The issue of abandonment and the will that it takes to survive the hardship of it is a reoccurring theme in Toni Morrisons writing. Tar Baby, Sula and Paradise all deal with the issue of abandonment and how it relates to the characters in her stories. Through her fiction, Toni Morrison intends to present problems, not their answers (Moon). Her stated aim is to show “how to survive whole in a world where we are all of us, in some measure, victims of something. Morrison)
Morrison’s broad vision extends beyond the individual to one that explores self-discovery in relation to a “shared history. ” In order to dramatize the destructive effects of this kind of dependency, she intentionally exaggerates to find the limits. In a film interview, Morrison has stated, “I suppose that in many of my novels I tend to discuss one’s dependency on the world for identification, self-value, feelings of worth. The abandonment that it takes for one to gain these qualities is prominent in my writing.
Toni Morrison has been consistently insightful and helpful critic of her work. With regard to her novels, she has indicated that her plan was to take love and the effects of its scarcity in the world as her major themes, concentrating on the interior lives of her characters, especially those of an enclosed community. Born Chloe Anthony Wofford, on February 18, 1931, in Lorain, Ohio. The daughter of George Wofford, a shipyard welder, and his wife Ramah, Morrison was schooled by her parents in the richness of her African-American heritage and the joys of great literature.
When she entered first grade, she was the only black student in her class and also the only child who had already learned to read. Since many people couldn’t pronounce her first name correctly, she changed it to Toni, a shortened writing”. version of her middle name. She joined a repertory company, the Howard University Players, with whom she made several tours of the South. She saw firsthand the life of the blacks there, the life her parents had escaped by moving north. After graduating, Toni was offered a job at Texas Southern University in Houston, where she taught introductory English.
Unlike Howard University, where black culture was neglected or minimized, at Texas Southern they celebrated black heritage with Negro history week and introduced to her the idea of black culture as a discipline rather than just personal family reminiscences. Morrisons discovery of the minimization of the black culture in the school that she attended may be looked upon as the abandonment of her roots and her black culture. This idea of abandoning the black culture is the main theme in her novel, Tar Baby. “Tar Baby is also a name, like “nigger,” that white people call black children, black girls, as I recall.
At one time, a tar pit was a holy place, at least an important place, because tar was used to build things. It held together things like Moses’ little boat and the pyramids. For me, the tar baby came to mean the black woman who can hold things together. ” (“An Interview” 255) Toni Morrison’s Tar Baby (1982), 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. ” 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. ” Jadine’s reaction to Son is the most revealing-she is the “racial traitor. ” Andrew W. A. LaVallee writes: “Central to the race traitor idea is the disassociation from and racist perspective on the traitor’s race of ethnic group. ” At the sight of his “Wild, aggressive, vicious hair” (113) she immediately classifies him as a criminal.
In her room she assumes that Son wants to rape her: “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. ” “Oh, God,” she moaned. “Oh, good God, I think you better throw me out of the window because as soon as you let me loose I am going to kill you. For that alone. Just for that.
For pulling that black-woman-white-woman shit on me. Never mind the rest. What you said before, that was nasty and mean, but if you think you can get away with telling me what a black woman is or ought to be” “I can tell you. ” (121) This passage reveals that Jadine has abandoned her heritage and culture. She knows herself to be “inauthentic” and hollow when she sees the woman in yellow with the tar-colored skin–” that woman’s woman-that mother/sister/she; that unphotographable beauty” (46). The woman recognizes Jadine’s inauthenticity and spits at her in spite.
Jadine, who alternately calls herself Jade, appreciates Picasso over Itumba masks, “Ave Maria” over gospel music. As Karin Luisa Badt says: “Jadine has so willingly embraced white culture that she has become, literally, its cover model. ” Gideon warns son against the possibility that Jadine might be “out of reach” Heedless of the warning and desperately in love, Son wants to “rescue” Jadine from the white world and bring her back to Eloe and the history it stands for. He attempts “to breathe into her the smell of tar and its shiny consistency” (102). Jadine starts on the path toward being “unorphaned” in her relationship with Son.
In Tar Baby, Jadine has blatantly shown her dislike of her own black culture and therefore chooses to reject and abandon who she is, despite that regardless of what she does, she will always have her African-American roots inside of her. In the following novel, Sula, Toni discusses a different type of abandonment. In Sula, Morrison’s 1973 novel, the author once again presents a pair of black women who must come to terms with their lives. The story is set in a midwestern black community called The Bottom. The story follows two friends, Sula and Nel, from childhood to old age and death.
The one, Nel Wright, chooses to stay in the place of her birth, to marry, to raise a family, to become a pillar of the tightly knit black community. The other, Sula Peace, rejects all that Nel has accepted. She escapes to college, submerges herself in city life, and when she returns to her roots, it is as a rebel, a mocker, a wanton sexual seductress. (Back Cover) The relationship between the young women throughout a certain portion of their lives was put on hold due to the distance between them. Sula chose to move away from Ohio when she was young and therefore somewhat abandoned the life that the two girls had in previous years.
When reunited with Sula, Nel expresses her thoughts on the abandonment of herself by her friend: [Sula] said doing anything forever and ever was hell. Nel didn’t understand it then, but now in the bathroom, trying to feel, she thought . . . “Sula was wrong. Hell ain’t things lasting forever. Hell is change. ” Not only did men leave and children grow up and die, but even that misery didn’t last. One day she wouldn’t even have that. This very grief that had twisted her into a curve on the floor and flayed her would be gone. She would lose that too. (Morrsion, 108)