• Jazz, vol. 3

    Posted Posted by David Duhr in WBN News & Events     Comments 3 comments

    You know, every time I finish rereading Jazz I want to flip right back to page 1 and start all over again. And again, and again. I cannot get enough of this book.

    To refresh your memory on the discussion so far, please revisit posts one and two.

    So here in Section 3, Dorcas gets her own passage, and so does Felice. That makes one section each for Joe, Violet, Dorcas and Felice. Whose is the most effective? The most ineffective?

    And let’s finally get this narrator thing out of the way. Now that we’ve finished the book, what’s your final decision on who the narrator/s is/are? The Internet abounds with (easily-searchable) theories. Are we looking at a writer-as-narrator book? Do we agree with many that the narration bounces around between the main characters and between non-human entities (such as The City)? Any specific passages to point to?

    For some hazy answers from Morrison herself, see her Paris Review interview.

    I hate to trot out such a cliched question, but is Dorcas a sympathetic character? She loses her parents to racial violence in the ESL Riots and is sent to NYC to live with her aunt Alice. She’s rejected by the dancing twins at a party, then takes up with Joe, where she has total control over the relationship: “With Joe I worked the stick of the world, the power in my hand” (191). She drops Joe for a younger man (one of the “roosters”), mirroring how Joe steps out on Violet for Dorcas, the younger woman. And the rooster takes away from her all the power that Joe had given her. He’s demanding, critical, etc. But he’s desired by other girls Dorcas’s age, and by older women, too. Dorcas feels like she’s finally won something, even though it ruins Joe. But at the end, she’s thinking of Joe, as evidenced by her “apple” line. So again, what are your final thoughts about Dorcas?

    Here’s a hidden line that I think carries a great deal of weight: “You would have thought everything had been forgiven the way they played” (196). What is Morrison talking about here?


    On 222 Morrison writes that Alice Manfred returns to Springfield, perhaps to provide, for the woman who her husband cheated on her for, “The cheerful company maybe of someone who can provide the necessary things for the night.” What spurs this? Does her time with Violet make Alice want to forgive/forget other past hurts? Does “provide the necessary things for the night” have any sexual implications? (Or, as evidenced by a search, am I totally misreading this, and Alice is the one with the “taste for brightly colored dresses,” etc.? I don’t think so. Internet must be wrong.)


    I love this image on 224-225, where Joe and Violet lie in bed, both thinking about the abandonments that have colored so much of their lives: “Lying next to her, his head turned toward the window, he sees through the glass darkness taking the shape of a shoulder with a thin line of blood. Slowly, slowly it forms itself into a bird with a blade of red on the wing.” (Remember how redwings are harbingers of Wild, Joe’s mother, who didn’t want him?)


    Then, “Violet rests her hand on his chest as though it were the sunlit rim of a well and down there somebody is gathering gifts (lead pencils, Bull Durham, Jap Rose Soap) to distribute to them all.” Abandoned by her father, who occasionally returns with gifts, and abandoned by her mother, who jumps into a well. Have Violet and Joe finally gotten past these abandonments? Or are they simply, and finally, allowing each other to help fill the gaps?


    In the Paris Review interview, Morrison says, “I wanted to tell a very simple story about people who do not know that they are living in the jazz age and to never use the word.” We find evidence of this in lines like, “I wonder, do they [Joe and Violet] know they are the sound of snapping fingers under the sycamores lining the street?” (226). Has she accomplished her goal? Is Jazz a “simple story?” In what ways does it represent the Jazz Age?

    As usual, feel free to add your own closing thoughts or questions. And thanks for joining us this month. If you’d like to moderate a future reading, drop us a line. We’re open to novels, short stories, nonfiction; almost anything under the literary sun.


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    Justine Tal Goldberg

    I will attempt to tackle your first two questions. I was expecting Dorcas to weigh in, so found myself a bit disappointed when she actually did. Morrison is a master of elusion in that she almost always finds a way to satisfy without being predictable. In this case, she gives us what we want–or what we think we want–and then I didn’t want it anymore. Dorcas, for me, is the least compelling character. I think she has more power as an object of desire (for Joe) and destruction (for Violet) than she does as as a flesh-and-blood person. It’s too… Read more »


    I felt very strongly that Felice could have been the narrator as well. Though I also like how ambiguous it is. It seems again another metaphor jazz itself — this art form that belongs to and can be changed by anyone at any time, and is all the better for it. Actually, thinking about it that way really sheds a lot of light on the book’s narrative structure. It really feels like jazz, drifting spontaneously from one person to the next, and yet there’s this clear order and logic to it. It really is like the theory of emergence. Reminds… Read more »

    Justine Tal Goldberg

    You know what’s weird? I never even considered whether I like Dorcas, or any of the characters for that matter. The question of like just didn’t enter the equation for me, but in my reading, it usually does. What could that mean?!

    Would love your thoughts, please comment.x