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Jazz

Toni Morrison

Important Quotations

Section 15

Key Facts

Anything that happens after this party breaks up is nothing. Everything is now. It's like war. Everyone is handsome, shining just thinking about other people's blood. As though the red wash flying from veins not theirs is facial makeup patented for its glow. Inspiriting. Glamorous. Afterward there will be some chatter and recapitulation of what went on; nothing though like the action itself and the beat that pumps the heart. In war or at a party everyone is wily, intriguing; goals are set and altered; alliances rearranged.

The narrator interrupts Dorcas's first-person narration of the party with this aside, giving us a panoramic look at the action and providing a feel for the lively, intense atmosphere. The narrator frequently intrudes upon a characters' story-telling to provide such a perspective and frame his or her narration in a larger context. Dorcas's voice works like an instrumental solo and the narrator's words mimic a refrain or chorus. Her use of present tense narration here creates the illusion that we are looking in on an on-going scene while the action unfolds before her eyes. The immediacy provided by this present tense narration allows us to observe and participate. Also, the assertion that there will be "chatter" and "recapitulation" afterwards echoes one of the books main themes, that of story-telling and myth-making. The short and abrupt sentences provide a jazzlike beat and tempo for this passage.

What was I thinking of? How could I have imagined him so poorly? Not noticed the hurt that was not linked to the color of his skin, or the blood that beat beneath it. But to some other thing that longed for authenticity, for a right to be in this place, effortlessly without needing to acquire a false face, a laughless grin, a talking posture. I have been careless and stupid and it infuriates me to discover (again) how unreliable I am.

Spoken by the narrator, these lines demonstrate the flexibility of Morrison's text and the room that is kept open for multiple readings and interpretations. We are forced to question the very reliability of the author rather than trust implicitly her judgments and biases. Given the scraps of information and history woven into the text, we must come to our own conclusion and we are left, like the narrator, to question preconceptions about a character based on race or class. Furthermore, this interjection characterizes the text as a work in progress, an improvisational piece in which all the kinks have not been ironed out and covered up. In that she is self-deprecating, the narrator reminds us that no single authority exists when it comes to retelling history. In the narration itself, any history becomes a fiction, imbued with the particular vantage point of its teller.

I'm crazy about this City. Daylight slants like a razor cutting the buildings in half. In the top half I see looking faces and it's not easy to tell which are people, which the work of stonemasons. Below is shadow were any blasé thing takes place: clarinets and lovemaking, fists and the voices of sorrowful women. A city like this one makes me dream tall and feel in on things. Hep. It's the bright steel rocking above the shade below that does it.

This quote appears near the beginning of the book, establishing the colloquial tone of the narrator who seems to be conversing casually with a confidant or friend. She writes as if she were speaking naturally: with a phrase like "I'm crazy about this City" or the off-handed "hep" she transports us to the city that she so carefully describes. The image she paints with the hard angles of daylight overlapping buildings evokes the feel of a cubist art, a movement that captured the art world in the early part of the century. Like the jazz aesthetic, this painting style shatters planes of vision, fitting them back together in surprising or evocative ways. Like scenes below the line of the sunlight, the entire image is alive with motion that is both violent and beautiful.

Songs that used to start in the head and fill the heart had dropped on down, down to places below the sash and the buckled belts. Lower and lower, until the music was so lowdown you had to shut your windows and just suffer the summer sweat when the men in shirtsleeves propped themselves on window frames, or clustered on rooftops, in alleyways, on stoops and in the apartments of relatives playing the lowdown stuff that signaled Imminent Demise.

Alice Manfred worries about the primitive pulse of the era's jazz and blues music because she is afraid about what it drives black people to do and to feel. No longer regulated and tightly composed, the notes take on a life of their own and explore irrational combinations that may or may not produce pleasant, harmonious sounds. Morrison's narrator works like the music, digging below the conscious thoughts of her characters and exploring the associations and inner thoughts that defy systematic organization. Alice fears that women are most susceptible to the harmful consequences of the new music; suggesting that while the men can enjoy it, the women must protect themselves behind locked doors.

But I can't say that aloud; I can't tell anyone that I have been waiting for this all my life and that being chosen to wait is the reason I can. If I were able I'd say it. Say make me, remake me. You are free to do it and I am free to let you because look, look. Look where your hands are. Now.

The very last lines of the novel, this passage repositions the narrator as the central character by focusing our attention on her own mysterious identity. We are left to wonder "who is this speaking" rather than finishing the book with his or her mind riveted on the Violet-Joe-Dorcas saga. Interestingly, although the narrator claims that she can't admit her need to love and be loved she does precisely that, revealing her motives and inviting us to do something with her story. As the spirit of the novel, she asks to be made and remade, thereby insisting upon the malleability and improvisational quality of the histories contained in the novel. She confronts us directly and alerts us to the act of reading, an act that she sees as being active rather than passive. The story rests in our hands and is now as much ours as it is the narrator's. Drawing attention to the physical act of holding a book, Morrison closes any distance that remains between the text and her reader, suggesting that all of our stories are contiguous when art and life meet.

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