Toni Morrison's Mythology: Reframing Orpheus and Eurydice in Tar Baby

Julie A. Pruss, The College at Brockport

Abstract

In her fourth novel, Tar Baby, Toni Morrison created a modern fable that refers to the ancient and frequently duplicated story of Orpheus and Eurydice. In contemporizing the Greek and Roman tale, Morrison succeeds in inverting the primary focus of the myth so that instead of hearing about the journey of the ubiquitous Orpheus, the reader learns of the travails of the mostly silent Eurydice. Morrison uses the mythological Eurydice as the basis for the character, Jadine, and Tar Baby begins the tale with Jadine already present in a Caribbean version of the Underworld. Son, in filling the role of Orpheus, ventures to the Underworld and tries unsuccessfully to save Jadine from what he considers to be a type of death as demonstrated by her double consciousness. It is clear that Jadine is resistant and exercises free will by embracing her double consciousness and choosing to remain voluntarily in the social construct where she is most comfortable. Morrison is able to weave her knowledge of classical mythology, magical realism, and reference to the film, Black Orpheus, to fashion the retelling of the Orpheus and Eurydice myth in Tar Baby.

 
Apr 23rd, 9:55 AM

Toni Morrison's Mythology: Reframing Orpheus and Eurydice in Tar Baby

Liberal Arts 202

In her fourth novel, Tar Baby, Toni Morrison created a modern fable that refers to the ancient and frequently duplicated story of Orpheus and Eurydice. In contemporizing the Greek and Roman tale, Morrison succeeds in inverting the primary focus of the myth so that instead of hearing about the journey of the ubiquitous Orpheus, the reader learns of the travails of the mostly silent Eurydice. Morrison uses the mythological Eurydice as the basis for the character, Jadine, and Tar Baby begins the tale with Jadine already present in a Caribbean version of the Underworld. Son, in filling the role of Orpheus, ventures to the Underworld and tries unsuccessfully to save Jadine from what he considers to be a type of death as demonstrated by her double consciousness. It is clear that Jadine is resistant and exercises free will by embracing her double consciousness and choosing to remain voluntarily in the social construct where she is most comfortable. Morrison is able to weave her knowledge of classical mythology, magical realism, and reference to the film, Black Orpheus, to fashion the retelling of the Orpheus and Eurydice myth in Tar Baby.