by: Toni Morrison

Section 2

Summary Section 2

Memories and associations lead the narrator to retell certain parts of the Violet-Joe-Dorcas plot, each time highlighting or focusing on new facets of the story. As Joe's love for Dorcas is explored in more depth, the language used to describe her begins to foretell and foreshadow the appearance of his mother. The lost mother and the wild girlfriend start to meld into one and Dorcas's "sugar- flawed skin" resonates with the image of the Virginia sugar cane fields where Wild often hid. With hair like a "high wild bush" and "bitten" nails Dorcas bears a resemblance to later descriptions of Joe's mother and the language used to describe the two becomes self-referential, reminding the reader of earlier passages.

The violence of love and the idea that love is a wound also appears in this section. Love is described as "fading" or "scabbing," and Joe's eyes "burned" when he first saw Dorcas. The emotional burning that he feels for Dorcas is compared to the physical burning of the young girl's mother in the riot. Love's destruction and violence is dramatized in the internal world of the characters and in the external, historical world of race riots and prejudice.

Also, the word "fading," which is used to describe Joe's love for Violet, reappears in the description of his meeting with Wild. When she signaled to him, the light was fading so that he could not make out her response. This again highlights the theme in the novel that there are no definitive answers or interpretations available and that everything is malleable and ambiguous. Because the light in the novel is continually fading and because the narrator can look at a story from a multiplicity of angles, it is impossible to grasp one single perspective or answer.

As the novel's stories are told and retold, the narrator digresses to explore the lives of secondary characters and the stories of black people as a whole. On the train north to the city, the narrator suddenly gives us a glimpse of the world from within the perspective of an attendant who "never got his way." Moments later, the focus zooms out from his own annoyance back to the greater story of blacks' migration from the South to the cities of the North in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The rhythm of the language in the description of these train rides into the city mirrors the rolling of the locomotives and the rocking of the expectant migrants: "When the train trembled approaching the water surrounding the City, they thought it was like them: nervous at having gotten there at last, but terrified of what was on the other side. Eager, a little scared, they did not even nap during the fourteen hours of a ride smoother than a rocking cradle." The use of colorful comparisons and metaphors in the language ("smoother than a rocking cradle") keeps the tone from being one of historical or academic distance. Even as she describes sociological phenomena or historical truths, the narrator uses idiomatic expressions to remain within the lives of the characters. At one point she even seems to respond to questions posed by an invisible companion that may be a stand-in for the reader. These questions mimic the practice of "call and response," which was originated in Africa and practiced in southern churches and in jazz music.