Study Guide

Jade in Tar Baby

By Toni Morrison


Identity Crisis

Jadine is a twenty-five year-old black woman who has been educated at the Sorbonne, a fancy French university. Her rich patron Valerian paid for her education, while her aunt and uncle, Sydney and Ondine, have sacrificed almost everything to ensure that she'll have all the finest things in life.

Even though she lives a charmed existance, Jade often feels like she isn't authentically "black" because she has immersed herself in European culture and is engaged to a white man named Ryk. Further, she doesn't even know if Ryk is marrying her for who she is, or because he wants to look progressive by marrying a black girl. She wonders about this directly when we read: "I guess the person I want to marry is him, but I wonder if the person he wants to marry is me or a black girl?" (2.9). And in the end, this uncertainty makes her walk away from her relationship with Ryk.

When she dreams at night, Jade remembers an incident in a grocery store in Paris, where she saw a beautiful African woman in a yellow dress walking around. Jade wanted to know this woman, and wanted to be friends with her. But when the woman took one look at Jade and her whole Euro-chic getup, she spat on the ground and walked away. Jade was crushed by this, because she felt like it was black culture that was rejecting her. Or as the novel tell us, "The woman had made her feel lonely in a way. Lonely and inauthentic" (2.9).


For all her insecurities, though, Jade is fully willing to admit that she thinks white culture is fundamentally "better" than black culture. When she thinks about "black" art shows and black culture, for example, she becomes downright embarrassed by how amateur they seem to her: "Little matches of embarrassment burned even now in her face as she thought of all those black art shows mounted two or three times in the States" (3.148).

Despite her snobbery, though, Jade is still haunted by the idea that an authentically black world is trying to pull her out of her ambitious, successful life. She imagines this most prominently when she sees the women of Eloe crowding around her bed at night and holding their breasts out to her: "They stood around the room, jostling each other gently, gently—there wasn't much room—revealing one breast and then two and Jadine was shocked" (9.185). The symbol of breasts here shows the "natural" existence that Jade has decided against: the existence of being a loving wife and nurturing mother.


In the end, Jade leaves Son and heads back to Paris. Not only does she leave Son (who raped her, and so deserves abandonment), but she also leaves behind her aunt Ondine and uncle Sydney who were hoping that she'd take care of them in their old age. Ondine calls Jade out by saying that she has "forgotten her ancient properties" (C.103). In other words, Ondine criticizes Jade for forgetting her black heritage and traditional woman's roles and aligning herself with white ideas of "success." But Jade stands firm in her decisions. She plans on living for herself and on her own terms, with no regard for where she has come from.