Sciences sociales et humaines
Men's power and the rhetoric of black women's
Visibility in Toni Morrison's Tar Baby
Komla Messan Nubukpo
Ph.D. Université du Bénin -
Lomé, Togo.
too stereotypical - created solely to demonstrate the clash of
class and culture". The novel records the implications of Son's
In their everyday lives, the women in Toni Morrison's fic-
goal in Iife and how this goal affects psychologically his rela-
tion expose the reality of a situation whereby the discrepancy
tionships with people around him. Throughout it, material pos-
between what men think of themselves and what women per-
sessions are processed into a source of power for whoever owns
ceive them as, highlights the power that men have and what
use they put it to. As far as the representation of black men
This study purports to show on the one hand that the ability
goes, the originality of Tar Baby (1981) in the work of its author
to control and silence others, in the context of Tar Baby, is asso-
lies in the contrast between Son the man, and Jade the woman
ciated with men in general and the white man in particular. And
he is made to team up with. The plot brings together a black
on the other hand it means to establish that since every powerful
man with very Iittle formaI education and a highly ambitious
man has his social position enhanced by a wom~n who depends
professional black woman. No wonder it appears to Darwin
on him for her self-fuI filment, a man who fails to make it
T. Turner (1984) that "when one compares Tar Baby with
becomes an oddity and a source of embarrassment for the woman
Morrison's earlier works, Jadine and Son seem too ordinary,
in his Iife, especially if the latter happens to be career-oriented.
T arBabyissetonasmallCaribbeanislandcalledl'Arbre "Aman"or"Ablackman".Whenscrutinizedagainsttheback-
de la Croix where Valerian Street, a retired white indus-
ground of the dramatic irony exhibited by the omniscient
trialist, turns their summer residence into a definitive
narrator in the presentation of the conversation (p.78-9),
home against the will of his wife Margaret. They share their
Margaret's choice ofword reads Iike an affirmation ofher whit-
home with their two black servants, Ondine and Sidney Chi Ids,
ness - a whiteness she feels is threalened.
who have been married for several decades but have no chil-
Surprisingly enough, while Margaret is struggling to recover
dren. Valerian sponsored the education ofOndine's niece, Jadine
from the shock, Valerian makes sure that the intruder is treated
(Jade in short), both in America and in France, where she
as a member of the household. As a matter of fact Valerian's
studied art and modeling.
reception of Son takes everybody by surprise: "Good evening,
When food starts disappearing from the basement, the butler
sir. Would you care for a drink 7" Apparently Toni Morrison
Sidney first blames it ail on rats. One night, though, Margaret,
is about creating a very Iiberal white man. By having this unexe-
who hardly gets along with her husband, retires to her room
pected reaction, Valerian expresses the type of attitude he would
only to find a black man with dreadlocked hair sitting in her
Iike to have toward the intruder. Margaret's fear, in the author's
doset. "She stood in the doorway screaming, first at Valerian
description, is counterbalanced by her husband's self-confi-
and then at Jadine, who rushed to her side" (p.78).
dence. By allowing the stranger to stay in the house Valerian
has created the necessary space where important actions are to
Before allowing Son into the picture, the author makes sure
take place in the future. For one thing, the coming together
that Margaret is percei ved by the reader as a frail person
of the black man and Jadine is made easier thanks to the
incapable of defending herse If. Her helplessness is further
landlord's move. It takes the newcomer long to reveal his iden-
stressed as "She (... ) balled her beautiful hands into fists and
tity : at first ail we know is that he calls himself Son, is ori-
pummeled her own temples, screaming louder" (p.78). This
ginally from the West Indies, and lived in the United States for
white woman who is a romantic combination of frailty and
many years.
beauty proves unable to name what she just discovered in
her doset, and when she eventually manages to whisper "Black"
In terms of the representation of males, Tar Baby, more than
- with "her eyes shut tight" (p.79) - nobody understands her.
any other previous novel of Toni Morrison is fraught with plu-
Many a woman, under similar circumstances, would have said
rifaceted characters whose various images are the const~ucts .
Rev. CAMES - Série B, vol. 00, 1998

Sciences sociales et humaines
of the consciousnesses around them. Soon after, Son is dis-
home. SO... " Vou don't need no visa to go home.
covered in the house and is asked to stay - to be consequently
Vou a citizen, ain't you?" "Weil, 1use another name.
waited upon by a reluctant Sidney - the latter overhears a conver-
1 mean 1 don't want nobody checking me out". "Take my
sation between rus wife and the stranger in the kitchen. He steps
advice. Clean your life up" (p. 162-3).
in and the long argument that takes place between the two men
This passage dramatizes three male images. However the autho-
is most revealing:
ritarian Sidney Childs, who is seeking to take over from his
"What are you doing in my place?" Ondine held up a
employer Valerian Street in order to deal with Son properly,
hand. "He came to apologize, Sidney." Son moved aside
occupies a strategic position in the narrator's technique of expo-
so he would not be standing between them and said,
sition. The author establishes the character's authority by empha-
"yes, Sir..." "Anything you got to say to me or to my wife,
sizing two facts. He is black and he has been working for -
you say it somewhere else. Vou are not invited in here".
and living with - a white man for quite a long time. He the-
"It was Jadine", Son began. "She suggested ..." "Jadine
refore feels qualified to articulate what Valerian and Son are
can't invite you in here, only 1can do that. And let me tell
about. Even Ondine is not allowed to question her husband's
you something now. If this was my house, you would
claim. The irony of the situation is that the part of the house he
have a bullet in your head. Right there". And he pointed
wants to keep Son away from, is the kitchen. Hunger forced
to a spot between Son's eyebrows. "You can tell it's not
Son into the house. So, he needs the kitchen, if only meta-
my house because you are still standing upright. But this
phoricallJ Sidney's intention to symbolically starve the stranger
here is". He pointed a finger at the floor. "Mr Childs, you
finds expression in his threat to Son's life. Because Sidney
have to understand me. 1was surprised as anybody
regards himself as an authority on both Blacks and Whites
when he asked me to stay -" Sidney interrupted him
he needs no explanation from a fellow Black to understand the
again."You have been lurking around here for days, and
latter's motives. The colourfullanguage in which the author
a suit and a haircut don't change that". "l'am not trying
has him dismiss Son's own reasons for being in the house both
to change it. l'm trying to explain it. 1 was in some trouble
underlines Sidney's self-proclaimed position as the ultimate
and Ileft my ship. 1couldn't just knock on the door".
"Don't hand me that mess. Save it for people who don't
custodian of the truth and obliquely conveys Valerian's igno-
know better. Vou know what l'm talking about, you was
rance about Blacks. As the conversation moves on, Morrison
upstairs!" "1 was wrong, okay ? l'm guilty of being hungry
creates two contradictory images of Valerian, with each of the
and l'm guilty of being stupid, but nothing else. He knows
two black men trying to promote one.
that. Your boss knows that, why don't you know it ?"
Evidently, Son is judging Valerian as an individual and on
"Because you are not stupid and Mr Street don't know
the basis of a specific, punctual decision about him, whereas
nothing about you. White folks play with I\\legroes.
Sidney sees his boss just as the representative of a whole
It entertained him, that's ail, inviting you to dinner.
race. "White folks play with Negroes", he says. The othèr irony
He don't give a damn what it does to anybody else.
is that the more Son tells Sidney about himself, the more
Vou think he cares about his wife ? That you scared his
convinced Sidney is of knowing the intruder's nature. Sidney,
wlfe ? If it entertained him, he'd hand her to you !"
in the narrator's view, regards himself as an expert on human
"Sidney!" Ondine was frowning. "It's true!" (Sidney insists)
nature. He can read people's souls and tell whatever they are
"You know him ail this time and you think that ?" She
asked him. "You tell me", he answered. "You ever see
about, although he remains a secret to them: "1 know you
him worry over her?" Ondine did not answer. "No. Vou
but you don't know me". And he holds both the power and
don't. And he don't worry over us neither. What he wants
the authority that legitimate his knowledge as a birthright.
is for people to do what he says do. Weil, it may be his
He is a Philadelphia Negro, i.e. one of the "emancipated" career
house but 1live here too and 1don't want J'QJl around!"
- oriented Blacks whose "case" was studied by W.E.B.DuBois
Sidney turned back to Son, pointing at him again.
in his famous book The Philadelphia Negro. B~ing from that
"Mr Childs", Son spoke softly but c1early, "you don't have
class alone - as Toni Morrison ironically has the character
to be worried over me either". "But 1 am. Vou the kind of
believe - is a sign of cleverness and, as a result, no explanation
man that does worry me. Vou had a job, you chucked it.
from Son can ever convince him of the good faith of the stranger.
Vou got in some trouble, you say, so you just run off.
As a matter of fact, one may understandably imagine that after
Vou hide, you live in secret, underground, surface when
drilling certain ideas into his boss about Blacks, SjJlney is afraid
you caught. 1 know you, but you don't know me. 1am a
Philadelphia Negro mentioned in the book of the very
that Son might promote another "black" image that could affect
same name. My people owned drugstores and taught
Sidney's life around Valerian. From Son's perspective, Valerian
school while yours were still cutting their faces open so
Street is caring and understanding, and the record of his actions
as to tell one of you from the other. And if you looking to
suggests on his behalf a fairly liberal stand on racial issues. But
live off the fat of the land, and if you think l'm going to
as a Philadelphia Negro who knows better, Sidney thinks
wait on you, think twice! He'lI lose interest in you faster
that on account ofValerian's race the latter belongs to a fixed
than you can blink. Vou already got about ail you can out
category of people. Once the basic idea is posited that Whites
of this place: a suit and some new shoes. Don't get ano-
play with Blacks, the butler's next move is to account for his
ther idea in your head". ''l'm leaving, Mr Childs. He said
boss's current difference as far as treating a stranger as a human
he'II help me get a visa - something - so 1can get back
being is concerned. It may be true that Valerian derives plea-
Rev. CAMES - Série B, vol. 00, 1998

Sciences sociales et humaines
sure from inviting Son to dinner but his character as seeo by
gical strength that it takes to fee1 a regular member of any com-
Sidney consistently appears sustained by a self-centeredness
munity of human beings. A human being without any rites
that affects even Valerian's married life. He cares about nobody
is, in actual fact, entitled to no rights, and Son confirms this by
but himself. Ondine's "You know him ail this time and you
joining, for the first eight years of his life in America, "that
think that?" raises a lot of questions about the accuracy of
great underc1ass ofundocumented men". Throughout his early
her husband's view of Valerian. She uses the observation to set
American years, Son is depicted as a non-entity. Oddly enough,
the record straighl. Her contributionconsequently underlines
his realization of his "ritelessness" does not lead him to facing
the importance of a feminine input whose function in the
his helplessness. He does not surrender to .the fact that he is
definition of the "object" under depiction consists not only
exc1uded from the society; instead, the author makes him crea-
in balancing out a masculine position but most of ail in huma-
tively transform what should be regarded as a handicap into
nizing the image eventually obtained. It is this humanized image
a source of power that can sustain him in the expression of
of Valerian in his relationship with Blacks that prevails until
his difference. In his opinion, something is wrong with rites.
he decides to fire Gideon, the yardman.
And he has always wanted "another way". Such a choice c1early
conflicts with many previous representations of black men,
The meaning of Valerian Street in Tar Baby is crucial to the
especially in the fiction of black male writers. In Ralph Ellison,
understanding of mos! of the other characters in the novel.
Richard Wright, James Baldwin and many others, black men
He owns a mansion and employs many people. Those are well-
overtly wish to experience the "human rites" in order to qua-
known symbols ofwealth, and in Morrison's fiction wealth has
Iify to fit into American society. These writers seem to take
al ways been depicted as a metaphor for power: Valerian is
it to mean that "rites" are what the American literary critic
an achiever who, by virtue of what he owns, has a lot of power
Sacvan Bercovitch refers to as "the forms and strategies of cul-
at his disposaI. In a totally different context a critic made the
tural continuity" (1993 : p. 30). In his confrontation with Jadine
point that "... power is expressed in the monopolization of space
- a woman who most c1early believes in rites - Son is, at first,
and the relagation ofweaker groups in society to less desirable
perceived as a lazy elemenl. The fact of the matter is that as
environments" (Sibley : 1995; p. ix). This observation applies
the pieces of the puzzle of his life progressively fall into place,
ail the more to Son and Valerian as the latter feels free to
he appears as someone who does believe in rites as long as they
welcome whomever he wants in his house. In other words,
can serve his immediate purposes. He marries, in his own words,
as a wealthy man, he has the power to control, dictate and mani-
"that crazy nurse woman" (p. 156) because he needs an
pulate. lronicallyenough, he is not often allowed by the author
American passport ; he learns to read and write but refuses
to use that power. Valerian's authority is very often undermined,
to inform his employers about his educational ski Ils for fear
if not openly questioned, by his employees. To sorne extent,
that they might give him too much responsibility on the job.
the first time he actually uses his power is when he fires Gideson
and, unsurprisingly, his decision sparks off only hostility around
During his argument with Jadine - or rather their long discussion
him. Gidson's dismissal is a turning point in the depiction of
(p.113-24) that eventually degenerates into a hot argument -
Valerian's character. By having the yardman fired by his boss
different facets of the character are exposed by the author thanks
for stealing a few apples, the author creates a circumstance that
to the scrutiny of his interlocutor. What soon appears to be
forces Son - among other characters - to reassess his percep-
a salient aspect of his personality is a categorical rejection
tion of his benefactor. That a man of Valerian's wealth could
of material wealth and the paths that lead to il. As a result, Jade
take such an action against a poor worker is beyond Son's
appears as the living symbol ofwhat he must keep away from.
But behind her formai education, her travels abroad, her expen-
sive clothes and her perspectives on life, what Son sees is
The representation of this rich, Iiberal White is the first full
the haunting soul of Valerian. The narrator's view is that he has
length portrayal of a white male by Toni Morrison. The tech-
held Jade hostage ail her life by providing the conditions that
niques used by the author to depict him inc1ude both letting the
made her what she now is. Son's psychological confusion,
character's actions speak for themselves and allowing, at the
at this stage, is sustained by his attraction to a black woman
same time, Blacks from his entourage to generate a discourse
whose values, he seems to imaginne, are actually opposed
that aims to underline the impact of white presence on their
to his. He first manages to take an excited interest in her career
everyday lives. In Tar Baby, there is an overt sense of com-
as a model in Paris because this strategy seems to be the best
mitment to re-evaluating old, received ideas in light of new
one if he is to know more about Jadine.
experiences. In this respect, one can see many striking simi-
When the author eventually decides to have Son's "real" self
larities between the ways both Valerian and Son are repre-
emerge as Jade imagines it, at first it shows itself in his repeated
use of a certain four-Ietter word. His consistent use ofthis lan-
Son is said to be "a man without human rites ... " and what
guage - a semantically charged representation ofwhat he thinks
fol1ows is an incomplete list ofthose deficiencies: unbaptized,
about her - provokes revulsion in her later on when he decides
uncircumcised, unmarried, undivorced, propertyless, home-
to talk to her in a more direct way. The Sorbonne graduate
less, etc. Once again, the black man in Morrison's fiction is
quickly notices the difference in their backgrounds and the res-
posited in terms of what he is not or what he lacks. Now
ponse she receives ("Goddam") to her question "Don't you have
those rites are extremely important in the sense that they al one
any other word to express awe?" (p.117) confirms her fear.
can provide any individual with the appropriate psycholi-
herself reminds
10 1
Rev. CAMES - Série B, vol. 00, 1998

Sciences sociales et humaines
whether silenced or monologistic, whether repressed or repres-
acts defensive enough for the reader to assume that she doubts
sing, seek meaning in the language and images available to
her own blackness. As Tudier Harris puts it: "Through edu-
them" (in Lashgari : 1995, pA).
cation, severing of connnection to black people, and general
disposition, Jadine is "white". She has traded a cultural heri-
What Jade does not realise, though, is how disconnected Son
tage for what she considers the finer things oflife ..." (1984 :
feels from her and whatever she stands for. This gap is pro-
p. 153). The second stage of Jadine's anger as imagined by
gressively bridged. The first stage is Son's insinuation that
the author is therefore provoked by what she regards as Son's
for Jade to be so successful a model in Europe, she has to have
been a prostitute in the Old World :
Jadine jumped away from the desk and leaned forward
Despite this aggressiveness openly expressed by both par-
trying to kill him with her fists while her mind raced to
ties, Son and Jade are pulled together by external forces. It
places in the room where there might be a poker or a
is a fact that Son's coming to L'Arbre de la Croix caused
vase or a sharp pair of shears.
Valerian's household to split into man y factions. Only Valerian
He turned his head a little but did not raise his arms to
himself "liked" the intruder right from the beginning. And yet,
protect himself. Ali he had to do was what he did: stand
as time passes by, Jade becomes sensitive to what Son is per-
up and let his height put his face and head out of her
ceived as. When Margaret at the very beginning dare not call
easy reach. She stretched nonetheless trying to tear the
him "nigger", evidently because she thinks Jade might take
whites fram his eyes. He caught both her wrists and
offence at the word, the latter swiftly makes her white friend
crossed them in front of her face.She spit full in his face
feel comfortable calling a spade a spade. Later on, though, when
but the saliva fell on the C of his pajama top. Her gold-
Margaret says Son looks like a gorilla, a sudden change occurs
thread slippers were no good for kicking- but she kicked
in the black woman: "Jadine's neck prickled at the description.
anyhow. He uncrossed her wrists and swung her araund,
She had volunteered nigger - but not gorilla"(p. 129). Toni
holding her fram behind in the vise of his arms.
Morrison is putting Margaret in the category of Whites who
His chin was in her hair (p. 120-1).
see Blacks as animaIs. To their conception Morrison opposes
This image of the black man who stands tall and cool in front
Jade's outlook. From the foregoing example and many more,
- metaphorically - of the threat represented by the black woman
one may conclude that throughout rar Baby the character
is even taken one step further. Son does not strike back. Instead,
Son - or more precisely the representation of it - functions
the final scene of the segment ("His chin was in her hair") sug-
as a literary device used by the author to hold the various
gests a romantic involvement initiated by the man. By meeting
episodes of the story together. His very presence in the house
female adversity with male love the author presents Son not as
has generated between the members of the household a dia-
an enemy any more but rather as a potential friend and/or a pro-
Iectic that has left himself unchanged. In the description of
tector of Jade.
Son's psychological condition from the moment he jumps ship
The new situation generates only frustration in Jadine because
to when he gets caught in Margaret's room, a recurrent motif
the fight she has just started is actually meant to provide the
is his preoccupation with everything but women. Over and over
appropriate outlet to her anger. No wonder that she misreads
again, the point is made that "He had not fol1owed the women".
Son's loving gesture. "You rape me and they will feed you
But after sleeping for a few nights in Margaret's room a change
to the alligators. Count on it, nigger"(p.121). Whatever the
starts taking place in him.
reason behind this misreading, the message has the merit of
bringing up, once again, the worn out stereotypicàl image of
the black man as a rapis!. It seems important to note that
there exists an important scholarship by an increasing number
offers the authoranother opportunity to elaborate more
ofblack women which tends to insist that rape and sexual deni-
on Son's personal beliefs and attitudes which are dearly
gration become an issue only if the victim is white (Hooks :
articulated in his life story. The narration is basically made
1981; Harris: 1984; Giddings : 1984; Jarret-Macauley : 1996;
by the character himself and Jadine's contribution consists
Mullings: 1997). Read against such a background, Son's res-
of questions that her interlocutor cannot evade. As was sug-
ponse "Why you little white girls always think somebody's
gested earlier on, everyone Son interacts with has his or her
trying to rape you?" (p.121) is more than ironical. By assuming
own mental representation of him. One consequence, there-
in his question that aIl rapists are black and that ail rape vic-
fore, of Son's "confession" to Jade is that her new image of him
tims are white the author clearly questions Jade's "blackness"
is informed by knowledge no other person in Valerian's house
and puts Son in the position of an arrogant man who thinks
has access to. She is doser than anybody else to the center that
he knows what it takes to be a black woman. For some time
holds the various images of Son together because she knows
now, black women have been consistently denying black
the "truth". And the truth is that he is a murderer on the run.
men the right to define black womanhood.
He killed by accident his unfaithful girlfriend and her tee-
nage lover. And after narrating such a story, he simply pro-
The way they see it, for a black man to daim that he can
ceeds to tell her "1 w'on't kill you. 1 love you" (p. 177).
tell a black woman what she is or ought to be instead of just
contributing a male input toward black women's self definition
But Morrison makes sure his love has some difficulty growing.
is to treat black women like immature children. However, Jade
The first major crisis takes place when Valerian fires two of
Rev. CAMES - Série B, vol. 00, 1998

Sciences sociales et humaines
his house-servants - qideon the gardener and his wife Therese-
are important and respectable. To reverse the trend, as Son
for stealing his apples. Not only is the news broken while
is made to see it, is to define the terms of a new dialogue
the "family" is having a large Christmas meal but in addi-
between the "haves" and the "have-nots". The notion of fra-
tion Jadine unexpectedly sides with her old "patron" against
ternity which, at first, suggests the coming together of the
the unfortunate two:
exploited poor in general quickly fades into something similar
Valerian at the head of his Christm astable, looked at the
to the Black Brotherhood in Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man.
four black people; ail but one he knew extremely weil, ail
Most of the issues he raises force Valerian to make sure that
but one, and even that one was in his debt. Accross from
he (Valerian) keeps in control in his own house. The rhe-
him at the bottom of the table sat Son who thought he
toric they both engage in aims, in the case of Valerian, to main-
knew themall very weil too, except one and that one was
tain unchallenged the power he knows he has whereas in the
escaping out of his hands, and that one was doing the
case of Son it aims to dismantle the very foundation of that
bidding of her boss and "patron". Keeping the dinner
going smoothly, quietly chastising everybody including
power. Viewed against this background, Ondine's rebellion
her own uncle and aunt, soothing Margaret, aqreeing
against her employer becomes the artistic expression of Son's
with Valerian and calling Gideon Yardman ana never
influence. He wishes Jadine also were influenced by him.
taking the trouble to know his name and never calling his
Unfortunately, ail he can remember her doing throughout
own name out loud.
the whole debate is "... watching her pour his wine, Iistening
He looked at Valerian and Valerian looked back. The
to her take his part, trying to calm Ondine and Sidney to his
evening eyes met those of the man with the savannas in
his face. The man who respected industry looked over a
satisfaction". Ali things considered, Jadine to him looks just
gulf at the man who prized fraternity (p. 204-5).
like a replica of Valerian. But in addition to whatever she
has in common with her "patron", she is perceived by the author
A similarity is created by the author between Sidney and
- at this stage of the story - to be weak and incapable of stan-
Valerian. Just as Sidney claims that he knows White folks
ding on her own feet. Jade is disconnected from the black com-
as weil as black people, so is Valerian portrayed as some-
munity and the little visjbility that she can exhibit is sus-
body knowledgeable about the people in his house. At the same
tai ned by Valerian alone. Tt therefore makes sense to sug-
time, his hospitable treatment of Son, in retrospect, is presented
gest that "The novel serves to indict a culture and an educa-
as a calIously calculated strategy destincd to cripple Son psy-
tion" (Hawthorne: 1988, p. 103).
chologically. Even the locations of Valerian and Son facing
each other at the Christmas dinner table con vey the sense
Son has internalised the basic principles of the male culture he
that Valerian is in the stronger position. By creating a gap
was born into and which taught him - among other things -
between the men on the one hand and on the other hand, by
to be protective of women. In a moment of introspection he
making one cherish industry and the other one fraternity, the
therefore assesses his duty to Jadine in the light of his inter-
author once again creates focused characters and seems to imply
pretation of that culture:
that the y cannot reach out and touch each other. Their first
(U)nderneath her efficiency and know-it- ail that were
attempt to do tbat was, understandably, short-Iived. Once the
wind chi mes. I\\line rectangles of crystal, rainbowed in
deceiving liberal appearance at first exhibited by Valerian is
the light. Fragile pieces of glass tinkling as long as the
breeze was gentle. But in more vigorous weather the
shattered by his own deeds (seen mostly from Son's perspec-
thread that held it together would snap.
tive), he becomes vulnerable to somebody Iike Son who has
50 it would be his dutY to keep the climate mild for her,
been waiting for the first opportunity to strike. When he does
to hold back with his hand if need be thunder, drought
strike, the presentation of the two men's states of mind is made
and ail manner of winterkill, and he would blow with
in a more expressive way as soon as they start talking to each
his lips a gentle enough breeze for her to tinkle in. The
bird-like defencelessness he had loved while she slept
other. In fact, when Son does verbalIy attack his host, the resul-
and saw when she took his hand on the stairs was his
ting ideological confrontation between the boss and the intruder
to protect.
c\\e.arly indicates that they do not belong together.
This rhetoric of femalc frailty that needs a male presence to
The expression by Son of his difference triggers off the rest
lean against does not draw any clear-cut distinctions between
of the action. The situation is very welI summed-up during the
the physical, the emotional, and the psychological. Il therefore
argument in Valerian's uterance: "1 am being questioned by
makes too many demands on Son. If he is to guarantee Jade
these people as if 1 could be called into question!" (p. 208).
every kind of protection, he has to make sure first of ail that he
The author is having Valerian verbalise what everyone knew
himself is psychologically stable. And he is not. The narrator's
alI along: he owns everything and provides for everyone in his
evaluation of the internaI turmoil experienced by the character
house. He respects industry and the dominant culture and, thanks
is ilIuminating to that effect:
to the shift of voice, Morrison insists that he does not think
For if he loved and lost this woman whose sleeping face
it necessary for him to respect poor people. AlI things consi-
was the limits his eyes cou Id safely behold and whose
dered Gideon becomes an important part of the narrative
wakened face threw him into confusion, he would sure
only when he is no longer in the picture - physicalIy spea-
lose the world. 50 he made himself disgusting to her.
king. And the task of opening people's eyes to the gardener's
Insulted and offended her (p. 220).
importance has been assigned to Son. The latter knows for a
The anger which originates from the realisation of the dislemma
fact that by Valerian's standards only people who own things
is not expressed openly. It explains, though, Son 's tempo-
12 1
Rev. CAMES - Série B, vol. 00, 1998

Sciences sociales et humaines
rary decision to stop functioning from the heart as far as his
of many others and the respect that cornes with their very exis-
relationship with her goes. But he feels incapable of hating her,
tence is perceived by them as their ultimate objective in life.
which is why he tries to have her hate him instead. He pre-
fers to give her "... sufficient cause to help him keep his love
At the same time, though, the quest - among Blacks - for mate-
in chains... " (p. 220).
rial wealth invariably takes place in the context of cultural dis.-
possession. This "fact" probably accounts for Son's commit-
Their life as a couple in America is another background against
ment to "being" it as opposed to "making" it. In one way or
which another dimension of Son's character is portrayed. There
is ample evidence in the novel that, in Son's view, to help Jadine
another, Son is depicted as going through a painful process
is to help her rebel against whatever Valerian stands for.
of culture change. Ironically enough, the author consistently
Son's desire to have Jadine unlearn what it took her a whole
defines him in terms of what he does not know, or cannot
lifetime to Iearn proceeds from a philosophy of education
do, what he is not or may not offer. He is therefore confronted
that focuses on the cultivation of respect for the individual
with the dominant culture as a potentialloser. By contrast, Jade
for what he/she is and not for what he/she owns. His refusaI
like many of Morrison's black women is defined in terrns of
to join the ratrace is referred to by her as "ignorance" (p. 264).
what she can do or produce. In her relationship with Son,
Jadine, as is reiterated throughout the novel, has learned "to
her ability to manipulate and silence him has no limit.
make it in this world" (p. 264). Her insistence on the impor-
Unsurprisingly, the male "have not" is at the mercy of situa-
tance of the material and Son's point that "1 don't want to make
tions and events beyond his control. Son finds the pressure
it. l want to be it" (p. 266) are unfortunately presented as
of (married) life extremely hard to handle and copes by run-
two strictly defined and unalterable alternatives. The debate
between the two lovers sheds sorne light on the philosophie
ning away from the woman in his life only to realise that he
interpretation of the Afro-American cultural heritage as the Tar
cannot even afford to be on his own.
Baby story in the novel suggests. From Jadine's perspective,
In Morrison, the black men who choose, mainly for ideological
to stick to the black cultural tradition is to "stay in that medieval
reasons, not to believe in money become social outcasts or a
slave basket..." (p. 271) whereas for Son, joining mainstream
threat to mainstream American society. What aIl these men
American society is a nightmare. Their final break-up initiated
have in common, though, is a certain inability to go quickly
by Jade takes place as a result ofher inability to change or mani-
pulate Son.
beyond their own conceptions in order to come to grips with
the complexity of the human reality that they are part of. 0
Ali things considered, Son's divorce from the material did
not win him a stable relationship with Jadine because he was
not equipped with the appropriate psychological stength that
cou Id have el}abled him to meet her halfway by accepting
BERCOVITCH, S. (1993). The Rites of Assent. New York; Routledge.
that one can strike a balance between making it and being it
GIDDlNGS, P. (1984). Where and When 1 Enter. New York; W. MOITOw.
- whatever "being il" means. In that respect, his final deci-
sion to join her in L'Ile de la croix in order to give their love
HARRIS, T. (1984). Exorcising Blackness. Bloomington; Indiana
a second chance is simply a belated loss of innocence. By
University Press.
delaying Son's psychological maturation the author has suc-
HAWTHORNE, E. (1988) in Black American Literature Forum. Spring
ceeded in making him realise retrospectively that he gave
1988 Vol. 22 N° 1.
up a woman he loves simply "Because she had a temper, energy,
HOOKS, B. (1981). Ain't 1 a Woman. Boston, MA; South End Press.
ideas of her own and fought back" (p. 298).
JARRET.MACAULEY, D. ed. (1996) Reconstructing Womanhood,
Reconstructing Feminism. New York; Routledge.
LASHGARI, D. ed. (1995). Violence, Silence, and Anger. CharlottesviIIe;
University Press of Virginia.
As was earlier on emphasized in this study, money plays an
MULLINGS, L. (1997) On Our Own Terms. New York; Routledge.
important role in Toni Morrison's fiction. It generates a power
that is easily processed into the language spoken by the rich
MORRISON, T. (1981) Tar Baby. New York; A. A. Knopf.
to define what they want and what they think the dispos-
SIBLEY, D. (1995) Geographies of Exclusion. New York; Routledge.
sessed need. Her male characters, when wealthy like Valerian
TURNER, D.T. (1984) in Mari Evans, ed. Black Women Writers
Street, become the centre that holds together the shattered lives
(J950-1980). Garden City, N.Y.; Anchor Press.
ü Mens's power and the rhetoric of black
Le présent article traite du problème de la richesse maté-
~ women's. Visibility in Toni Morrison's Tar
E rieIle eLdu pouvoir qu'en tirent les hommes dans Tar Baby
de Toni Morrison.
This brief study deals with the issue of material wealth and
the power that men derive from it in Toni Morrison's Tar
Rev. CAMES - Série B, vol. 00, 1998