Toni Morrison’s Tar Baby is a novel about conflicts and learned biases that exist on a race, class and gender level. Many of the characters experience a sense of exile either from their environment or from themselves. All of these characters have some sort of issue that exists on a race, class or gender level, that will eventually lead them to their exile. Most of the novel takes place on a white millionaire’s Caribbean estate, Valerian Street. He in a sense exiled himself from the states because he felt alienated from the world that he lived in. He lived in a capitalistic society, and when he finished working his usefulness in that society was over. So he left his home in Philadelphia with his wife who was not happy about having two homes: “I live in airplanes now. Nowhere. Not in PhiladelphiaNot here”(P.28) His wife Margaret does not understand why he wants to be on an Island without people that they know.
Margaret married Valerian when she was a child; one reason for this was that she wanted to get away from her family. In a way, she exiled herself from her childhood because of its complications. Her parents were bothered with the fact that she had red hair, because her father didn’t have red hair. He wasn’t sure if she was his child or not and this tension continued throughout her childhood. She escaped her past through Valerian and began a new life without the tension that she felt from her parents. Because of her red hair she stands out in her family, and eventually becomes abusive to her husband and her own Son, Michael.
Michael is a silent character in the novel but still plays a role. He never shows up at the house because he to exiled himself from his family. One reason for his exile was that his mother abused him when he was a child and he seems to have different beliefs than his father has. He didn’t want to follow in his footstep and take over the family candy company: “.the son was not charmed with Teddy Boys and Island retreats”(P.53) Michael was their only biological child, but Jadine was raised by Valerian and Margaret and her Uncle and Aunt who are the Street’s servants.
Jadine unlike Michael exiles herself from the life she had away from the Street family. She lived in Paris with all of its glamour, glitz and fame; she worked as a model. She runs away from her way of life in Paris, the life of “passing” or conforming to what the powerful people in her profession want of and from her. She comes to the Island to relax and clear her head, Margaret believes that she is “getting over and affair”(P.29) Jadine moves to the Island to find herself getting involved with a young man by the name of Son.
Son’s exile is the most clear because he was running away from the law. He killed his wife, so the law and his wife’s family were after him. The novel itself starts off with Son jumping off of a ship attempting to get back to the town where he was from, Eloe so that he could end his exile. He gets caught in a current and is unable to reach Eloe. (P.6) He ends up on the Island still running from his past using different names for secrecy. In a conversation with Jadine, he tells her his different names: “. that says William Green” “One of them any way. I got another that says Herbert Robinson. And one says Louis Stover” (P.174)
One of the major themes in this novel was about the different characters that in some way exiled from themselves or from their environment. In each case, the exile had to do with race, class and gender. Valerian left his environment because he felt worthless; he had no more to contribute in the economic world therefor felt out of place. Margaret’s exile was different because she was able to do it because of her gender. She used her good looks to attract Valerian and he took her away from her family, and her past. Jadine was escaping her race issues in Paris;