What was the position of Isle de Chevaliers in the pastoral paradigm in the plot of Morrison's Tar Baby?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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The Isle de Chevaliers is extremely important in establishing pastoral paradigm in Morrison's Tar Baby.  To a great extent, the Isle de Chevaliers is the pastoral element in the narrative.  In contrast to the metropolitan settings of New York, Philadelphia, or Paris, the Isle de Chevaliers marks the pastoral response to such urban conditions.  The presence of the Isle de Chevaliers is way for characters to activate a particular set of responses to the inescapable challenges of race and ethnicity.

The novel's exposition establishes the pastoral paradigm element to the novel. Morrison's explanation that the founding of the Isle de Chevaliers consisted of laborers fundamentally changing the natural elements intrinsic to it.  The pastoral setting provided a realm in which individuals could "remake" the world and their place in it.  This paradigm and the island's position in it is why characters like Valerian are so important to the narrative. Through the work of the laborers and the desires of people like Valerian, there can be a sense of escape and transformation from questions and challenges that exist in the urban centers.   The Isle de Chevaliers represents a paradigm where individuals can "remake" elements such as personal identity and social constructions to it in order to make sense of issues larger than oneself:

Allied with nature, and powerful in its mythology, this idea of diaspora offers a way of rejecting the norms of white culture, and is linked to the history of resistance to slavery.  Here, black culture is authentic, confident, and everlasting.

It is here in which the Isle de Chevaliers defines the pastoral paradigm.  It offers a way for the characters to escape a world "fraught with conflict."

The opposing force to this exists in the urban world.  It is a world where Margaret wishes to reenter, and a world that causes intense challenge to Jadine.  The world that is on the opposite end of the pastoral paradigm is filled with unresolved uncertainty and questions that abound.  This world is one where individuals struggle with forces like race and ethnicity, primarily because they have no real means to control them.  When Jadine and Son seek to establish their relationship in New York City, they are besieged with challenges. He struggles to reconcile Jadine with his own sense of feminine ethnic identity and his past.   At the same time, she struggles with how to reconcile the reality of "the other" with her own sense of self, the traditional expectations from external reality and her own internal understandings.   These issues were not as prevalent in the Isle de Chevaliers, the other side of the paradigm, because of how individuals were able to find refuge in the pastoral element, helping to avoid such painful realities and bastions of insecurity and doubt.  Son's flight at the end of the novel is an attempt to reintegrate himself into a world in which some aspect of what it means to be "authentic, confident, and everlasting" could be reclaimed.  His failures combined with Jadine's departure to Paris represents the ultimate allure and inevitable failure of seeking to avoid confrontation with defining issues within human identity.

The pastoral paradigm to the novel can only be established by the Isle de Chevaliers.  Its position in the paradigm is essential in illuminating aspects of characterization throughout the novel.  Its position on the paradigm at one end is representative of how characters embrace a particular aspect of binary thinking, something that Morrison suggests must be overcome in order to make sense of the past and future and one's place in both.  

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