List of Characters
Master List of Characters
Valerian Street—the wealthy American who began developing the island and has now retired there at his estate, L’Arbe de la Croix; age 70.
Margaret Lordi Street—Valerian’s second wife, who bears his only child; a former beauty queen from Maine.
Sydney Childs—Valerian’s black butler for the last 40 years.
Ondine Childs—Sydney’s wife; cook for the household; called Nanadine by her niece Jadine.
Jadine Childs—25-year-old niece of the Childs; a high-fashion model in Paris and New York; sometimes called Jade.
Son—a sailor who has jumped ship and is found hiding in Margaret’s closet; also known as the unnamed sailor, the intruder, and William Green; Jadine’s lover.
Michael Street—Valerian and Margaret’s only child, now nearly 30 years of age, who has not visited the island in several years.
Yardman—the handyman for the Streets; Gideon is his real name.
Therese Foucault—Gideon’s aunt; Valerian’s laundress, whom he knows as Mary.
Dr. Robert Michelin—a dentist from Algiers; Valerian’s friend; invited to the island for Christmas.
Woman in yellow—woman whom Jade encounters in a Paris store.
Ryk—Jadine’s European white suitor, who wants to marry her; sent her a sealskin coat for Christmas.
Celestina and Alicia—twin aunts of Margaret’s father; red-haired...
(The entire section is 393 words.)
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The Characters (Masterplots II: African American Literature, Revised Edition)
Jadine is a well-educated professional model. Orphaned at twelve, she was taken in by her aunt and uncle, Ondine and Sydney. Their employer, Valerian, helped them send Jadine to private schools and to the Sorbonne. Partially because of this upbringing, Jadine experiences conflict between the white society in which she is entrenched and the black culture represented by her uncle and aunt and Son, her lover. Jadine refuses to submit to the traditional image of womanhood that both Ondine and Son want to impose upon her. When, at the end of the novel, she returns to her own life in Paris, she is determined to face her fears alone.
Son is a wanderer from Eloe, Florida. At the beginning of the book, he escapes from a ship in the Caribbean and slips on to the boat Jadine and Margaret have borrowed. Son represents everything that Sydney and Ondine have tried to shield Jadine from and everything that she herself seems to have rejected. To them, he seems to have the qualities of the stereotypical black male—he is shiftless, wild, and unrefined—yet he reveals an honest, direct way of looking at the world. Son, unlike Jadine, seems too nostalgic for the past.
Valerian, the rich, retired white industrialist from Philadelphia, does not interact well with other people, preferring plants instead. He treats his employees fairly well—better than he treats his wife—but never relinquishes his superior status.
Margaret, Valerian’s wife, is a...
(The entire section is 473 words.)
The Characters (Masterplots II: American Fiction Series, Revised Edition)
Valerian Street, a good businessman who grew rich in the competitive world of manufacturing, married Margaret, recently crowned Miss Maine, when he was in his mid-thirties. Margaret was more a trophy than a wife. Valerian, more liberal and sensitive than the stereotypical cigar-chomping American businessman, accepts his servants’ orphaned niece as a surrogate daughter. Valerian, however, does not realize that some blacks toward whom he directs his liberalism—notably Son and Sydney—do not share his egalitarian views of race and class. In the end, Sydney is more the master of l’Arbe de la Croix than Valerian can be; Son, having made his statement, flees the socially disordered household he has disrupted.
Margaret Street married too young. Her youth and beauty attracted Valerian and her major effort now is to preserve the fast-fading youth and beauty that first made her attractive to him. It is a losing battle. Margaret is terrified of Son, probably because he represents a smoldering, primitive sexual force that simultaneously attracts and repels her. Margaret apparently has no society outside her life with Valerian. She tried early in their marriage to establish a social equality, a camaraderie, between herself and Ondine, but Valerian discouraged it.
Sydney Childs has pride and dignity. He loves his wife deeply and touchingly. He massages her throbbing feet, but refuses to wear slippers when his bunions ache because he considers himself...
(The entire section is 577 words.)
Characters Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Jadine Childs, an African American model with a degree in art history from the Sorbonne. Orphaned at the age of twelve, she was taken in by her aunt and uncle, Ondine and Sydney Childs. Their employer, Valerian Street, helped them send Jadine to private schools and to the Sorbonne. Partially because of this upbringing, Jadine experiences conflict between the white society in which she is entrenched and the black culture represented by her uncle and aunt and by Son, her lover. Jadine refuses to conform to the traditional image of womanhood that both Ondine and Son want to impose on her. At the end of the novel, she returns to her own life in Paris, determined to face her fears alone.
William Green, called Son, an African American wanderer from Eloe, Florida. At the beginning of the novel, he escapes from a ship in the Caribbean and slips onto the boat that Jadine and Margaret have borrowed. Son represents everything that Sydney and Ondine have tried to keep from Jadine and everything that she seems to have rejected. To them, he seems to have the qualities of the stereotypical black male—he is shiftless, wild, and unrefined—yet he reveals an honest, direct way of looking at the world. Son, unlike Jadine, seems too nostalgic for the past. Despite initial antagonism, they fall in love.
Valerian Street, a rich, retired white industrialist from...
(The entire section is 533 words.)
As implied in this discussion of social concerns and themes, Morrison's characters usually mark a fine line between the symbolic or allegorical representation of a concept and the psychological or a complex amalgamation of acknowledged and unacknowledged forces motivating them to act, almost as it were independent of their creator. For example, Valerian is simultaneously a stereotype of the insensitive imperialist and a complex individual with deep-seated and unresolved psychological dilemmas resulting in a pathological need to control others' lives. This list could be extended greatly, but this section will focus on the protagonist and three characters who bring new themes and concerns to the pages of Tar Baby: the enigmatic and at last unknowable protagonist, the beauty queen-turned-abusive mother, and the son who is not coming home for Christmas.
In the "themes" section we examined Jade as an artificial creation, a Tar Baby, but she is also a character with depth and memory. Both of these may be more a curse than a blessing, given her retreat from her roots in African or African-American culture. Morrison, not content to make Jade an allegorical representation, presents her as a Tar Baby with an unconscious awareness she cannot successfully suppress. Throughout the novel, she is haunted by a vision she had in Paris of a large, very black woman wearing a bright yellow dress and many colored sandals. This vision, which occurs in a supermarket...
(The entire section is 3981 words.)