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Jazz

Toni Morrison

Section 14

Section 13

Section 15

Summary

On a beautiful spring day in the City, Violet stands on the porch of her building listening the music of young trumpet players pierce the rhythms of her husband, Joe's, sobs. Violet has returned the framed picture of Dorcas to Alice Manfred and she suspects that was why he is crying. As she stands there looking out on the street, she sees a young girl with hair like Dorcas's walking up the steps towards her and she immediately thinks of her husband's dead lover. The girl carries a record under one arm and a half pound of sweetmeat under the other as she approaches Violet.

The girl is Felice, who at this point begins to tell the story of her upbringing. Her grandmother raised her while her mother and father worked in a town called Tuxedo. They only were able to visit her once every three weeks and when they were home her father liked to read the papers in peace and her mother went out dancing or to the church. Felice's grandmother was concerned about her friendship with Dorcas, who always talked about clothes and good looks. But the girls were best friends and would often get in fights with the other girls at their school who teased them about being lighter and darker skinned. When Dorcas started seeing Joe, she tried to keep it from Felice who figured out anyway. Felice overheard two hairdressers talking about the couple after they had gone to the nightclub called Mexico together.

While everyone else thinks that Violet is crazy, Felice does not, at least not after she goes to visit her when looking for a ring that her mother had given her. Felice's mother had taken her to Tiffany's to pick up something for her boss and Felice suspected that her mother stole an opal ring which she later gave to her daughter. Felice let Dorcas borrow it to impress Acton, who always criticized her anyway. Felice was angry with Dorcas when she died so she didn't go to the funeral. For three months she heard about Joe Trace crying his eyes out and she figured she should tell him about Dorcas to console him somehow. She also wanted to see if he might have her opal ring.

During the first visit, Felice tells the couple that Dorcas let herself bleed to death rather than let anyone take her to the emergency room. It was her fault that she died. Felice cries for the first time as she recounts the scene. Joe and Violet invite her back to have supper with them and Violet tells her that she saw the opal ring on Dorcas's hand the day she stabbed her at the funeral. As they sit down for supper the second time Felice visits them, a woman comes in to get an emergency touch up on her hair so Felice and Joe excuse themselves and go talk in the living room before Violet joins them. Then music starts floating in the window and Violet and Joe begin to dance while Felice watches. Before Felice leaves, Violet makes her promise that to come by to get her hair fixed.

Analysis

The sudden change from winter to spring, death to life, that occurs between the party scene and the opening of this new chapter represents a great leap in both the time and tone of the story. However, the two chapters are connected by the theme of collective consciousness. On her deathbed, Dorcas taps into the underlying voice of the blues or jazz song, listening to the anonymous whisper and thinking, "I don't know who is that woman singing but I know the words by heart." Dorcas advises us to "listen" with her, thereby inviting the reader into the folds of the story and into the collective psyche or consciousness that her narrator has created. The next section opens with a description of the City in the spring and this idea of a collective existence is emphasized by images of black people all creating a larger pattern. The view of the narrator in this and similar passages throughout the book does not focus on the names and identities of the people described but rather these people all provide a part of overarching scheme. However, because the experience of blacks in Harlem is not solely collective, Morrison always zooms into the particulars of her characters' plot to discover how their individual lives unfold against the historical and sociological backdrop. Likewise, while she incorporates mythic structures in her book (the lost parent, the quest, the wild outcast), Morrison does not adhere too strongly to any given story line or any particular way of reading each plot, thereby indicating that these stories are malleable and dependent on whose perspective one adopts.

Felice, a name that means "happy," enters Joe and Violet's lives as a harbinger of hope and healing. Also a young black girl, the darker counterpart to Dorcas's lighter complexion, Felice is in some ways her friend's double, correcting and righting what the dead girl had set awry. Essentially orphaned, like so many other characters in the book, Felice looks for parental figures just as Violet and Joe hunger for a child. The story of her family reflects the ways in which work, which can be seen as slavery to money, tears apart a home. In addition to the acts of physical violence mentioned in the book (such as lynching, arson, and beatings), whites perpetrate psychic violence on blacks by the economic dependence of black people on white.

While Joe and Violet have told their stories and their stories have been told and retold for them by the narrator, the sudden shift of focus to Felice right before the end of the novel suggests that a whole other book could be written about her with digressions and secondary characters spinning off its main thread. When she approaches Violet's home for the first time, Felice carries a record and meat, bringing both music and sustenance to the sad and quiet household. Also, the ring that her mother stole in order to show up the snooty and racist man at Tiffany's, is symbolic of what racial hatred will drive a person to do, was buried on Dorcas's finger. Its burial symbolizes healing, and indeed such spiritual healing begins for Felice when she accepts that she has lost it.

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