concerned rage, of drunken motherhood…She told everybody that Sula pushed him” (Morrison, 114). After the incident with Sula, Betty “became the most devoted mother: clean, sober, industrious” (Morrison, 114). Sula’s mere presence lead to the alteration of Betty’s reputation. Because Betty rescued her son from Sula, the community viewed her in a completely different light; they disregard her faults, rendering her a concerned mother who respected the community’s morals. Even though Betty’s reputation improved, in reality, she remained an alcoholic. Medallion’s residents, once again, encountered the juxtaposition of image and reality, permitting the physical world to control their lives.
Throughout the novel, the patriarchal consciousness affected and influences Medallion’s moral code. In some instances, Sula overcame these boundaries. However, in other situations, the community values stagnated her ability to maintain her individuality. Without question, Sula’s repudiation of the prevailing value system insulted the residents, undercutting their notions of security and showing that questioning authority comes with repercussions. But both Sula and the community must have endured the consequences of her rebellious nature.
In “1965,” Nel returned to Medallion, discovering that “They were so different, these young people. So different from the way she remembered them” (Morrison, 163). But one aspect of community life prevailed, the emphasis on unity. The narrator noted, “White people didn’t fret about putting their old one’s away. It took a lot of black people to let them go” (164). The narrator s commentary provided one of the few instances in Sula where the tone shifted overtly in favor of black life. Because the narrator assessed the white and black community with an either / or conclusion, it appeared that Western rhetoric continued to influence the residents.
Sula’s search for personal satisfaction and her attempts to overcome Medallion’s social norms showed instances and the repercussions of searching for truth. The more Sula opposed mainstreamed morals, the more she found herself on the outside of the community. In the process, Sula’s reputation, even though she never attained a position of high status, suffered greatly. Her sacrifice, however, proved figuratively that communities not only come together to formulate generalized morals, but also that human beings would fight steadfastly to protect their beliefs.
Toni Morrison s Tar Baby, was a novel written about contentions and conflicts based on learned biases and prejudices. Those biases existed on many different levels including a race level, gender level and a class level. The central conflict, however, was the conflict within one main character, Jadine. One critic has referred to her as a race traitor. (LaVallee) A race traitor 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. (LaVallee)
The first of the contentions in the novel is that of race. Prejudice existed between the white and black people in the house; between the black people of the house; the black people and the local people. Sydney and Ondine Childs, the Cook and Butler in the house of rich, white Valerian Street, felt superior to the local black people. Sydney remarked twice on how he was “A genuine Philadelphia Negro” (Morrison, 284). Part of this feeling of superiority might have been class-related. The Childs’ were very proud of their positions in the Street house, they were industrious and hardworking. The Dominique blacks were to them “swamp women” or “horsemen, depersonalized figures. This was most apparent in their ignorance of their help’s names, they dubbed Gideon, Therese, and Alma Estee “Yardman” and “the Mary’s.” At Christmas dinner Valerian added titles calling them “Therese the Thief and Gideon the Get Away Man.” (Morrison, 201). Unrevealed to Sydney and Ondine, Gideon and Therese also nicknamed them with added titles, naming Ondine “Machete hair,” Sydney as “Bow-tie” also Therese contemptuously called Jadine “Fast ass” whereas Gideon denoted her as “the yalla.” Ondine and Sydney thought “Mary” did not listen to them out of inattentiveness, whereas in reality Therese intentionally refused to speak to them and “never even to acknowledged the presence of the white Americans” (Morrison111). A contention also existed between Ondine and the white lady of the house, Margaret, whom Ondine had dubbed “Principal Beauty of Maine.” Margaret, in return, dubbed Sydney and Ondine “Kingfish and Beulah.” Son added to the “name-game” by calling Valerian “Tarzan.” “Son,” itself, was a nickname for Willie. The white people of the house felt superior, and later threatened by, the blacks. Margaret was a prejudiced white woman, a veritable stereotype. She argued that “Ondine, if not all colored people, was just as good as they were,” but “she didn’t believe it” (Morrison, 59). When Son was discovered in her bedroom closet she went into near hysterics. Margaret felt no remorse at calling or thinking of Son as a “nigger in the woodpile”, a “gorilla”, or a “boy.” Because he was a black man in her closet she thought he intended to rape her. He had masturbated on her clothes and shoes, and gone as far as thinking, “now this nigger he let in this real live dope addict ape” (Morrison, 87). So, the character of Margaret spewed out every racist clich in the book.
It was not surprising that the white lady of the house felt prejudice toward the black man found in her closet. What was fascinating, however, was Morrison’s depiction of how Sydney and Ondine reacted to the man, revealing their own prejudices. Sydney was ready to shoot Son where he stood, suspecting him of being a thief, killer, or a “wife-raper” (Morrison, 99). Ondine, who at various times called Son “that thieving Negro” (Morrison, 89), “the jailbird” (Morrison, 190), “a swamp nigger” (Morrison, 191) and “no-count Negro” (Morrison, 193), felt that the “man upstairs wasn’t a Negro-meaning one of them. He was a stranger” (102). Thus when she called him “nigger” she did not mean the term in a familiar, inclusive way.
Jadine’s reaction to Son was the most revealing. Her reaction gave her the title of the “racial traitor.” “Central to the race traitor idea is the disassociation from and racist perspective on the traitor’s race of ethnic group.” (LaVallee) At the sight of his “Wild, aggressive, vicious hair” (113) she immediately classified son as a criminal. In her room she assumed that Son wanted to rape her. Jadine said, “you rape me and they’ll feed you to the alligators. Count on it, nigger. You good as dead right now.” “Rape? Why you little white girls always think somebody’s trying to rape you?”"White?” She was startled out of fury. “I’m not you know I’m not white!”"No? Then why don’t you settle down and stop acting like it.” (Morrison, 121) In that scene Jadine had rejected her heritage and culture, Son obvisously saw that in her. She knew herself to be inauthentic when she saw a woman in yellow with tar colored skin, “that woman’s woman-that mother/sister/she; that unphotographable beauty” (Morrison, 46). The woman recognized Jadine’s inauthenticity and spit at her in spite. Jadine, who alternately called herself Jade, appreciated Picasso over Itumba masks, “Ave Maria” over gospel music. Critic, Karin Luisa Badt said, “Jadine had so willingly embraced white culture that she had become, literally, its cover model.” (Badt) Gideon warned son against the possibility that Jadine might be out of his reach. Unmindful of the warning and ominously in love, Son wanted to rescue Jadine from the white world and bring her back to Eloe and the history it stood for. He attempted “to breathe into her the smell of tar and its shiny consistency” (Morrison, 102). Jadine started on the path toward being “unprofaned” in her relationship with Son. Jadine, on the other hand, wanted to rescue Son from what she perceived to be his “white-folks-black-folks primitivism” (Morrison, 275). She attempted to “culture” and educate him and wanted to ask Valerian for money to pay for a store for the two of them, or for Son’s education. Son refused to be in debt to “one of the killers of the world” (Morrison, 204). A trip to Eloe where Aunt Rosa called Jadine her “daughter” and where the night-women visited her proved too much for Jadine. I think that critic, Karin Badt explained best, why the journey the Eloe proved too much for Jadine. She said that Jadine feared being cast as a representative of her race and joining its fraternity. She also said that Jadine rejected the ancient properties of the African people that Son, the African woman, and the night women who visit Jadine in a dream embodied. (Badt) During a final confrontation Jadine felt that she was fighting not Son but the night women who had seduced him. The argument was over Valerian and education. Son told Jadine that Valerian owed her the education, considering that he had “shit all over your uncle and aunt ” (Morrison, 263). Still refusing to see the truth, Jadine defended Valerian. Son finally saw Jadine for who she really was. He renounced Jadine’s actions and words as Eurocentric. Son renounced Jadine’s previous plans to marry a white man by saying: “People don’t mix races; they abandon them or pick them” (Morrison, 270). He told Jadine the truth about who put her through school, and about Ondine’s feet. He spoke of Jadine’s responsibility and how appalled he was when Jadine deserted them after the Christmas Eve fight. Son saw Jadine, her rejection of her native culture as well as of her family, and was filled by a desperate rage. He raped her while telling her the story of the Tar Baby. He was shamed afterward by Jadine who gave him “his original dime.” He left and upon his return found the apartment empty. Jadine escaped to Isle des Chevaliers where she rejected her family and culture one final time. Ondine told her that “A daughter is a woman that cares about where she come from and takes care of them that took care of her” (Morrison, 242). Jadine replied that she did not want to become like Ondine, a grave insult to the woman who gave her all to this ungrateful girl. This story was not just about preserving one’s cultural heritage, but also about maturity. In the end of the novel, As Jadine left with her black baby-seal “killer” coat, Ondine and Sydney doubted that she would even bury them. Jadine proved just how little she had learned when she called the new help “the mulatto with a leer” (Morrison, 225) and called Alma Estee “Mary.” She was truly the Race-Traitor. Therese knew that Jadine was lost, calling her a descendant of the “blind race.” She also knew how to detach Brer Rabbit (Son) from Jadine, the “Tar Baby.” She left Son on the far side of Isle des Chevaliers where he had a choice, where he could be free. “Lickety-Split” the sound both of the rabbit and of the horsemen signifies Son’s freedom in the end. Though one was lost to history, the other could carry the heritage of the black man. After extensively researching The Bluest Eye, Sula and Tar Baby, I have come to the realization that Morrison had intended to present problems of identity and community in her works instead of their answers. Her work led me to ponder about struggles that even we, in the twentieth century are still struggling to answer. Her work always included a simple story, which became increasingly complex, mythic, beyond solution, but always taught me a lesson that I needed to know.