Skip over navigation

Jazz

Toni Morrison

Section 5

Section 4

Section 6

Summary

In March of 1926, a few months after Dorcas's murder, Alice Manfred waits in her home for a visit from Violet, an unlikely visitor but one that Alice no longer minds. Renamed "Violent" after her behavior at the funeral, Violet comes to see Alice for the first time, but Dorcas's aunt only grudgingly opens the door for the woman who ruined the ceremony and stole the spotlight away from the task of mourning.

Alice never considered calling the police about either Joe or his wife, because she feared the law and mistrusted cops, black or white. She just grew increasingly idle and withdrawn after the funeral, spending countless hours in her home reading and re-reading newspapers that detailed the rapes, murders and beatings of unknown women. Surrounded by men's brutality towards women, Alice refuses to believe that women were defenseless. And yet she feels deeply betrayed by Joe Trace, a man whom she had trusted and who corrupted her niece.

Alice and her dead husband, Louis Manfred, had not been able to have children of their own. A week after Dorcas's funeral Violet started slipping notes underneath Alice's door. At first Alice was scared, then angry and puzzled. When Violet comes to the door in February saying that she just needs a place to rest, Alice lets her in. Violet walks straight to a side table where a photo of Dorcas stands and she stares at it spellbound. The second time Violet stops by, Alice asks whether Joe had ever beat her, to which Violet responds, "no." Alice tries to understand this couple with whom her niece had gotten involved. However, she still feels uncomfortable knowing so much about their lives so she gives Violet the photo of Dorcas to get Violet to leave her house. When Violet returns the next day, Alice becomes exasperated with the woman's poorly-kept dress and she insists upon sewing up the hems right then and there as Violet sits on the couch wondering out loud about Joe's betrayal. Alice begins to look forward to these visits from Violet, but she does not understand why. With Violet, Alice is less polite and well-mannered than with anyone else and yet the two women speak to each other with a clarity and candor that they do not find elsewhere.

In March, Violet continues to appear at the door without warning, but Alice begins to recognize her knock. One day Violet asks Alice if she would fight for a man. Alice remembers her husband and his infidelity and the seven months that she spent in Springfield, Massachusetts seething with quiet rage towards the hussy with whom he had taken up before his death. Before she could do anything decisive, seek revenge or rectify the situation, her husband died. His mistress attended the funeral, inappropriately dressed in white. That happened thirty years ago, and sitting with Violet Alice realizes that she, too, would have directed her anger at the other woman if she had had the chance.

Analysis

Violet's totally unexpected visit at Alice Manfred's home is mirrored by other surprising reunions in the book. Golden Gray, for instance, shows up totally unannounced at the home of his unsuspecting father, Henry LesTroy, looking for a way to fill an empty space in his life and searching for his identity. Later, Felice will visit Joe and Violet, making for another unexpected encounter. Like these two, Violet seeks comfort in the home of a person who she feels has hurt her, visiting with the aunt whose niece tore apart her marriage.

Alice and Violet share more in common than they originally think. Like Violet, Alice is childless. She had hoped to raise Dorcas well and protect her from harm. Both women seek to busy themselves with household chores to stave off sadness and loneliness. Most importantly, both women have dealt with cheating husbands and had to decide how to respond. Their jobs are similar as well, as Alice sews peoples' clothes while Violet makes a living doing their hair. Just as Alice always liked to dress Dorcas, Violet dreams of fixing the girl's hair as she looks at the black and white photograph. Both women viewed Dorcas as a potential daughter and therefore Violet feels doubly betrayed by the girl who could have been her own.

Also, Violet completes a crime that Alice had longed to commit. When her husband cheated on her, Alice directed her most violent thoughts of revenge at his mistress and probably would have carried them out had her husband not died before she had the chance. Her story had approached its climax, when it was cut short by the sober measures of funeral music. Violet's story recapitulates the earlier theme of Alice's vengeance and carries it all the way to its conclusion. Thus, the shared experience of the women sews their lives together. As a seamstress Alice works at putting things back together, stitching up fallen hems and loose seems. In stitching Violet's coat, Alice helps to put Violet back in shape, restoring her dignity and sense of self. The emotions that find their way into the music are also released and played out by the women and an image of female solidarity is achieved in the scene between Violet and Alice.

The image of Alice's craft is echoed later when Golden Gray thinks of his missing father as an arm or sleeve that has been lost, torn or amputated. The characters of the novel hope to take the fragments of their personality and have them refashioned and reattached to protect against the gaps and holes that keep them from being whole. As Alice considers the newspaper headlines detailing murders, betrayals, rapes, and suicides, she thinks about the violence that seems to characterize the era. She sees a rage infect so many women like Violet and Alice figures that they are mostly "armed" and ready to retaliate. In abstracting out to the larger picture via newspapers and magazines and in sewing together pieces of a fragmented existence, Alice resembles the novel's narrator.

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