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Jazz

Toni Morrison

Section 10

Section 9

Section 11

Summary

The thirteen-year-old black boy standing outside of Henry LesTroy's house with his mule and responds to Golden Gray's greeting. The boy assumes that the well-dressed but visibly drunk man before him is white. He figures that Golden Gray is there to collect hides or hunting pelts from Henry LesTroy. He tells Golden Gray that LesTroy has been away from his house for several days, and that he could arrive at any moment. LesTroy had asked the young boy to come by and take care of his livestock, the animals that wander around behind the house. Gray is satisfied when he hears that he has happened upon his father's house, correctly, drawn there as if by instinct. When the young boy starts to walk toward the back of the house, Golden Gray tells him to come in and help him with something when he has finished. Then Golden Gray goes back inside and changes his clothes again, this time putting on something more formal after laying out the garments carefully. He thinks about finally finding his father and hopes that meeting this black man will somehow make him whole, reconnecting him to something that he did not know he missed.

When he first heard the news of his father's blackness, he tore up some of his mother's clothes and threw them on lawn, unsure of how to deal with his rage. True Belle suggested that he go to his father and Golden Gray took her advice. The narrator takes a sympathetic tone when describing his need to reconnect, although she vacillates between condemning his airs and narcissism and feeling for his pain. Disembodied and unidentified, the narrator ends up wishing Golden Gray well and hoping that he will arrive at peace with himself.

The young black boy has seen a lot of death, so when he enters the house and sees the woman lying under a shiny green dress he realizes instantly that she is alive. He goes over to her and does not take his eyes off her face as he removes the clots of blood that are forming from the gash in her forehead. He brings her water and lifts it to the unconscious woman's lips and tends to her with competence and authority as Golden Gray looks on. Golden Gray is no longer scared for her to open her eyes, now that the young boy is with him in the room.

Analysis

Mistaken as a white man by the young boy Honor, Golden Gray does resemble his father and his skin does not show that he has black blood. He takes after his mother; just as his father was absent from his childhood and adolescence, his father is also absent from his physical makeup. Morrison emphasizes the physical absence of the father, almost suggesting that Golden Gray is the direct product of his mother's regeneration. However, Vera Louise had led Golden to believe that he was an orphan, thereby also denying her own claim as his biological mother. In a way, her lie is another kind of abandonment; she could have easily explained something about Golden's missing father without obscuring her own relation to the child. Thus, the estrangement between parents and children is passed down from generation to generation and the same fissures are created anew.

Witnessing a birth as he tries to confront his own origins, Golden Gray is given a visceral reminder, in the form of Wild's labor, of his mother's apparently shameful secret. Untamed and living outside the accepted rules of civilization, Wild embodies Golden's deepest fears about his blackness and touches upon his feelings of self-hatred. Like Joe Trace, Golden finds that he has built his identity out of a half-formed puzzle, without knowing all of the information regarding his parents. Hiding behind a tree, Wild peers out at Golden, thereby becoming a physical manifestation of his well-kept secret. When she gives birth to Joe Trace, the father is noticeably absent, just as Henry LesTroy was not there when Golden was born.

Mixing is an important theme in the book and finds particular voice in relation to Golden Gray. However, even Joe Trace's eyes—one light and one dark—seem to suggest the idea of a mixed-race people which straddles the lines between black and white. Golden Gray's eyes are gray, but his blond curls seem to mark him as white. The narrator does not know how to evaluate Golden or on what basis to judge his fear of black people and racist self-hatred.

The narrator also lets us see how Golden must imagine himself, how he would like the story told, paying close attention to his gallant rescue of the pregnant woman. But just as the narrator has convinced us that Golden is not to be liked or pitied, she corrects herself in a stunning reversal. The narrator asks herself, "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." Later in the same passage she raises the question of her own reliability as a narrator saying, "I have been careless and stupid and it infuriates me to discover (again) how unreliable I am." In this moment, Morrison reveals that history can be reshaped and manipulated to suit the aims and agenda of the teller. For this reason, she does not allow her tale to be fixed and interpreted from any point of view, nor does she allow herself to judge a character who at first seems morally reprehensible.

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