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Jazz

by: Toni Morrison

Joe Trace

Joe is a kind-hearted and fundamentally good man who is driven by sadness and fear to shoot and kill his young lover, Dorcas. Like his wife, Violet, Joe's suffering stems in large part from his unstable and painful childhood. At a young age, Joe is told that he was adopted and that his mother left him "without a trace." A feeling of abandonment and an uncertainty about his identity plagues Joe from that moment on. Joe therefore does not know where he comes from and thinks, mistakenly, that he cannot be complete without this information, thereby deferring his happiness and looking to others to make him whole. He is highly regarded in the Harlem community for being a decent man and something in his face reminds recent migrants to the City of their rural roots. He treats Violet well but when she becomes depressed he cannot maintain a sense of completion. He still looks for a woman to provide the love that his mother, Wild, did not, and for this reason he tries to secure Dorcas's affection by adoring her. When Dorcas scorns him, his pain is compounded by a deeper anguish as he watches the third woman in his life abandon him. Therefore, Joe's suffering explodes into an act of violence in his murder of Dorcas.