Son Green

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Toni Morrison (b. 1931) American novelist


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In Toni Morrison's Tar Baby (1981), William (Son) Green has been on the run for eight years (after killing his adulterous wife) when he becomes infatuated with Jadine Childs, a Sorbonne-educated model who is visiting her benefactors in whose Caribbean-island house he's taken refuge. The affair that develops between them is emblematic of different cultural points of view: Son represents the humanistic African cultural heritage in contrast to the materialistic European culture Jadine has embraced. They leave the island to continue their relationship in New York. When Son takes Jadine to see his hometown of Eloe, Florida, where buildings are sparse and shabby and tradition and human relationships valued, she feels threatened. In contrast, Jadine feels at home in New York, while Son confesses to feeling “out of place” in the Streets' home. Although Son is attracted to Jadine sexually, he is not completely intellectually or emotionally ensnared and refuses to succumb to her plans for a professional career for him. In fact, it is Son who narrates his version of the tar baby story to Jadine in an emotional tirade against her lifestyle. She leaves him shortly after their trip to Eloe. When he returns to the island to find her, he is diverted by Thérèse, an islander who does yard work. She directs him to the wild side of the island, supposedly inhabited by blind African horsemen, and Son goes to join them. In this clash between folk culture and commercialism, Son represents the black man who can be drawn to the very forces that could destroy him, whether those forces come in the shape of a mulatto woman or a law degree. Although Morrison portrays him sympathetically, it is finally ambiguous as to whether she prefers Jadine's education and mobility or Son's immersion in folk tradition and myth.

Susan Blake, “Toni Morrison,” in DLB, vol. 33, Afro-American Fiction Writers after 1955, eds. Thadious M. Davis and Trudier Harris, 1984, pp. 187–199.Wilfred D. Samuels and Clenora Hudson Weems, Toni Morrison, 1990.Judylyn S. Ryan, “Contested Visitions/Double Vision in Tar Baby,” Modern Fiction Studies 39.3–4 (Fall/Winter 1993): 597–621.Trudier Harris, “Toni Morrison: Solo Flight through Literature into History,” World Literature Today 68.1 (Winter 1994): 9–14.

—Betty Taylor-Thompson

Subjects: Literature.

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