Skip over navigation

Jazz

Toni Morrison

Section 11

Section 10

Section 12

Summary

After seeing the woman lying unconscious on that small cot, Golden Gray would always remember her when seeing a pregnant girl. Thirteen years after Golden Gray's appearance, his father, Henry LesTroy, is known as one of the "grandfathers" in Vienna's sugar cane fields. He is widely known as "Hunters Hunter" because he is so good at tracking animals. On the day that Golden Gray goes to meet him, Hunters Hunter approaches his cabin and becomes frightened when he sees the fancy carriage and well-groomed horse tied up outside. He does not know who the visitor could be but he feels somewhat at ease when he sees the mule that belonged to Honor, the young boy who came to tend to his pigs and chickens while he was gone. He feels quite a shock when he walks in his front door to find Honor and a golden-haired gentleman leaning over a naked pregnant body. Golden Gray stares at his father long and hard with his gray eyes and then calls him "Daddy."

Hunters Hunter has no idea why Vera Louise took off from her father's estate and now he understands why she left. He didn't know of Golden Gray's existence before this meeting. Before the father and son can really talk about anything, the pregnant woman wakes with a scream and begins to give birth. Honor and Hunters Hunter help in the delivery. Afterwards, as Hunters Hunter bends over her body to cover her, the silent crazy woman bites his cheek. Because of this act, he names her "Wild." She wants nothing to do with the little boy to whom she has given birth, so Hunters Hunter sends Honor to get his mother claim the baby.

Wild never leaves the area after she gives birth but instead haunts the sugar cane fields as a pair of eyes peeking through the grass or from behind a tree. Thirteen years after the birth of her son, she surprises Hunters Hunter in the field one day by tapping on his shoulder. Wild's forsaken baby, Joe Trace, is raised with Victory's family. When he and Victory are young men, the blacks of Vienna are dispossessed of their land, so the two adolescents set out to do short-term labor all around the county.

Joe has a feeling that Wild was his mother even though no one tells him so outright. Hunters Hunter insinuates as much one night as he, Joe, and Victory sit around a campfire. Shamed and angry, Joe wants to know for sure and he sets out three times to find Wild. He happens upon her one time after fishing alone in the early morning. He finds her hovel within a rock outcropping. The second solitary journey to find her takes place right before he leaves Vienna to start his work in Palestine. This time he speaks to her and asks her to somehow confirm that she is his mother. But because the light is fading, he is unable to interpret her response. After this encounter Joe throws himself into his work; the pace of his jobs is maniacal and leaves him only enough time to sleep for a few hours here and there in the walnut tree where he will Violet. He never learns if Hunters Hunter stayed near Vienna after the sugar fields are set on fire and the black laborers are dispossessed.

Analysis

In falling out of a walnut tree, Joe seems to have been born of the air, to appear out of nowhere. His startling fall into Violet's life reflects his entrance into the world, totally unclaimed and without history. His fall from the walnut tree also references the "fall" that he jokes about with Dorcas: that which drove Adam and Eve out of Eden. Joe is constantly associated with trees; he sleeps in the walnut tree, plucks the apple from the biblical tree, and then hunts for his mother near a gnarled oak tree with heavy roots.

Violet seems to draw Joe down from the tree just as Wild led Golden Gray to follow her into the woods with him. Having watched Wild give birth, Golden Gray finds a mother-figure to replace his own and the fact that she is black allows him to reconnect with the missing father in his life. He wanders along the periphery of the sugar fields with her, steering clear of a society that is not ready to accept his status between black and white. Wild's own origins remain a mystery and we know nothing of her parents or why she wanders Vienna county laughing and hiding. She is without a name, much like our narrator, until Hunters Hunter christens her. He becomes her adoptive father by conferring a name on her, but just as with his white child, this one wanders away and only reappears sporadically.

Hunters Hunter's own name points to the way in which black people have been traditionally considered in terms of their relation to a white person in power. Henry LesTroy was the skilled huntsman for a white hunter and his name reflects this possession. He is therefore no one except in relation to the white hunter. Further, the doubling of names with Henry LesTroy and Hunters Hunter speaks to the multiple identities a person can have and mirrors the psychic violence done to an oppressed and objectified race.

Joe's stories are often associated with numbers that appear in biblical and mythic tales and are associated with certain portentous happenings. For instance, earlier in the book he describes changing seven times and seven is classically seen as symbolic number. Here, when Joe's story begins to take precedence over the stories of Golden Gray and Hunters Hunter, the use of numbers reemerges and makes the events in his life more orderly and less fragmentary. The insistence upon the number three when the narrator describes Joe's three attempts to find his mother supplies a mythic quality to his search. However, unlike a classical myth in which the final answer or discovery is clear-cut, Joe does not know what he has seen or how to interpret it. Tricks of light and shadow in the book obscure what the characters envision and blur the lines between reality and the imagination.

When Hunters Hunter stands in the fields and he catches glimpses of Wild, it is always a disembodied image of her that he gets: her hair, fingers, or staring eyes. This emphasis on her physicality and descriptions that dismember her resonate with the kind of brutal violence enacted upon slaves in the plantation fields. Interestingly, Hunters Hunter, a man who attracts the attention and love of a white woman for his virility and strength, is suspected to have stayed near his old master, Wordsworth Gray, when everyone else quit Virginia. Like the parrot that Violet attempts to free, Hunters Hunter has grown accustomed to his prison and remains stuck in an out-dated image of himself.

More Help

Previous Next

Readers' Notes allow users to add their own analysis and insights to our SparkNotes—and to discuss those ideas with one another. Have a novel take or think we left something out? Add a Readers' Note!

Follow Us