In Toni Morrison's Tar Baby (1981), Jadine Childs is the orphaned niece of Ondine and Sydney, black servants in the wealthy white household of Margaret and Valerian Street. The Streets provided for Jadine's formal education, but she received little cultural or parental nurturing. Called the “Copper Venus” by the fashion world, Jadine works as a model in Paris. She has become completely Europeanized and is engaged to a white Frenchman. She sees herself as an independent, successful, professional woman who happens to be black but has no appreciation of her black cultural heritage. That her state of identity is confused, however, becomes apparent during her visit to the Streets by her confrontation with Son Green—a black man hiding on the Streets' property—and an unknown African woman in a yellow dress.
Jadine and Son's relationship is doomed to failure because they represent worlds, ideals, and values that cannot be reconciled. Jadine, in fact, feels more comfortable with the Streets than with the black Floridians she visits with Son, and she is frightened by the vision of the African woman, for she represents authentic African culture and heritage and makes Jadine feel lonely and inauthentic. Jadine's expressed goal is to not belong to anyone but herself; nevertheless she is shaped by the culture of the Streets' household. Morrison paints Jadine as a woman who has forgotten her “ancient properties,” that is, her ties to African American heritage and specifically to a community of black women made up of people like her Aunt Ondine. By returning to Paris and to a man she does not love, Jadine effectively opts for materialism rather than heritage. This makes it clear that she is unsentimental in choosing all that the American dream has to offer and leaving her people and culture behind. While her mulatto status does not make her a new character in the literature, her conscious, deliberate rejection of black people does.
Barbara Christian, Black Feminist Criticism, 1985.Craig Werner, “The Briar Patch as Modernist Myth: Morrison, Bartes and Tar Baby As-Is,” in Critical Essays on Toni Morrison, ed. Nellie Y. McKay, 1988, pp. 150–167.Wilfred D. Samuels and Clenora Hudson Weems, Toni Morrison, 1990.Trudier Harris, Fiction and Folklore: The Novels of Toni Morrison, 1991.