Tar Baby (novel)

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Tar Baby
Tar Baby (novel) 1st edition cover.jpg
First edition
Author Toni Morrison
Country United States
Language English
Genre African-American literature
Publisher Alfred A. Knopf
Publication date
March 12, 1981
Media type Print (hardback & paperback)
Pages 320 pp
ISBN 0-394-42329-1
OCLC 6789342
813/.54 19
LC Class PS3563.O8749 T37 1981
Preceded by Song of Solomon
Followed by Beloved

Tar Baby is a novel by the American author, Toni Morrison, first published in 1981. The New York Times reviewer wrote of it: "...Toni Morrison's greatest accomplishment is that she has raised her novel above the social realism that too many black novels and women's novels are trapped in. She has succeeded in writing about race and women symbolically."[1]

Plot introduction[edit]

This novel portrays a love affair between Jadine and Son, two Black Americans from very different worlds. Jadine is a beautiful Sorbonne graduate and fashion model who has been sponsored into wealth and privilege by the Streets, a wealthy white family who employ Jadine's aunt and uncle as domestic servants. Son is an impoverished, strong-minded man who washes up at the Streets' estate on a Caribbean island. As Jadine and Son come together, their affair ruptures the illusions and self-deceptions that held together the world and relationships at the estate. They travel back to the U.S. to search for somewhere they can both be at home, and find that their homes hold poison for each other. The struggle of Jadine and Son reveals the pain, struggle, and compromises confronting Black Americans seeking to live and love with integrity in the United States.

Tar Baby is a story about a fox and a rabbit. The fox attempts to trick his arch enemy, the rabbit, by placing a doll made from tar in its path, which is the tar baby. After the rabbit gets stuck to the doll, he tricks the fox into helping him escape. Some people have said that the rabbit represents an African American slave who out thinks his master.


Tar Baby is also a name [...] 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.

— interview with Morrison by Karin L. Badt (1995)


  1. ^ John Irving, "Morrison's Black Fable", The New York Times (Books), March 29, 1981.

External links[edit]