Jazz

by: Toni Morrison

Symbols

Main ideas Symbols

Red-wing birds

According to the local Virginia lore, Wild's proximity is always indicated by the flight of red-winged birds from nearby trees. The workers in the sugar cane fields establish their own set of symbols in the natural world based on shared stories and experiences. The collective recognition of a red-wing bird as a herald of Wild's presence illustrates the richness of a community's bonds. Unlike Violet's caged birds, the birds in Virginia have not lost their instinct of flight and like the woman that they shadow, they represent freedom from society's bonds.

Green dress

The green dress that passes hands from Vera Louise Gray to Joe's mother, Wild, connects the novel's characters and suggests the ways in which their stories intersect. A fine garment worn by the daughter of a wealthy slave owner, the dress finds its way into the rustic cabin of the girl's black lover, Henry LesTroy. The empty shell of its absent owner, the dress represents Vera Louise's abandonment and the social strictures that forced her to move away. However, the dress changes meaning when her son, Golden Gray, drapes it over Wild's body, a conciliatory gesture that ultimately undoes the work of her family's racist background. When Joe finds the tattered old dress in Wild's hovel, the garment symbolizes the hope of healing a painfully inherited legacy.