Study Guide

Son in Tar Baby

By Toni Morrison


Eloe Forever!

Son has spent a whole lot of his life roaming around and hasn't found a place that he feels like he belongs… except for in his hometown of Eloe, that is. But Son had to leave Eloe after he kind of murdered his ex-wife Cheyenne for sleeping with a thirteen year-old boy. Uh, yikes. That certainly does sound like a good reason to skip town.

Son claims that he never meant to kill Cheyenne. He just wanted to drive his car into his house (which he thinks is reasonable?) but his car caught fire and everyone burned to a crisp. Oops. Since then, it seems like the guy has never been "at home" anywhere. He has several birth certificates and no passport, and he has spent many of his years running from the law.

Despite having spent a long time floating around—or possibly because he's spent so much time floating around—Son has a very clear sense of self. Dude knows who he is. For example, he has very strict ideas about what he's willing to do and what he's not willing to do in order to make a living. Even though Jade encourages him, he maintains that he's not going to go to some fancy white school, because he considers this to be a betrayal of his black roots—and a total concession to the idea that in order for a black person to be successful, they have to act white.

Ultimately, Son just wants for Jade to come with him to live in the small town of Eloe. "[He] insisted on Eloe. In spite of the Gate and Central Park in the snow" (7.12). The conservatism and small-town vibe of Eloe terrifies Jade. But for Son, it's home sweet home.

Dream Police

Maybe Son didn't mean to kill his ex-wife Cheyenne, but he certainly is a violent dude. The first time he meets Jade, he grabs her and threatens to throw her out of her bedroom window. But he's also charming and handsome enough to get people to like him. He has serious people skillz: he gets Jade to like him after threatening to throw her out of a freaking window, and he gets Valerian Street to like him even though he camped out in Valerian's house and stole his food.

But even though he's (literally) charmed the pants off of Jade, Son is a little dissatisfied with Jade's worldview. He desperately wishes that Jade could share his understanding about what it means to live in the world as a black person. At nighttime, he even sneaks into her bedroom while she sleeps and tries to make her dreams reflect the things he wants out of life. "Oh, he thought hard, very hard during those times to press his dreams of icehouses into hers, and to keep her still and dreaming steadily so that when she woke finally she would long as she had longed for nothing in her life for the sound of a nickel nickelodeon" (4.321).

In the end, Son feels like he has no choice but to tell Jade that she is a traitor to her race. As he says to her: "The problem is not Valerian. The problem is me. Solve it. With me or without me, but solve it because it ain't going anywhere. You sweep me under the rug and your children will cut your throat" (9.287). Basically, Son tries to force Jade to see things his way but—surprise, surprise!—it doesn't work too well.

Finally, Son proves himself to be a real scuzzbucket and rapes Jade. To layer insult on top of injury, he does so as he is telling her the folktale of Br'er Rabbit and the Tar Baby. In a really warped moment, Son thinks that this will make Jade see things his way. Obviously, this doesn't work at all. Jade bounces. Good for you, Jade.

The Penitent

After he rapes Jade and she leaves back to Isle des Chevaliers, Son can barely look at himself in the mirror. He knows that he has made a mistake and he feels like he's willing to totally give in and change himself to be with Jade. As readers, we have little evidence to suggest that he can make good on this. But as the book ends with him climbing towards Valerian's house, it seems like he truly believes in following Jade to the ends of the earth.