Tar Baby is a novel written by Toni Morrison and published in 1981. Morrison was a professor at various universities all over the United States, but she moved to NYC to become a part time writer in the mornings before she went to work as an editor at Random House. Even then, she was immersed in African American fiction works. When Morrison was getting her masters, she studied a lot of Faulkner and Woolf, and her experience with their stream-of-consciousness, multi-perspective narratives affected her own writing greatly.
When Morrison was writing Tar Baby, the Civil Rights Movement was just picking up popularity in the 1950s and 60s. As African Americans were fighting to end segregation and violence against them, they were also working to equalize their economic opportunities and potential. The nonviolent tactics of the civil rights movement were deemed passive and too open to assimilation, and during the late 1960s, those who criticized racial integration created the black power movement, emphasizing racial pride and meeting violence with violence.
Tar Baby tells of characters who find themselves caught between the diverging and increasingly incompatible agendas of the two movements working for similar end results. The protagonist Jadine Childs is a fashion model who has an education, but Son was raised in an all-black community in Florida. Childs is almost completely assimilated, while Son is capable of pleasing almost everyone but feels most connected to his black community. The tension between these two characters who live with ideals on completely opposite sides of the spectrum create a moving force in the plot. Morrison completely abandons social realism, instead writing about race and women in a realistic and symbolic way.