Saturday, August 31, 2019

Black People Essay

Tar Baby Toni Morrison’s novel might for some be a novel of cultural awakening. One also might at their first reading and perhaps also by reading the different studies made on Tar Baby, restricted to an interpretation that sees Jadine, Morrison’s protagonist, as woman who has, consciously or unconsciously, lost her â€Å"ancient properties† (305) and internalized the values of a white culture. Jadine has totally disconnected herself from her racial identity and cultural heritage. This reading is supported by the fact that Jadine has got her education in Europe with the financial assistance of Valerian Street (her aunt’s and uncle’s employer). Paraphrasing Marylyn sanders Mobley – the characterization of the protagonist, Jadine, draws attention to a fundamental problem as one that Morrison wants to affirm the self-reliance and freedom of a black woman who makes choices for her own life on her own terms. She also seeks to point out the dangers that can happen to the totally self-reliant if there is no historical connection. While the conflict in Tar Baby is undoubtedly â€Å"between assimilation and cultural nationalism represented by the sealskin coat Ryk has given her and the pie table† (Rayson, 94), the limiting categories which Jadine is continually forced into do not come from the white characters but primarily from the black community in which she finds herself because she (Jadine) has embraced white stereotypes along with white culture. While Valerian is portrayed as the traditional master-figure in the novel, it is actually Son, Sydney and Ondine, and the folk past represented by the different women in different places that try to conquer and dominate Jadine, who retain and represent their culture in the very colour of their skin. On the other hand, one could argue that it is as a result of Jadine’s university education in Europe and her career that further draws her away from her culture and identity and therefore (paraphrasing Mobley in Toni Morrison critical perspectives past and present) contributes significantly to the emotional and spiritual uncertainty that plague her as well as the many different roles that are imposed upon her by her aunt and uncle as well as the ‘society’ that caused her to seek upward social mobility. Sydney and Ondine, Jadine’s uncle and aunt in the novel can be seen as representative of one of the tar pits for Jadine. They do not accept all black people equal in the community in which they live because they employ racial hierarchies. Ondine sees herself as the only woman in the house (209), while Sydney notes more than twice that he is a Philadelphia Negro, â€Å"the proudest people in the race† (61). They seem to have a clear vision of what they want for Jadine their niece. As the story progresses, though, it becomes clearer that it is not actually a question of what they want for Jadine but what they want of her or expect her to do. In addition to them wanting Jadine to provide them safety and credit for their race, Ondine admits by the end of the novel, â€Å"maybe I just wanted her to feel sorry for us [†¦ ] and that’s a lowdown wish if I ever had one† (282). Jadine understands that Sydney and Ondine â€Å"had gotten Valerian to pay her tuition while they sent her the rest† (49) and Ondine keeps reminding that she â€Å"would have stood on her feet all day all night to put Jadine through that school† (193). Ondine sees Jadine as her â€Å"crown† (282), and she and Sydney are continually â€Å"boasting† (49) about Jadine’s success to the point that Margaret calls Ondine â€Å"Mother Superior† (84). In return, they seem to want Jadine to offer them safety for the rest of their lives as Ondine claims that â€Å"Nothing can happen to us as long as she’s here† (102). They are not comfortable with the idea of Jadine marrying Ryk, who is â€Å"white but European which was not as bad as white and American† (48), but they are terrified of her running off with a â€Å"no-count Negro† (193) like Son. Although their views on racial hierarchies seem to alter from time to time, on the outside they seem to want what is best for Jadine. Jadine refute Ondine’s views of black womanhood when she tells her some of the things that are expected of her from society Jadine tells Ondine that: â€Å"I don’t want to learn how to be the kind of woman you’re talking about because I don’t want to be that kind of woman† (282). This, according to Rayson (1998), might be interpreted as Jadine’s â€Å"rejecting the roles of mother, daughter, and woman to stay the tar baby† (Rayson, 95), however it marks her becoming aware of what kind of woman she is by the end of the novel. Jadine‘s inclination toward upward social mobility leads to her separation from the Afro-American roots and the tar quality that Morrison advocates. This kind of flaw in Jadine effectively disqualifies her as a black woman capable of nurturing a family and by large the community. Jadine‘s perception of an ancestral relationship from which she is estranged occurs when she sees an African woman in a Parisian bakery. When she is celebrating her success as model evidenced in her appearance on the cover of Elle, Jadine becomes nervous or perhaps uncomfortable by the African woman in yellow attire. She triggers an identity crisis in Jadine at the moment when she should have felt more secure with her professional achievement assured by beauty and education. In his African woman, Jadine catches a glimpse of beauty, a womanliness, an innate elegance, a nurturer, an authenticity that she had never known before: ? That woman‘s woman – that mother/sister/she/; that unphotographable beauty? (p. 43). By calling the African woman ? that mother/sister/she,? J. Deswal (online source â€Å"Tar Baby- Shodhganga) claims that â€Å"Morrison presents a threefold definition of womanhood which can thrive within the confines of family and community only. The three eggs she balances effortlessly in her ? tar-black fingers? (p. 44) appear to Jadine as if the woman were boasting of her own easy acceptance of womanhood†. Wendy Harding and Jacky Martin in A World of Difference: An Inter-cultural Study of Toni Morrison explain the importance of the African woman‘s presence as such: â€Å"Whereas Jadine has just been rewarded for her conformity to Western ideals of feminity, the African woman suggests a more powerful version of black womanhood. Like some fertility goddess, she holds in her hand the secret of life. She is the mother of the world in whose black hands whiteness appears as something as easily crushed as cared for (71). When Jadine measures herself by the idea of black womanhood that she sees in the African woman the insecurities of her rootless condition surface in her mind. The women in yellow makes Jadine confront her female role and her sexuality†. Jadine sees ? something in her eyes so powerful? (p. 42) that she follows the woman out of the store. The writers also claim that â€Å"As a symbol of repudiation of Jadine‘s westernized lifestyle, the African woman ?looks right at Jadine? (p. 43) and spits on the pavement†. Jadine hates the woman for her spitting, but what she cannot do is escape feeling ? lonely in a way; lonely and inauthentic? as she tells the readers on page 45. When the sense of self is based on the denial of one‘s ethnic roots, one is certain to experience mental chaos and alienation. So, the woman‘s insult to Jadine had the powerful effect of challenging Jadine‘s choices: her white boyfriend, her girlfriends in New York, her parties, her picture on the cover of Elle and the way she lived her life. One can say that it is as a result of the African woman that Jadine desided to visit her aunt and uncle on the island. Jadine is confused and even questions her plans to marry Ryk, her white boyfriend: I wonder if the person he wants to marry is me or a black girl? And if it isn‘t me he wants, but any black girl who looks like me, talks and acts like me, what will happen when he finds out that I hate ear hoops, that I don‘t have to straighten my hair, that Mingus puts me to sleep, that sometimes I want to get out of my skin and be only the person inside – not American – not black – just me? (p. 45) It is through Son, however, that Morrison offers Jadine the ultimate opportunity to ‘redeem’ herself to her heritage, adapt it and revive her womanhood. Son picks up from where the African woman left off in a sense by making Jadine confront her inauthenticity. Jadine and Son enjoys their stay in New York because it is the place where Jadine feels at ease. She feels loved and safe: ? He ‘unorphaned’ her completely and gave her a brand-new childhood? (p. 231). In turn, Son is encouraged by her need and by his apparent ability to redefine Jadine culturally and emotionally. Son insists that he and Jadine goes to Eloe his hometown where Jadine will see how Son is rooted in family and cultural heritage. He attempts to rescue Jadine from her ignorance and disdain for her cultural heritage, trying in a sense to mould Jadine into the image of his black female ancestors. Son assumes that a relationship with Jadine will mean that they will have children together. He presses claims for family and community: ? He smiled at the vigour of his own heartbeat at the thought of her having his baby? (p. 220). Thus, he wants Jadine to love the nurturing aspects of home and fraternity. He is fed on dreams of his community women. The dreams of ? yellow houses with white doors? and ? fat black ladies in white dresses minding the pie table? (p. 119) are nourishment to Son. Sandra Pouchet Paquet (The ancestors as foundation in their eyes were watching god and tar baby) observes: ? In Son‘s dreams of Eloe, the African-American male ego is restored in a community of black man at the center of a black community. But however appreciative Son is of the beauty, the strength, and the toughness of black women; his vision is of male dominance; of the black women as handmaiden? (511). The image feminity that Son cherishes – of the black woman taking passive role as a nurturer of the hearth – is flagrantly opposite to Jadine‘s perception of the modern black woman. This terrifies Jadine and narrows the possibility of their forming a family. The modern, educated black woman seems to snivel at the aspects of traditional female- specific role as the nurturer of hearth and home. Decadent white values and life style thwart the black woman’s vital roles of building families and raising children. The modern black woman cannot be a complete human being, for she allows her education to keep her career separate from her nurturing role. The black woman is increasingly becoming able to define her own status and to be economically independent. She tries to seek equality in her relationship with men. Robert Staples gives an insight into the faltering dynamics of modern couples: ? What was once a viable institution because women were a subservient group has lost its value for some people in these days of women‘s liberation. The stability of marriage was contingent on the woman accepting her place in the home and not creating dissension by challenging the male‘s prerogatives? (125). The black woman‘s intrinsic quality of ? accepting her place in the home? is Morrison‘s tar quality. However, in advocating the tar quality Morrison does not admonish the educational and professional accomplishments of the black woman. In fact, the black woman is expected to achieve a balance between her roles in the domestic and professional fields. â€Å"It is the historical ability of black women to keep their families and careers together. In an era where both the black male and female seek to fulfill individual desires, relationships falter and, consequently, the prospects of the propagation of a family are not too bright. Jadine‘s tar quality is submerged by the white-like urge for freedom and self-actualization. As a result, she finds the conventions of black womanhood antithetical to her own value system†. At Eloe, Jadine is determined to resist rigid male-female role categorization. Jadine cannot ?understand (or accept) her being shunted off with Ellen and the children while the men grouped on the porch and after a greeting, ignored her? (p. 248). While at Eloe, Jadine is provided with yet another chance to attain certain qualities that is for black women. She is accustomed to living an upper-class white lifestyle so she finds the people of Eloe limited and backward. Their stifling little shacks are more foreign to her than the hotel-like splendor of Valerian‘s mansion. She stays in Aunt Rosa‘s house where she feels claustrophobically enclosed in a dark, windowless room. She feels ? she might as well have been in a cave, a grave, the dark womb of the earth, suffocating with the sound of plant life moving, but deprived of its sight? (p. 254). It is in this very room where Jadine and Son were having sex that she had a second awakening vision, which is more frightening than the one she had in Paris about the African Woman. Here, Older, black, fruitful and nurturing women – her own dead mother, her Aunt Ondine, Son‘s dead wife, the African woman in yellow and other black women of her past – become a threatening part of Jadine‘s dreams: I have breasts too,‘ she said or thought or willed, I have breasts too. ‘ But they didn‘t believe her. They just held their own higher and pushed their own farther out and looked at her,? (p. 261) and ? the night women were not merely against her†¦ not merely looking superior over their sagging breasts and folded stomachs, they seemed somehow in agreement with each other about her, and were all determined to punish her for having neglected her cultural heritage. They wanted to bind the person she had become and choke it with their breasts. The night women?accuse Jadine for trading the ? ancient properties? (p. 308) of being a daughter, mother, and a woman for her upward mobility and self-enhancement. All these women are punishing Jadine for her refusal to define herself in relation to family, historical tradition and culture. As they ‘brandish’ their breasts before her eyes, they mock and insult her with their feminity. Jadine finds these women backward and sees no self-fulfilling value in the roles that they serve. However, she is constantly haunted by dreams of the black female image that she seems to have lost throughout life. Ondine express shame and disappointment over her lack of concern for her family, the African woman, at the Parisian bakery, spits at her in disgust and the night women, in the vision at Eloe taunt her with their nurturing breasts. Having refuted her own black culture and heritage, Jadine face the consequence of a divided consciousness and a mental death. Her decision to end the love affair with Son— ? I can‘t let you hurt me again? (p. 274) is an evidence of her shunning womanhood and losing her Afro- American roots as she chooses Ryk her white boyfriend over Son who refused to become the person or image that Jadine wants him to be . Jadine is compelled to make her choice and she decides that it is in Paris, away from Son, where there are prospects of financial success and personal independence. She doesn‘t want what Son and Eloe have to offer: To settle for wifely competence when she could be a beauty queen or to settle for fertility rather than originality and nurturing instead of building? (p. 271). Jadine makes it clear to the reader that she is self-sufficient and independent of men, family and community.

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