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Jazz

Toni Morrison

Section 6

Section 5

Section 7

Summary

After leaving Alice's house one day in March, Violet goes to a drugstore where she sits sipping a malt and thinking about the knife that she had found at the bottom of the parrot's cage before barging into the funeral. The young ushers struggled with her when they saw the knife but Violet, a woman of fifty, had managed to hold them off long enough to slash Dorcas's face. A group of men rushed to the casket and carried Violet off kicking and growling. When she returned to her apartment she put her parrot out on the windowsill even though it didn't know how to fly. The bird kept repeating "I love you," and Violet couldn't stand it. Joe had been missing since New Year's Day and his friends came by asking for him.

Violet orders a second milkshake, hoping to put more flesh on her skinny frame. Haunted by the times that Joe and Dorcas shared together, she thinks back to the Joe Trace that she knew in Virginia, the man that she chose and the man that she claimed as her own. In 1888, Violet's family was robbed of all their belongings and Violet's mother, Rose Dear, stopped speaking. Rose Dear's mother, True Belle, received word of her daughter's misfortune and moved from Baltimore to Rome, Virginia to help out. But four years later, Rose Dear threw herself in a well. Only a few days later, her long-absent husband finally reappeared with gifts and money.

When Violet was seventeen, her grandmother, True Belle, sent her and two of her sisters to go and pick a cotton crop in Palestine, Virginia where there was an unexpectedly productive harvest and too few laborers. The job was to last for three weeks. One night Violet lay down to sleep under a walnut tree. With a thud, Joe Trace fell out of the tree and startled Violet, explaining to her that he worked in the gin house and had been sleeping in that tree. The two talked all night and when the three weeks were up Violet sent her money home with her sisters and moved to the nearby town of Tyrell to work for a family and stay close to Joe. He was nineteen at the time and living with an adopted family. His family was surprised when he decided to take Violet to Baltimore thirteen years after they married, because he had always loved the woods and nature. But their sudden decision to bypass Baltimore and head for New York, "the City," was even stranger.

Neither Joe nor Violet ever really wanted children, and Violet had already had three miscarriages by the time they moved from Virginia. However, by the time she hit forty, Violet craved a child and imagined what her last baby would have been like.

Then Violet remembers that earlier that morning at Alice's house, Violet had sat while her hostess hemmed her frayed coat lining. The two women were now comfortable with sitting in silence and Violet drank tea as she watched Alice work. Violet wondered out loud whether she should stay with Joe or leave him and Alice did not give her a clear response.

Analysis

The previous section ends with Violet sitting in Alice's apartment, wearing "a hat in the morning." This section opens with a description of "that hat," pulled jauntily over one of Violet's eyes. Thus, the hat becomes the connecting thread that carries the narrator from one train of thought to the next. The characters themselves are too ephemeral and shadowy to provide stable connections, so objects take on added importance because they are firmly defined and tangible.

Hands in particular are important to the novel. When Violet tries to ruin Dorcas's funeral it is the hands of the usher boys that hold her back. Hands act on impulse and react unconsciously, and they respond when the mind does not have time to. Violet imagines herself as two different entities in this section: the woman who pushes her way through crowds and acts violently and the woman who is immersed in thought and reflection, thus she hardly recognizes the hand wielding the knife as her own. Later, the narrator will focus on Wild's hand as Joe waits for it to respond affirmatively or negatively to his question about his birth.

The image of Violet's bird is also central to this section as it reflects the ways in which Violet, Joe, and the City's other migrants have adapted to their new surroundings. When Violet tries to release the parrot from its steel-barred captivity it does not know what to do with itself. The bird has forgotten freedom and flight and thus its release from the cage resonates with the experience of emancipation from slavery. Standing outside Violet's window, the bird hopes to re-enter its enslavement because it does not know how to choose or what to do in the greater world.

Violet and Joe's decision to move to the big city mirrors another kind of physical entrapment. The concrete grid of the city, the small apartments and the highly-codified behaviors of the city-dwellers represent a prison-like existence in which they lose themselves to a greater, overarching plan. When Violet struggles with the ushers at Dorcas's funeral, she thinks about how much strength she has lost since she worked the fields in Virginia. The narrator says, "twenty years doing hair in the City had softened her arms and melted the shield that once covered her palms and fingers." Thus, her loss of strength is juxtaposed with the parrot that "forgot how to fly and just trembled on the sill." In this way, Morrison comments on the adaptation of a people to a new environment and uses the image of the parrot to show how a human can suffer in the bitter cold of a City winter. When Violet closes the window pane in her apartment with the parrot trapped on the outside the bird sits there for some time peering in the house just as Wild hung about the sugar fields in Virginia, staying just close enough to the people to observe them and always inhabiting the outskirts.

In the midst of Violet's reveries in the drugstore about her two different selves, the narrative shifts to the first person and she begins to remember things about Virginia and her early years with Joe. The narrator eases herself into Violet's mind without any sort of announcement or transition. This section asks many questions as Violet seeks to understand what happened in her marriage. Once again she worries about what her hands might do: "I got quiet because I didn't know what my hands might get up to when the day's work was done." These thoughts lead her to Rose Dear's suicide and like Dorcas, Violet must live with the image of her own mother in a coffin.

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