Skip over navigation

Jazz

Toni Morrison

Section 13

Section 12

Section 14

Summary

In this section, which is narrated in the present tense, Dorcas is at a party full of men and women dancing and drinking in a packed apartment. She dances with a young man who does not always give her presents or hold their dates but who is universally adored by other women. As she dances closely with him in the packed room, she leans her head against her shoulder and feels happier than she has ever felt before. This young man has been extremely selective in choosing her and they seem to dance and move in perfect harmony.

Dorcas begins narrating her side of the story at this point and worries that Joe will come looking for her at this party expressly because she told him not to. Although she had not meant to be mean to him, when she told him to leave her alone it had come out cruelly. She said that he made her sick even though she had rehearsed several lines before hand about the sneaking around and the marriage being the main issues. She wasn't going to mention anything about Acton, the good-looking young man with whom she is dancing. Dorcas wanted to be able to talk to her girlfriends about her man but the one time that she jokingly mentioned Joe to her best friend, Felice had stared at her with a frown. Dorcas knows that Joe will come to find her after that conversation. She worries that she sees him on the street and she knows that if he doesn't tonight, he will find her tomorrow.

She couldn't tell Joe that Acton gives her a personality and a feeling that she is somebody while Joe seems to accept her any old way. Acton tells Dorcas how to wear her hair and clothes and wants to shape the woman she becomes. She loves dancing with him and making the other women jealous. And she knows that if Joe shows up at the party he will see that she belongs to Acton now.

All of a sudden, Dorcas begins to narrate her death. She is dancing with Acton when she sees Joe arrive. She begins to fall as she is hit with the bullet. The room goes dark and then light as she falls in Acton's arms. Then she is put on a table and people crowd around her but all she can see is Acton at the foot of the table, dabbing a bloodstain on his coat. He seems annoyed about the stain as she lies dying and a woman approaches him to remove it. All the while people are asking Dorcas who shot her. Finally, Felice appears above Dorcas and holds her hand and leans in close to her mouth. Dorcas thinks that she screams Joe's name in Felice's ear. The room starts to clear out as Dorcas looks to the doorframe and all she can make out is the sound of a familiar song being sung and a bowl full of oranges on the dining room table.

Analysis

The narrator insists on our seeing the party, pointing out Dorcas and directing our gaze towards her when she says, "there she is." Then the reader is addressed directly with a series of statements like "Pay a dollar or two when you enter and what you say is smarter, funnier, that it would be in your own kitchen. Your wit surfaces over and over like the rush of foam to the rim." The reader is simultaneously envisioned as a guest at the party and a voyeur looking in. Just as we had wondered about the identity of the narrator now the reader is led to question his or her own identity. When the narrator speaks to us and addresses the reader with "you" is she speaking to someone within Harlem's black community? For whom is this "you" intended? The reader's own identity begins to slip away just as the narrator continues to resemble less of a person and more of a spirit. Morrison's narrative voice floats like the party spirit that "lifts to the ceiling where it floats for a bit looking down with pleasure on the dressed-up nakedness below."

Dorcas's utter contentment as she dances with her new boyfriend is complicated by the fact that she knows that Joe is coming to get her. At the end of one narrative paragraph, Dorcas is described as being "as happy as she has ever been anytime." Following a break of three dots, Dorcas's first direct quotation reads, "He is coming for me." The "He" that approaches her is Joe but it is also Death and Dorcas is fully aware of its imminent arrival. Oddly, Dorcas's foresight enables her to enjoy the present moment more fully and feel thoroughly happy. When Dorcas recounts her final conversation with Joe she exposes the ways in which her words failed her and she said the wrong things. Her murder stems from a misunderstanding because she used words that did not adequately or accurately reflect her feelings.

What she says about her new boyfriend, Acton, betrays her need to have an identity created for her when she fails to find her own. He will mold her into a woman and Dorcas is extremely conscious of eyes being on her and of being watched. A person's gaze provides her with a sense of self that she lacks in isolation. When she imagines Joe entering the party, she knows exactly what she will look like to him, saying, "he will look and see how close me and Acton dance. How I rest my head on my arm holding on to him. The hem of my skirt drapes down in back and taps the calves of my legs while we rock back and forth, then side to side." Dorcas's repetition of the phrase "He is coming for me" becomes her own refrain in the greater jazz structure of the book. Like Violet, Joe, and Golden Gray, Dorcas insists on defining herself in terms of someone else. These characters share an inability to provide their own happiness, but are reliant on factors outside themselves. Dorcas warns that when Joe "he will see I'm not his anymore. I'm Acton's and it's Acton I want to please. He expects it." Thus, Dorcas willingly reduces herself to a piece of property because being so gives her an identity that she feels unable to maintain on her own.

At Dorcas's deathbed, Acton fusses with a stain of blood on his shirt, and in this way he resembles Golden Gray in his self-absorption at the moment of Wild's childbirth. The birth and the death are thereby connected as Joe is brought into the world and later takes Dorcas from it.

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