Prejudice and hatred based upon a person's race, gender, or class can, at times, be found within the people of the very echelon that they contest. In Toni Morrison's Tar Baby, the central character, Jadine, is constantly being judged by her race, and because of her cultural background, the judgment does not only come from the Caucasian people she meets, but also all the many African Americans in her life. The main conflict of the book is between Jadine, a young black model who has spent her life immersed in white culture, and Willie, a black man who, though uneducated, is true to what he believes to be his black culture. The ways that their lives are brought together, and how they are able to live as a couple weave together as a complex tale about racial heritage, self-acceptance, and prejudice. As the reader unfolds this tale, they realize that absence of cultural identity ultimately results in a loss of self. .
All throughout the book, every character is faced with conflicts based on biases. The book takes place in a large estate on a remote island. The home is owned by an old white man, Valerian, who lives in it with his young, stereotypical, and slightly prejudice white wife, Margaret, and his live-in cook and butler; an old black married couple. Jadine is the niece of Sydney an Ondine, the black help, and was raised by them through her childhood, and then sent through school in Paris and New York by Valerian's generosity. She, therefore, feels ties to everyone in the house, as most relationships within the house are indeed close, and chooses to live upstairs in the house more as a guest to Valerian than a family member of the help. Willie enters the picture as a depersonalized, average-class black man who has just escaped work on a boat and needs a place to stay. Prejudice exists on every level among residents of the house. Sydney and Ondine feel superior to all the rest of the black populace on the island, chiefly gardeners and laborers on the estate, as well as Willie, because they have security with their jobs, and came to the island with Valerian from Philadelphia.