Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Race and Love In the Caribbean

Toni Morrison is one of the reasons why I am an author. When I first read The Bluest Eye many years ago, I felt magic in her tragic words. Since then, I read most of her other works, yet in looking back, I feel as though I missed something. So, I've returned to her books and discovered that the magic is just as powerful as before, even with older eyes.

Tar Baby, one of her better works, tells the story of Isle de Chevalier resident Valerian Street (candy company millionaire), his wife Margaret (former Miss Maine who grew up on the wrong side of the tracks), and their servants Sidney, Ondine, Yardman, and Mary. While Yardman and Mary are outside workers, Sydney and Ondine are the inside help of the fading beauty queen and her much older husband. Valerian treats Sydney and Ondine like family to an extent, while Margaret finds herself trying to get close to Ondine and her "ward", Jadine. Jadine is a supermodel with light caramel skin, a world traveler, and one who is used to the finer things in life, of which both families provide for her. However, everything is thrown into chaos when a black man is discovered in Margaret's closet. The man, named Son, is a stowaway who's looking for food and a place to hide. He is a commoner, a ruffian and while Sydney, Ondine, and Margaret will have nothing to do with him, Valerian, with a grin, invites the scraggly man to dinner.

Tar Baby is of colour lines - when to keep at a safe distance and when to blur - and how love is both comforting and tragic. The love a man has for a woman, even when told that it won't amount to anything. The love a mother will have for her son, even when she abuses him via cigarette burns and pricks of a pin. The love a woman will have for her freedom at any cost. And, the love of one's identity when cast as a savage animal among your own race. This book will stay with you long after you have finished reading. Tar Baby is a gentle/harsh reminder that race has been and always will be a factor among humans, and that love takes many forms, no matter how disastrous.


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