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Jazz

Toni Morrison

Section 9

Section 8

Section 10

Summary

The narrator begins this section by telling the story of True Belle, Violet's grandmother, who leaves her job with a woman named Miss Vera Louise in Baltimore to go and help her daughter, Rose Dear, back in Virginia. True Belle had left Virginia a slave but when she returns in 1888 she is a free woman. Rose Dear's husband has signed a paper that gives collectors the right to repossess everything that his wife and children have, leaving the family in utter squalor after he disappeared.

True Belle had worked on the estate of a man named Colonel Wordsworth Gray whose daughter, Vera Louise, became pregnant by a black man. Her parents disowned her and left her enough money to live elsewhere, so Vera Louise took her slave True Belle, then twenty-seven years old, with her to Baltimore. True Belle left her daughters Rose Dear and May with an older sister when she left. Vera Louise named her illegitimate child Golden Gray because he had golden curls. She and True Belle adored him, spoiling and pampering him.

When Golden is eighteen years old, Golden finds out that his father is black from True Belle. His mother refuses to talk about it but True Belle tells Golden that his father was a black man named Henry LesTroy living in Vienna, Virginia. Seven days later, Golden sets out to find and kill him. Golden takes his carriage and goes to meet his father, unsure of what he will do or say but seething with rage. As he drives through a heavy rainstorm, he sees a naked black woman in the woods along the road, looking wild and staring at him from behind a tree. When she sees Golden, she turns to run but hits her head and falls to the ground, unconscious. Golden, revolted by her blackness and savage looks, contemplates leaving her there. Walking to her, he sees that she is very pregnant so he lifts her into the carriage and drives on to his father's, hoping to look heroic when in fact he is a hypocrite: he does not want this black, unconscious, naked woman, covered in blood, to lean on him during the ride. He only worries about his fine clothes getting dirty.

Golden has always loved True Belle, the woman who smiled at him as a boy and took such good care of him as he grew up, but he does not know how to deal with the fact that he, like she, has a black father. His whole understanding of his privilege and identity are therefore thrown into orbit. After a ride of several hours, Golden comes upon a simple house that he assumes is his father's. The house is empty when Golden arrives, and the black pregnant woman continues to lie unconscious. Golden worries about her waking up or going into labor and he brings her into the empty house and lays her on a cot, covering her with a jacket as he awaits the return of Henry LesTroy. Hungry and cold from the rain, Golden drinks some liquor that he finds in the house and is becoming drunk when he hears a horse approaching. When he goes to the door, he finds a young black boy standing there.

Analysis

The female characters in Jazz are frequently abandoned or betrayed by their husbands. Joe Trace cheats on Violet with Dorcas; Louis Manfred two-times Alice with another woman; and Rose Dear's husband, who is not named, walks out on the family when times are toughest. Later on, Dorcas's new boyfriend, Acton, will be involved with several adoring women at once, taking full advantage of the young girl's adoration. Interestingly, another woman, True Belle, comes to the rescue of Violet's family; her love heals their home rather than the sporadic gifts and money delivered by her father. However, while Morrison includes several scenarios in which women suffer because of male infidelity and irresponsibility, her novel is by no means single-mindedly pro-female and anti- male. She considers the pain of all characters, regardless of gender.

This section of the novel takes the reader within the home of a white character for the first and only time. Morrison moves away from the black community of both Virginia and the City to investigate the relationships at work within the household of Vera Louis Gray. The theme of abandonment and torn families takes on a more universal relevance when the narrator describes the Gray's response to their daughter's scandalous pregnancy. Her father slaps her and his rejection of her deeply injures Vera Louise, thereby making the theme of absent, negligent, and invisible fathers applicable to both white and black characters. Even more striking is the look from Vera Louise's mother, "so full of repulsion the daughter could taste the sour saliva gathering under her mother's tongue, filling the insides of her cheeks." While mothers often seem to be the antidote to the emptiness and suffering experienced by many of the characters (both Alice Manfred and Dorcas cry the word "mama" involuntarily), the bond between mothers and daughters is also a tenuous one, fraught with anger.

Raising Golden Gray together, True Belle and Vera Louise paint a radical picture of parenthood: an ex-slave and the wealthy daughter of a slave-owner, living without a man and doing fine. But even this family is not entirely stable. When Golden learns the truth, he abandons his family, and when True Belle is called away from her Baltimore home to be with her daughter in Virginia she disrupts and fragments the family structure. Interestingly, the black woman leaves the white woman; thereby exercising an independence that one associates with the masculine figure in abandoning the "feminine" home and its domesticity. Morrison reverses roles and plays with our expectations to highlight the reader's own preconceptions. Typicially, for instance, one thinks of the mixed-race offspring, exemplified here by Golden Gray, as a testimonial to a white man's desire to control and sexually subordinate a black woman. However, Golden Gray's origins do not lie in rape and racist domination but rather in the mutual love between a white woman and a black man. His name, "Gray," reflects his place between the black and white worlds of his parents.

Golden's journey to find his father bears the undertones of a mythic quest, in which the hero must return to his origins in order to know himself better. The notion of naming and finding one's true identity is further underscored by a passage in this section in which the narrator describes True Belle's cat. Named King, the cat sleeps at True Belle's feet like a dog and when Golden sees a bit of rag in Henry LesTroy's house, he thinks of the bed pillow: "Bits of truly unusable fabric shoved into a ticking shroud. It reminds Golden Gray of the pillow True Belle made for King to sleep on at her feet. She had been given the name of a powerful male dog, but he was a cat…." Names that don't quite fit also bring up the question of who is doing the naming. In a society where blacks are subjected to the stereotyping of a dominant white culture, names and labels don't always fit correctly. For this reason perhaps, Morrison is interested in playing with assumptions related to identity.

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