Jazz (1992) is the second of a trilogy of Morrison’s novels reflecting on the idea of love and its manifestations. The idea for the novel originated with a James Van Der Zee photograph of a dead teenaged woman who, knowing she was dying, told her friends that tomorrow she would give them the name of the man who had shot her with a silenced gun at a rent party. The woman was dead the next day and so intentionally did not betray her lover, the man who had murdered her.
The novel tells the story of the New York neighborhood Harlem from the perspective of its ordinary inhabitants, namely Joe and Violet Trace. The couple is at the center of the novel’s investigation of the complexities faced by those millions of African Americans who moved from the rural South to the North during the great migration in search of jobs and a better life in the cities.
Joe and Violet have to negotiate the stories from their pasts that continue to haunt them and to define who they are even as they begin, or try to begin, new lives in the city. The skills, knowledge, and information that they acquire as they mature in the southern countryside both equip and disable them for their lives as urban residents. The novel bridges the post–Civil War era and the post–World War I generation in its portrait of the Harlem Renaissance and the New Negro from the inside out.
Jazz does not have chapter titles. Breaks are indicated in this synopsis with additional line breaks.
The unnamed narrator is a central, if mysterious, character in Jazz. Throughout the novel, she provides the vantage point and perspective for the reader’s experience of the characters and their lives. Whether her perspectives and analyses are accurate is a matter of decision for the reader who becomes an active participant in the unfolding and meaning of the story.
The narrator introduces the novel’s primary protagonists, Violet and Joe Trace, with a conversational first line. She tells of Violet’s birds and of her behavior at the funeral of Joe’s girlfriend. Joe murdered his girlfriend Dorcas because she did not love him any more. Furious but unable to be angry at Joe, Violet turns her anger and pain on the dead girl and goes to her funeral, illogically, to cut and hurt her. Unsuccessful at this, she releases her pet tropical birds to the winter cold.
Violet is 50 at the beginning of the novel and very thin. She is determined to get revenge for the affair between Joe and Dorcas and she has an affair that lasts only a few weeks and does not achieve her aim. Failing to either anger or reconnect with Joe, Violet decides to focus her attention on the dead girl, and she and Joe begin to share an obsession with his murdered mistress.
Violet tries to learn everything she can about the girl—what she wore, how she danced, who her friends were—and uses that information to begin to imitate her. She is so persistent that, eventually, she befriends the dead girl’s aunt, Alice Manfred. Alice gives Violet a picture of Dorcas. Violet places it on her mantel where she and Joe spend hours looking at it and crying.
The narrator waxes on about the city, the way the light hits it at angles, and the actions and energies of its inhabitants. Clearly, she controls the narrative and directs the reader’s attention to the particular hopefulness of blacks in 1926, when racial opportunities seemed more abundant than ever and the world had declared an end to all wars.
Violet and Joe spend their nights taking turns looking at the picture of Dorcas. Each sees something different in the face of the dead girl. Joe sees his lover, forgiving and kind, even in death. Violet imagines a selfish, greedy, sneaky overindulged child.
During the day, Violet works as a hairdresser and Joe is a traveling cosmetics salesman. Violet becomes so obsessed with Dorcas that she even imagines how she would cut her hair. Violet may have become a hairdresser because of her grandmother, Vera Louise, who told stories about the blonde hair of a boy she took care of named Golden Gray.
Violet has had a series of slips that make people around her doubt her sanity. Even before Joe’s affair with Dorcas, Violet, one day, simply and inexplicably sits down in the street. She does not accept help from anyone and rolls over on her side. People carry her to some nearby steps until she gets up of her own accord and goes to an appointment to do hair.
Another time Violet is waiting for two women who are late for an appointment when she picks up a baby she is supposed to be watching from its carriage and begins to walk away with it. She thinks that Joe will love the baby. As she walks away, the baby’s sister, who is supposed to be watching the child, begins to scream. Violet says that she was not taking, but walking the baby. Some people in the crowd believe her. Others feel that Violet actually meant to take the child. Her husband never knows about these strange events and the impression that Violet makes on those who hear about them.
The narrator explains that sometimes Violet falls into the spaces where the light of her reality is not smooth. When there is a break, Violet reacts. This behavior is not typical of Violet who once was a self-possessed, self-assured woman who was active in the world, but her world grows increasingly still and silent.
After she tries to injure Dorcas’s corpse during the girl’s funeral, Violet forces her pet birds out of the window. The act robs her of the important ritual of caring for something living. All that she thinks she now possesses is the flat photograph of the dead girl to obsess over. For Joe the photograph is different. It is a representation of a live person that was dynamic and real for him. The photograph sends him into a reverie of details about Dorcas— how her eyelids looked when they made love, her dreams and aspirations, the particular pitch of her voice.
Joe tries so hard to remember the details about Dorcas because he cannot remember the details of his early love and passion for Violet and the loss of those memories disturbs him greatly. Violet and Joe first encountered each other as they worked as migrant laborers in Vesper County, Virginia. The couple boarded a train for New York in 1906 and, like so many others, rode into the city on a wave of eager anticipation. By 1926, the passion and excitement that had drawn them together and fueled their exodus from Virginia to New York was not even a memory. Joe, looking to recapture that feeling of joy and excitement, found a woman who he thought would provide that spark.
Dorcas was not just a fling for Joe, though. Something about the girl made him want to share the deepest parts of himself and his story. He wanted to tell her about his hunts for the mother he never knew, how he thought he saw his mother in a cave, and how desperately he wanted for this imagined meeting to affirm some affection this unknown woman might have had for her son.
The couple has motherlessness in common because Dorcas, too, is an orphan. Dorcas’s mother died in a fire. She told Joe about that loss and she cried with him before they made love.
Their love making was passionate and enflamed by the shared deep ache of loss. Their meetings took place in an apartment Joe rented from a woman named Malvonne. The affair with Dorcas provided what Joe needed: companionship, excitement, and connection.
Malvonne, the woman Joe rents the apartment from where he and Dorcas meet, lives her life through her intrusion in the doings of others in a way that is possible only in a city where people live in close proximity to each other. When her nephew, Sweetness, leaves for another city, she learns that he is a thief. One of the things that he stole was mail and, after he leaves, Malvonne finds a bag of letters he had taken. At first inclined to mail them, Malvonne opens them instead. She tries to make amends where possible for the theft and the time delay.
When Joe tries to convince Malvonne to rent the room to him, he justifies his decision by saying that Violet does not take care of him anymore and that he deserves some pleasure in life. Malvonne agrees largely because she wants the money and because she dislikes Violet. So Joe and Dorcas meet in Malvonne’s apartment on Thursdays, and Joe becomes a Thursday man.
The next chapter recalls the silent march that tens of thousands of blacks made down Fifth Avenue in July of 1917 in protest of racial discrimination and violence. The march was a response to the riots that had just happened in East St Louis, Illinois. Alice Manfred, Dorcas’s aunt, recalls the march and standing with Dorcas, whose parents had just been killed in the rioting. Alice Manfred’s response to this tragedy is to try to protect Dorcas (and herself) from what she calls Imminent Demise.
For Alice, the signs of the coming apocalypse are everywhere. In the new way that women dressed and danced, there is ample proof that all is not well. The music—Jazz and the Blues—particularly disturbs Alice and seems to justify her sense that everything is falling apart. In fact, she blames the music for the riots that killed her sister and brother-in-law. Alice cannot, however, reconcile the dignity and power she feels when she hears the drums at the march with their inevitable connection to the lowdown music she so despises.
Dorcas has a different experience of the march. She hears the beat as a signal of the promise of her life to come after she escapes from the over-ardent gaze of her fearful aunt. When Dorcas thinks of the riots, she remembers her house burning and, from a child’s perspective, thinks of her paper dolls and imagines how quickly they must have burned. Like the dolls, Dorcas is vulnerable to ignition by any one of the many sparks of the city.
Dorcas and her best friend, Felice, attend a party while Alice is out of town. While there, Dorcas is rejected by two popular brothers. This rejection sends her into an adolescent tailspin of insecurity. Joe Trace, an older man, with more money than her peers, seems the perfect antidote to her bruised ego.
Joe and Dorcas meet at Alice Manfred’s house. He boldly whispers something in Dorcas’s ear as he leaves after collecting some money owed to him. After Dorcas’s death this fact drives Alice to distraction as she had been so focused on keeping Dorcas in the house and under her watchful eye that it never occurred to her that someone or something dangerous could have met her there.
Mourning and genuinely fearful of the turn of events that has resulted in the death of her niece, Alice is astonished to find Violet, the wife of the man who killed her niece, knocking at her front door. Violet and Alice gradually begin to get to know each other out of a shared interest in Dorcas, and, particularly, in Dorcas and Joe. During one conversation, while trying to explain her behavior to Alice, Violet asks her if she would fight another woman for her man. This question gives Alice pause and makes her consider that she may in fact have more in common with Violet than she thinks. Alice had a husband who left her for another woman and, although she does not commit physical violence against this woman, she dreams of killing her over and over again.
Violet is like a person split in two. She does not recognize the woman who goes to Dorcas’s funeral to stab the dead girl in the face. That other woman earns the name Violent from the community. She remembers that her parrot did not fly away immediately after she puts it out in the cold. It lingers outside saying to Violet the only words it knows, “love you.” After two days, the parrot is gone and she does not know what happened to it.
Violet spends considerable energy consuming calories in order to regain the hips that she has lost as she ages. She imagines what Dorcas and Joe did together. Violet knows another Joe, the Virginia Joe, and feels that Dorcas could not possibly have understood Joe the way that she does. As she thinks about the past, though, she realizes that her ideas of love were tainted and tailored by her grandmother, True Belle, who told stories about Golden Gray, the object of Violet’s adoration. With those expectations and unrealistic ideals, Joe could only disappoint.
Violet also remembers her mother, Rose Dear, who when faced with disaster, killed herself. Violet does not judge her mother, but she does not want to be like her, broken by circumstances and by the absence of a man. Before Rose Dear killed herself, she, along with Violet and her siblings, were put out of their home. Rose Dear’s mother, True Belle, comes to take care of the family. Violet wonders what was the final indignity or horror that sent Rose Dear to the well forever. Her mother’s situation discourages Violet from having children.
During her reflections, Violet also muses on her first meeting with Joe who fell out of a tree she was sleeping beneath. From that moment, the two were inseparable. After they arrived in the city, they were both happy to be childless as it allowed them to feel free with their time and energy. As Violet grows older and more distant from Joe, she begins to crave children and to regret not having any. Her desire becomes so strong that she buys a doll as a surrogate. After Joe’s murder of Dorcas, she occasionally thinks of the doll as the daughter she never had.
During her visit, Violet asks Alice Manfred what she should do. Both women turn toward imagined and dead mothers for the answer and are surprised, embarrassed, and amused by their own responses. Then Alice tells Violet to love what she has instead of wishing to change reality. While Alice gives Violet this advice, she inadvertently burns the shirt she is ironing. This uncharacteristic carelessness surprises and then, somehow, delights the women, who break into uncontrolled laughter. As a result Violet remembers the power and value of laughter.
As she leaves the drugstore where she has had all of these liberating thoughts, Violet notices that it is spring.
Spring brings change to the city. The narrator reflects on Joe’s affair. She contends that, having been faithful all of his married life, Joe is cocky and self-righteous enough to feel justified in having had an affair.
Joe gives his account of the affair and begins by talking about how he cannot speak to anyone about it. He approaches that whole situation like the salesman that he is. Dorcas excited him, but he did not know what it was that made him speak with her that day at her aunt’s house.
Joe speaks of his origins, of his birth in Vesper County, Virginia, in 1873. The Williams family adopts him when he was three months old, but they do not give him their last name. He eventually names himself Trace, after what his parents left without. Joe grows up with the Williams’ son, Victory, who was almost the same age (15). Joe counts this self-naming as his first change. He says that the second came when the best hunter in the county chose him as an apprentice. A fire in Joe’s home town accounts for another major transformation. The fire gets him to travel to the nearby town of Palestine where he meets Violet. He and Violet decide to move from the South to New York and this relocation changes Joe once again. When the couple move uptown, Joe has his fifth, and, he believes at the time, final transformation. When he is attacked and beaten by whites in 1917, however, he changes again. The year 1925 brings the last change when Joe, disturbed by his wife’s sleeping with a doll, turns to an 18-year-old for comfort.
Joe enjoys everything about Dorcas, including her acne-scarred skin. He sees her marks as a path for him to track. Ultimately, that trail leads Joe to the party where he shoots Dorcas in the heart. Joe recounts the details of Dorcas’s breakup with him and of his attempt to recapture all that they shared as it falls apart. Joe embraced the relationship he had with Dorcas because, for the first time in his life, he exercises choice: With Dorcas, life did not happen to him. He made it happen. Joe changes seven times to become his own New Negro.
The novel shifts to True Belle, Violet’s grandmother, and to the story of her departure from and return to Rome, Virginia. True Belle leaves Virginia for Baltimore, Maryland, as the slave of Vera Louise when Vera Louise becomes pregnant with a black man’s child.
True Belle lives 11 years with Violet and her siblings before she dies. For Violet, those 11 years are filled with stories of Golden Gray.
Although Vera Louise tells her neighbors in Baltimore that Golden Gray is an orphan she adopted, the boy in fact is her child. Vera Louise denies her son because his father is a black man. When Vera Louise’s parents discover her pregnancy and its source, they give her a large sum of money, the slave True Belle, and tell her never to return.
True Belle does not return home or to the children she is forced to leave for more than two decades. She goes back to Rome when her daughter, Rose Dear, needs her help. She fills her grandchildren’s minds with stories of Golden Gray, Vera Louise’s child, who she helps to raise. The stories detail how the child was treated like a prince, bathed in scented water, and was a perfect gentleman.
Golden Gray receives his name from his prodigious blonde curls that his mother tells him to always wear long. When he is 18, she finally tells him that his father is a black man. Upon learning the truth, Golden Gray leaves Baltimore to find his father and, presumably, to kill him.
The narrator tells the story of Golden Gray’s journey to meet his father, starting off for Virginia in a two-seated carriage. At some point in the journey, he believes his trunk has come loose and stops the carriage to fix it. As he gets back into the carriage, he sees, coming out of the woods, a naked, pregnant, and very black woman. As the woman runs away from him, she hits her head on a tree. The self-absorbed and fastidious Golden Gray is at a loss as to what to do. He has more compassion for his horse than he does for the injured woman. Needing to believe in himself as chivalrous, however, he cannot leave the woman as he would like to do.
Covering the woman with his coat, he places her in the carriage. When he arrives at his destination, he first removes his trunk and takes it into the house that, he discovers, is empty. He then returns to the carriage and to the woman to bring her into the house. He worries about his coat and if it will be wearable.
Golden Gray believes that his father’s name is Henry LesTroy and that he has arrived at his father’s cabin. Golden Gray still grapples with the new knowledge that he is not only white but also black.
The narrator intervenes in her own storytelling and begins to question Golden Gray’s actions and motivations. She notes that he behaves as if someone is watching him, as if he is crafting the story for the father he awaits. Golden Gray hears the approach of mule hooves and discovers a young black boy, Honor, who thinks that Golden Gray is white. The boy looks after LesTroy’s animals when he is gone.
Golden Gray goes to change his clothes before the boy returns from his work of feeding the animals. As he lays out his clothes, he reflects that not until he knew he had a father did he miss him. When he learns of his parentage, Golden Gray is unhinged. Only True Belle’s suggestion that he travel to find his father helps to give his confusion, anger, and crisis a focal point and a purpose.
The interventions by the narrator force the reader to consider all aspects of the story rather than simply dismissing Golden Gray as a self-centered cad. She notes his hurt and perplexity and asks, indirectly, that the reader factor those realities into the evaluation and judgment of this character.
Golden Gray brings Honor to the woman he found in the woods. The child determines from the woman’s temperature that she needs water. The boy tries to give her some water. He also washes the blood off of her face.
The woman Golden Gray finds in the woods and Golden himself become a local legend and everything that happens in the community that is negative gets construed as something the woman has done or brought about. The community comes to call the woman Wild. But Henry LesTroy experiences the woman and Golden Gray as real people.
When LesTroy, also known as Hunter’s Hunter, returns to his cabin, he finds Golden Gray, Wild, and the boy—Honor—in his cabin. Golden Gray confronts the man immediately, accusing him of being his father. Taken aback, LesTroy tells Golden that he did not know about him. Almost immediately, Wild goes into labor and delivers a newborn that she will not touch.
Finally, the father and son have an opportunity to speak with one another. LesTroy asks who told him that he was his father. LesTroy smiles fondly when he hears True Belle’s name. The whole story makes sense to him when he hears that True Belle left with Vera Louise. Golden Gray is mocking and sarcastic. LesTroy does not tolerate the boy’s tone and tells him to behave or leave his house. Golden Gray still wants to kill him.
As a young adult, Joe, the baby Wild gave birth to, tries to find her with no success. Once, he hears human singing from a cave. When he calls out to the singer, she disappears. All of his efforts to locate his mother are in vain and, despairing, he gives up searching for her. In his despondency, he decides to marry Violet.
It is the hunting impulse that sends Joe after Dorcas with a gun. Clearly, his love for Dorcas and his inability to let her go is also connected to the loss and absence of his mother. Just as Joe does not understand how a mother can abandon her child and have no love for it, Joe cannot understand why Dorcas would leave him for one of the young men he sees as incapable of treating her the way she deserves. He imagines that when he finds Dorcas, she will be repentant and will want to come back to him.
The chapter ends with Joe’s memory of finding the spot where he believes his mother, Wild, lives. The stone crevasse opens to a smooth walled space that is colored by the changing sky. Her things are there, tools for cooking, a green dress, earrings, but the person he seeks is nowhere to be found.
Joe walks into the party where he finds Dorcas. She is happy because she has overcome the initial social rejection that attracted her to Joe. Now Dorcas is with a popular boy her own age, Acton, who is desired by the other girls she knows. Dorcas’s contentment also comes from knowing that Joe still wants her, that she is the object of desire and drama.
Dorcas recalls their last conversation and her cruel, complete rejection of Joe. He offers to leave Violet, and Dorcas repeats that she does not want Joe anymore. Dorcas tires of Joe because he does nothing for her social status. Her relationship with him was not only secret but also she believes that, if made public, the romance would be a joke among her peers. For Dorcas, Joe is too easy to please. He presents no challenge. What she now likes about Acton is his investment in how she looks and in her ability to conform to what he wants. Dorcas is too superficial to appreciate Joe’s adoration. After their conversation, Dorcas is sure that Joe will come for her. She believes that if he sees her with Acton, he will understand that their relationship is over.
Dorcas sees Joe, who proceeds to shoot her. She loses consciousness. When she awakens in a bedroom, she sees Acton, unconcerned with her status, anxiously trying to get her blood off of his jacket. People ask her who shot her. She will not tell.
On a beautiful day in the city, Violet is so moved by the weather that she does not care about her slight body and her belief that it is her lack of a behind that causes Joe to lose interest. She has taken the photograph of Dorcas back to Alice Manfred. As she stands outside on her porch, a girl, carrying a record, walks up to her looking very much like Dorcas.
The girl is Dorcas’s friend Felice. Like Joe, Violet, and Dorcas, Felice is raised without her parents as primary caretakers. The girl’s parents work away from home, and she sees them only occasionally. They are too tired and preoccupied to parent her when they are with her.
Felice fills in some of the information about Dorcas, how superficial the girl was, how concerned she was about what people wore and how they smelled. Felice knows that the kids at school would tease her because of the difference in skin color between her and Dorcas. Felice thinks that Dorcas was interested in Joe because of the secrecy of the relationship.
Felice goes to see Violet because she is looking for a ring her mother gave her. Felice thinks that her mother stole the ring from Tiffany’s for her daughter. Felice loaned the ring to Dorcas, who had wanted to wear it to impress Acton.
Felice is different from Dorcas. She is not looking for a good time and has concern and respect for other people. It is also more important to her to have a job and a way to support herself than to have a boyfriend or husband.
Felice finds Violet pretty and, after she meets Joe, she understands what Dorcas may have seen in him. Felice begins to spend time with the couple and they all seem to learn and grow from each other. Felice learns from Violet that the countryside might also be a valuable place to be. Violet asks the girl to try to figure out the gender of the trees around her. The point Violet is making is that the perception of reality can be a creative process that can improve and nurture the experience of the world. Violet tells Felice that she wasted a lot of time wanting to be something other than whom and what she was. She says that she had to rid herself of the picture of Golden Gray in her mind in order to own her own life.
Felice tells Violet and Joe that Dorcas would not accept any help because she wanted to die. Joe talks to Felice about Dorcas and tells the girl that Dorcas had a vulnerable and caring side that no one saw but him because no one else had tried to love her. Joe tells Felice that he shot Dorcas because he was afraid she would leave him and that he did not know how to keep her or truly love her. He says that he still does not know how to love truly, but that he is trying to learn. Felice also tells Joe that Dorcas’s last words were about him. Felice learns from Violet that the ring she was looking for, that her mother had given to her, was buried with Dorcas.
The novel ends with the same narrative voice that begins the book. In addition to the usual revelations, the narrator notes that Alice Manfred moves back to Springfield. Felice continues to grow in her own self-determined way. Joe gets a new job, and he and Violet renew their companionship. The couple also acquires a new bird. The bird loves music, so they take it to the roof at night in its cage so it can hear the music coming from the streets. The couple finds a quiet contentment in each other. The narrator then reveals herself to be the book, the narrative itself.
Toni Morrison’s sixth novel, Jazz, is like the music it is named after, a study of the complex blending and melding that becomes the United States. The United States is many things, but is often conceptualized as a coming together of opposites, of the synthesis of urban and rural, black and white, rich and poor, male and female, and young and old. All of these polarities combine in a unique formulation that creates the sound, the look, and the character of the country known as the United States—in other words, Jazz. In Jazz, Toni Morrison examines this definition of America by creating characters that can provide access to the experience of what it means to live in a space that is defined by the idea of opposition.
Morrison describes these particularly American coming together in her novel Jazz as an attempted union that is primarily characterized by cycles of yearning, movement, desire, and loss that affect the entire country as well as the individuals who call it home. The novel moves in its journey through the small orbits of the individual characters, to ever larger circles of concern. This movement metaphorically replicates the inscription of music on a record—the text upon which all music but especially jazz would have been imprinted in years past. The reader of the novel Jazz becomes, then, like the needle on a record player, gently caressing the surface of the words in order to discern the meaning of the text as it moves slowly toward the center—all the while revealing more and more, pieces, notes of the entire score of the novel.
The novel begins with a sound whose meaning may become more transparent when the record analogy is applied. This beginning sound may be the scratching hiss of a record needle making contact with the surface of the record. With this introduction, the reader begins the interactive process of reading the novel. The word “Sth” that begins the novel requires the reader to pause to consider the meaning of this ambiguous introduction. With this introduction, Morrison requires readers’ active participation in the novel. Although the sound that she writes suggests the inception of the record player’s interaction with the record, variously it could also stand for the sucking of the teeth that people make when disgusted at an event they experience. The word could also be Morrison’s way of bridging, creating a segue, between Jazz and her previous novel, Beloved. The central character in Beloved is Sethe. Jazz’s first word, Sth, therefore, may call the reader’s attention to the connections between Beloved and Jazz. Jazz engages some of the central questions raised in Beloved—the meaning and relevance of love and freedom, the centrality of memory in the formation of identity, and the circular nature of experience. The word could even be Morrison’s wry way of referring to Jazz as the sixth contribution to her literary canon.
The record Morrison creates with the novel Jazz begins with the musical line of a single character, Violet Trace. Morrison has said that she got the idea for Jazz from a story of a photograph taken by Harlem photographer James Van Der Zee. Van Der Zee was a popular and inspired photographer who is credited with creating some of the most important visual documentation of the period in African-American history known as the Harlem Renaissance. In the early years of photography, taking pictures of the dead was a fairly common occurrence. Families would hold on to the photos as a way of commemorating the loved one. It was just such a photograph and the story behind it that Morrison claims as the inspiration for the novel Jazz. According to Morrison, James Van Der Zee’s photo from his book, The Harlem Book of the Dead (1978), was of a young girl who died after being shot by her boyfriend. According to legend, the girl, knowing she was dying, was asked to reveal the identity of the man who shot her. Although she knew that death was imminent, the girl reportedly replied, “I’ll tell you tomorrow.” This statement is loaded with the complex contradictions that inform Jazz.
As previously mentioned, Violet is the central character of the novel and she is a woman who embodies the difficult objectives of the novel—the quest to inhabit the space in between. Violet is middle-aged, a position that is sometimes difficult for women who have often been defined as useless and unappealing once they have passed their childbearing years. Violet is haunted by the girl that she once was and uncertain of the woman she wants to become.
As a young woman, Violet chose not to have children as a direct result of her observation of her mother’s, Rose Dear, experience of motherhood as unrelenting burden. Violet’s conflict between her past and her future is compounded by her relocation in her 30s from South to North. Violet perceives herself as fundamentally different in the country than she is in the city. Violet perceives herself when she lived in the country as someone strong and capable. During the last years of life in her new home in the city, Violet seems to undergo a kind of breakdown—the fracture of self that seems to correlate in part with her move north begins to manifest in her actions. The community notes her peculiar behavior—she is said to have attempted to steal a baby and to have sat down randomly in the middle of the street—both inexplicable and ambiguous actions that match Violet’s state of mind as well as her inability to fix on a self. The source of Violet’s rootless self can be found in the abandonment she experiences as a child as the result of her father’s involuntary, life-preserving absence and her mother’s suicide. As a woman, these losses manifest in Violet as a fissure or crack. Violet is between the spaces, like the dark, ever-moving lanes or spaces between the lines of a record.
Like the needle on a record, the reader goes in and out of lines of sound—the characters’ songs— while reading the novel. This experience may help to illuminate some of the meaning of the novel’s epigraph, “I am the name of the sound/ and the sound of the name. / I am the sign of the letter/ and the designation of the division.” The enigmatic quotation comes from the Gnostic Gospels and, like the rest of the novel, forces the reader to contemplate contradiction. In this instance, the sound of the name may refer to jazz, which both names a kind of music and onomatopoetically replicates the sound of that music. The sign of the letter may refer to the distinction between what things and people seem to be and what they actually are, the connection between identity and self that plagues each of these characters as they try to move through their lives. At mid-life, Violet tries to understand who she is and, like a scratched record, gets stuck. The designation of the division referred to in the epigraph may be the artificial barriers of identity placed between groups of people in order to create the sign—name, race, religion, gender, sexuality—that defines an individual. These artificial barriers are constructed, yet are powerful determiners of experience, just as the silences between the notes of a song and between the songs on a record become an indistinguishable element of the music.
The central male character in the novel, Joe, has a song/story that is interwoven with Violet’s and yet is distinguishable from it. The characters’ narratives combine to create a complete work yet function like the improvisational solos common to jazz music. Joe’s story is more like a Blues. His problems, like a blues riff, can be stated in three parts, his wife will not talk to him, which makes him deeply lonely, and motivates him to seek out love somewhere else. Like Violet, Joe is in emotional crisis and is torn between his younger, southern, country self and the older, northern, urban man he has become. Both Violet and Joe are yearning for something that they cannot identify. Violet thinks that it is a baby that she desires and Joe thinks that it is a lover. Interestingly, for a while, they both come to believe that Dorcas is the answer for what they seek, but their longing is of a deeper and less specific nature.
Returning to the record analogy, Jazz, circles through the improvisations of its various characters, each contributing to create the sound of the city, of Harlem. In part, the sound of the city is a cry of loss. Like Joe and Violet, almost all of the residents of Harlem have come from somewhere else, and so the sound of the city, jazz, becomes a way to express the loss of and longing for home, as well as a celebration of the new home the North has become. As the novel moves ever-closer to the center of the story, it must make the journey back to the South, back home, in order to understand the pieces of the whole. At the narrative heart of the novel is the story of the interaction of Golden Gray and Wild. This interaction is not only the source of Joe and Violet’s crises, but also is the fundamental contradiction and conflict the novel slowly brings the reader to consider—the coming together of blacks and whites in the formation of the United States.
Jazz music is often spoken of as quintessentially American since it is an art form that seems to have originated on this continent. Jazz also is the fusion or mixing of different musical traditions—particularly European and African. Morrison’s novel, Jazz, takes on the questions and problems raised by that fusion and represents them with the characters Golden Gray and Wild. Although Golden Gray appears white, he is of mixed racial heritage. When he discovers this reality, it sends him into a crisis, and he angrily seeks revenge on his black father. Golden Gray, particularly in light of the way he dresses and acts, can be seen as a representation of America’s founding fathers, men like Jefferson and Washington, who, although believing themselves to be white, in fact were descended from the same African ancestor as the rest of humanity. Wild, is the personification of a composite of beliefs about Africans and African Americans. She is unkempt. She is fertile. She is preverbal and illiterate. She is dangerous. She is motherless. She is wild. All of these ideas have, at one time or another, been held as common currency about black people. Significantly, Wild’s description bears a striking resemblance to the character Beloved in her novel of the same name. Since Jazz is the second in the series of three novels Morrison has called a trilogy, it follows that the character might exist in both books. In Beloved, the titular character comes to represent all of the souls lost during slavery. So in Jazz, that character becomes reproductive and gives birth. As the cumulative spirit of loss, Beloved/Wild embodies the impact of slavery and the omnipresence of that loss. Wild echoes and replicates for others her own experiences. She abandons, yet haunts.
The encounter between Golden Gray and Wild becomes the clash between narratives and between representations of the other. Although the two characters are representations of seeming oppositions, they are strangely drawn to each other. Like the violent coming together of blacks and whites in the United States throughout the brutal enterprise of slavery, Wild and Golden Gray’s encounter creates a hierarchy in which Golden Gray feels superior, even though what is most noticeable in his behavior toward Wild is his inhumanity. Golden Gray values honor over humanity. He demonstrates this preference by the revulsion he shows toward Wild as well as the attention and care he lavishes on his horse rather than the laboring woman. This intriguing narrative comes and goes in riffs. The reader discovers that the baby Wild gives birth to, yet will not nurse, is Joe. Through information revealed in this section of the novel, the reader learns that Golden Gray’s father, Hunter’s Hunter, becomes Joe’s surrogate father. The information from True Belle that sends Golden Gray on his journey to find his father connects the narrative to Violet. As there is no resolution to the conflict between the races in the United States, however, there is no conclusion to the story of the encounter between Golden Gray and Wild. The two figures enter into memory and mythology and haunt both Joe and Violet as the couple move from the South to the city. The unresolved story of Wild and Golden Gray is the deeply rooted and buried tale of the country—a story whose ambiguity and uncertainty continues to affect and haunt all Americans.
In order to resolve the crises that threaten their existence, both Joe and Violet have to confront this primary narrative and to begin to understand its impact on their self-construction. For Violet, True Belle’s stories of Golden Gray make her feel insignificant and unattractive. True Belle’s adoration of Golden Gray, particularly of his golden locks, echoes the privileging of whiteness in the larger culture. Violet’s fundamental insecurity comes from abandonment and a devaluing of self that catches up with her as she enters middle age and begins to reassess her life and its meaning. Mistakenly, Violet diagnoses her sense of insecurity, loss, and worthlessness as grief over not having had a child. She begins withdrawing, acting strangely, and sleeping with dolls. After she learns of Joe’s affair with and murder of Dorcas, she channels all of her energy into that loss. Dorcas becomes the child she never had.
For Joe, his relationship with Dorcas provides access to the lost mother, Wild, that he mourns. Joe tells Dorcas the tale of his loss—how he hunted for the woman that he believes is his mother in the backwoods. Like Wild, and unlike Violet, Dorcas is a mystery to Joe. The illusive and fleeting nature of Dorcas’s interactions with Joe is familiar and attractive to him as they mirror the unresolved feelings that he has about his unknown mother. The crisis happens for Joe when Dorcas decides to end their relationship.
When Dorcas abandons Joe, he experiences the breakup as a resurrection of all of the feelings of loss he has had all of his life as an orphaned child. As soon as the relationship is over, Joe reverts to the ways that were most familiar to him as a young man and decides to hunt and track Dorcas the way that he hunted his mother through the woods. This hunting behavior leads him to the rent party where Dorcas is with Acton. Since he can no longer have her, he does what any hunter would do when discovering the tracked prey—he shoots and kills the girl.
Joe’s actions coupled with Violet’s crises bring the couple to a point where they can begin to write their own song rather than to continue their dancing to music written for them by others. Dorcas’s friend Felice is instrumental in the couple’s recovery and in the composition of their original melody. Felice means happy in Spanish. Like acquiring a foreign language, Joe and Violet have to learn a new way of attaining and understanding happiness. When the two abandon their distinct but mutual longings for imposed impossibilities, the couple, with Felice’s assistance, comes to create their own quiet contentment.
With the resolution of Violet and Joe’s longings—the feelings that come from their shared history as orphans—the album that is Jazz gently drifts to its final note. The final passages of the novel, reveal the deeply interactive structure of the story when the narrator reveals herself as the book itself and professes that, like a record, there is no life without the active and compassionate participation of the listening reader.
SOME IMPORTANT THEMES AND SYMBOLS IN JAZZ
Nighttime and the Hunt
Morrison uses night in Jazz as a marker of routine and ritual, as a time for passion and love, and as a space for questing to fulfill deeply held needs and desires. The music, Jazz, has always had an association with night as an illicit and sensual time, and thus, nighttime figures prominently throughout the narrative.
Sleeplessness marks the lives of Violet and Joe at the beginning of the novel. The specter of Dorcas haunts the couple. Her picture is the focus of their nighttime prowling. By the end of the novel, as Violet and Joe gradually resolve the troubles of their marriage, the two become more routine in their actions and, as a result, begin to treat the night as a time of companionship. Joe takes a job that starts at midnight and so he and Violet spend the evenings comfortably in each other’s company. The two overcome the restlessness and disorder that the night originally represents for them.
The night is also a site for love and passion. This is particularly true during the early period of Joe and Violet’s relationship, which begins in the South. Violet and Joe meet one night when he falls out of a tree in front of her. Their love develops during night meetings, and nighttime becomes a special time for them. Later, because Joe also has his affair with Dorcas at night, Violet feels that the love she and Joe shared during long ago nights is tainted. While he is having the affair with Dorcas, Joe begins to live for their nightly encounters.
Unfulfilled desire motivates each of the characters in Jazz. Often the quest for fulfillment of these needs occurs at night. These nocturnal quests often result in unpredicted outcomes. Golden Gray sets out on a journey to find his black father and, as the sun begins to set, he crosses paths with the naked woman, Wild, who is pregnant with Joe. Golden Gray cares for Wild at night in his father’s cabin. As a hunter, Joe habitually spends much of his nighttime stalking prey. This activity is appropriate for the country hunter but becomes a problem when, as a city-dweller, he reclaims his identity and authority as a hunter and shoots Dorcas at an after-hours rent party after she tells him that she no longer wants to be in their relationship.
Birds and Flight
Violet and Joe own several birds. The birds serve as a symbolic connection between the couple’s rural past and urban present. Although the couple find in Harlem the economic security and relative safety they lacked in the South, they are both haunted by loss and yearning—loss of home and longing for their absent mothers. The birds seem to function temporarily as a substitute for the couples’ losses. Violet talks to her birds more than to anyone else. Violet’s parrot even tells her that he loves her and, as such, may temporarily replace the love she does not receive from Joe. Joe continues to take care of the birds, even when he is with Dorcas, so as not to disturb the routine of his stale marriage to Violet. The birds seem to represent a solid ritual that replaces the hunting to which he is accustomed.
Joe also believes that Violet cares more about her birds than her own husband. Joe feels threatened by Violet’s relationship with her parrot because she gives more love to the bird than to him. This realization partially motivates Joe’s search for love and affection elsewhere.
When Violet discovers that Joe has killed Dorcas, she runs back to the apartment and lets the birds fly out into the cold. This action may be symbolic of throwing love out of the window, letting go of and not appreciating the love she has. After Violet releases the birds, she and Joe are left alone in the silent apartment. The couple is lonely without the birds.
Love, Lust, and Longing
In Jazz, the apple becomes the symbol of unrequited desire. When Joe and Dorcas make love, the two cast Dorcas as the apple, the forbidden fruit. Joe is attracted to the girl, and yet, even when their relationship is thriving, Dorcas and the feelings she evokes make Joe wish that he was never born. Dorcas dangles just out of Joe’s reach. Although the two have a fully sexual relationship, Dorcas never completely is satisfied with it. Even when they make love, Dorcas wants Joe to take her out places and to do things with her, while Joe is entirely satisfied just being in her presence. All Joe desires is Dorcas’s company, while Dorcas longs for affirmation that she is an adult, something her relationship with Joe cannot provide.
Despite her desire for something and some place else, Dorcas’s relationship with Joe does provide her with one aspect of what she longs for, an adult drama. At the rent party before she is shot, Dorcas is aware of Joe’s intentions to come and do her harm, yet she does nothing about it. She also does not reveal Joe’s identity after he shoots her at the party. Before she dies, Dorcas whispers to Felice to tell Joe that there is only one apple. This cryptic remark may refer to Dorcas’s acknowledgment that the longing that she had for adult experiences and for public recognition were in fact fulfilled by the relationship she had with Joe. When Dorcas dies, ironically, she receives the attention and celebrity she longs for in life.
When Joe learns from Felice of Dorcas’s last words, he smiles sadly. But the next words that Joe utters, after learning of Dorcas’s pronouncement, are the repetitions of Felice’s name, possibly indicating that he will have some happiness and satisfaction knowing that the relationship with Dorcas meant something to his former lover in spite of all of the destructiveness that resulted from it.
The word “jazz” has, since its origins, been associated with sexuality, temptation, and taboo. As such, it follows that Morrison’s novel should be rooted in passion. Sexuality is at the center of the novel as are other forms of desire and longing.
Sexuality manifests itself as a central current throughout the narrative. Joe Trace is moved, literally and metaphorically, by what he imagines is Dorcas’s innocence, freedom, youth, and sweetness. This attraction culminates in a sexual union that has its roots in both characters’ motherlessness. As a refrain or echo to the activities of Joe and Dorcas, the city sky reminds the novel’s narrator of the illegal love of sweethearts before they are caught. Tantalizingly, while Dorcas paints Joe’s fingernails, the two experience a metaphoric orgasm.
Malvonne reads from love letters she has never sent—letters that have been stolen and have not reached their intended destinations. Malvonne’s voracious consumption of the letters may represent an unrequited love and/or her unfulfilled desires. Contradictorily, she thinks of sex as “a low down sticky thing” (44).
Forbidden or taboo love manifests in the text in the sexual relationship that reaches fruition in the birth of the mythical Golden Gray. Vera Louise Gray, the white plantation mistress, seduces a black man, Henry LesTroy, and becomes pregnant. As a result of her pregnancy, she is disowned by her family and relocates to Baltimore with the family slave, True Belle.
The end of the text suggests the possibility of a quieter and more sober sexuality with the reconciliation of Joe and Violet and the quiet simmer of their twilight passion. The intimacy of their sexuality at the end of the novel is notable and contrasts sharply with the spectacle of Joe and Dorcas’s affair. Joe and Violet’s undercover whispers and public love are mysterious to the narrator.
Acton is the boy Dorcas dates after she breaks up with Joe. Dorcas tries so hard to win Acton’s affection, but nothing she does pleases him. The boy is superficial and does not really care about Dorcas. His relative disinterest excites Dorcas who is looking for someone whose interest in her more closely matches her own relatively low self-esteem. Dorcas also is deeply invested in the approval of her peers. Although Joe treats her with adulation and respect, Dorcas prefers Acton who is not solicitous of her needs.
Dorcas is with Acton at the party where Joe hunts her in order to commit murder. Acton and Dorcas are dancing when Joe appears and shoots her with a silencer. After discovering Dorcas’s injuries, Acton remains self-absorbed. He seems much more upset with the fact that Dorcas’s blood stains his clothing than he is with the girl’s injuries. He disappears from the narrative after the night of the party during which Joe shoots Dorcas.
Alice Manfred is the aunt who raises Dorcas after the girl’s parents are killed in a race riot. Alice Manfred emphasizes modesty and decorum in her home. Her housekeeping represents her take on life. She seems to want, more than anything, to have some control over what happens and so maintains rigid control over her home and tries to extend that control to her niece.
Alice Manfred was left by her husband and never fully recovers from his abandonment. After he leaves, she dreams of revenge and fantasizes about killing her husband’s mistress. Alice’s inability to forgive either her husband or the woman paralyzes her and prevents her from progressing or making changes in her life. After Violet tries to attack dead Dorcas at the girl’s funeral for having an affair with Joe, Alice Manfred calls Violet Violent.
On the other hand, Alice eventually seems to forgive Violet after the women bond. Ultimately, Alice sees that both she and Violet are wounded by life in very similar ways and that they both suffer from terrible losses that have warped their characters. There is some evidence that the relationship with Violet may even help Alice to recover from her past.
Alice’s apprehensions are not only personal. She sees evil doing and danger in the world, and the music, jazz and the blues comes to represent all that is wrong. Alice keeps newspapers as a kind of proof of what she calls Imminent Demise. After Dorcas’s death, Alice begins to obsess about defenseless women. She is a perfectionist. She sews to make money. Eventually, Alice leaves Harlem and returns to her home in Springfield.
Bud and C.T. are acquaintances of Joe’s. The two play checkers and exchange friendly insults with each other. Joe enjoys their company. The day that Joe meets Dorcas for the first time, he is delayed in the delivery he is making to her aunt’s house because the conversation between Bud and C.T. is so compelling. On that day, the two argue over the S.S. Ethiopia, Marcus Gravey’s ship, a discussion from which Joe has a hard time tearing himself away.
Clayton Bede is a landowner in Virginia who takes over Harlon Rick’s place. He exploits Joe and Violet to the point that they decide to move to Harlem.
Colonel Wordsworth Gray
Colonel Wordsworth Gray is the novel’s representative of the southern master class. Colonel Wordsworth Gray is Vera Louise Gray’s father. The man disowns his daughter after he learns that she is pregnant by an African-American man. Even though Colonel Wordsworth Gray has children himself with some of the slave women on his plantation, he is unforgiving in his treatment of his daughter after the discovery of her pregnancy. Both he and his wife send Vera Louise away. They provide her with money and tell her never to return to her home.
C.T. and Bud are acquaintances of Joe’s. The two play checkers and exchange friendly insults with each other. Joe enjoys their company. The day that Joe meets Dorcas for the first time, he is delayed in the delivery he is making to her aunt’s house because the conversation between C.T. and Bud is so compelling. On that day, the two argue over the S.S. Ethiopia, Marcus Garvey’s ship, a discussion from which Joe has a hard time tearing himself away.
Dorcas Manfred Dorcas Manfred is 18 years old at the beginning of Jazz. Dorcas is the other woman in the novel’s central love triangle. The three members of the triangle are Dorcas Manfred and Joe and Violet Trace. Although the triangle forms the center of the novel, Dorcas is dead at the novel’s inception. Dorcas dies when Joe shoots her with a silencer at a rent party.
Dorcas has simple and superficial interests and tastes. Her favorite band is Slim Bates’ Ebony Keys. She goes frequently to have her hair done by legally licensed beauticians. Dorcas is, in part, interested in Joe because he sells cosmetics. During the course of their brief relationship, Dorcas enjoys giving Joe manicures. Dorcas asks Joe to take her to Mexico, a night club, but he does not want to be seen in public with her and have Violet learn of their tryst.
Dorcas’s father is killed in riots in East St. Louis, Illinois. Her mother is killed later that day when the family’s house burns down while the woman is inside. During the riot, Dorcas stays across the street at a friend’s house when her house incinerates. While the house is burning down, Dorcas wants to go back to her room to get her paper dolls. After the fire, she is sent to New York City, to Harlem, to live with Alice Manfred, her aunt.
Partially because of the experiences of Alice’s parents and also because of her own negative life experiences, Alice Manfred fears the world and all that might happen. As a result the woman tries to control everything that she can, including her environment and her niece. Dorcas does not understand her aunt’s fears and rebels against the woman’s misguided attempts at protection. One evening when Dorcas is 16 and her aunt is out of town, she sneaks out to go to a party for the first time. She has a difficult time finding something to wear since her aunt forces her to wear very modest clothes. When Dorcas is out of her aunt’s sight, she frequently makes a habit of dressing in ways that her aunt would find inappropriate.
At the party, Dorcas dances with a boy named Martin. She discovers that she is a good dancer. Sometime later, Dorcas meets Joe at her aunt’s house while Alice hosts a Civic Daughters meeting. Joe comes to Alice’s in his capacity as a door to door cosmetics salesman. Dorcas answers the door when Joe arrives. This meeting signals the beginning of the courtship between Dorcas and Joe.
There is no particular or obvious reason for Joe to be attracted to Dorcas. She has long hair and bad skin. The girl wears glasses, but not around Joe. She also changes her voice when she is around Joe. Dorcas is young enough to be one of Joe and Violet’s miscarried children. She feels that the body she inhabits is unworthy of the love and attention Joe lavishes.
Joe makes her feel valuable because of his immense hunger for her. His hunger stems from the absences and hollows that formed in him as the result of his status as an orphan like Dorcas. After Dorcas grows tired of Joe and of his unfailing adulation, she chooses a second lover who is closer to her age named Acton.
Acton does not treat Dorcas well or genuinely care for the girl, but she still likes Acton better than she does Joe because he is in demand. Dorcas is immature and asks the boys she dates to do foolhardy things to impress her, like slapping white sales ladies. Frequently, she gives Acton presents and acts toward him with the deference and care she learned from Joe’s treatment.
Dorcas is with Acton at a party the night that she is killed. Joe comes to the party and shoots the girl with a silencer. Joe does not shoot Dorcas out of anger, but because he cannot stand the idea of her living without him and no longer returning his love and affection. When Dorcas’s friend, Felice, asks her who shot her, she refuses to tell her or anyone else of Joe’s guilt. Dorcas’s refusal suggests that her feelings for Joe may have been more profound than was apparent in her breakup with and subsequent cruelty to the man.
Dorcas dies as a result of the injuries she receives at Joe’s hands. Alice Manfred is beside herself at the news of the death of her niece. Alice Manfred cannot forgive herself when she learns that Dorcas met Joe at her house. Violet is so angry when she learns of Joe’s affair with Dorcas that she goes to Dorcas’s funeral and impotently attempts to stab the girl while she lies in her coffin.
Violet becomes obsessed with Dorcas and borrows a photograph of her from Alice Manfred, who loans Violet the photograph to get Violet to leave her apartment. Joe and Violet take turns looking at the girl’s photograph and projecting on to her their imaginings and desires. Eventually, Dorcas’s friend Felice helps to free Joe and Violet from the spell of Dorcas when she gives them more information about what the girl was really like in life.
Duggie is the owner of the malt shop that Violet frequents. Violet goes there to drink the malts she thinks will help her to have hips. She believes that having hips like she used to have when she first met Joe will help save her marriage and will affirm her womanhood. Before the couple actually meet at Alice Manfred’s, Joe first sees Dorcas in Duggie’s where she goes to buy the peppermint candy that she loves and that makes her skin break out.
The Dumfrey Women
The Dumfrey women are Harlem residents. The women are a mother and daughter who imagine themselves to be the epitome of what it means to be urbane. The two women are Violet’s customers and have relocated to Harlem from Cottown, which is near Memphis. Their origins in the country may help to explain the airs that the women adopt when they arrive in the city. They appear to be what Harlem residents refer to as citified.
Their father and husband owns a store on 136th Street and the money that he brings in contributes to the sense of status the women feel. Both women have the good fortune of having desk jobs, jobs that also confer a type of status. Violet comes to their home every other Tuesday to do their hair. They are the customers Violet is waiting for when she is accused of stealing the baby, Phil, from the girl with the records.
Faye is Stuck’s new wife. Stuck is Joe’s best friend.
Felice is Dorcas’s best friend and goes with Dorcas to the rent party where Joe kills her. Trying to save her friend, Felice calls the ambulance twice. She does not go to Dorcas’s funeral because she is mad at Dorcas. She believes that Dorcas wanted to die. Before the party, Felice loans Dorcas a ring Felice’s mother stole for her daughter from Tiffany’s. Felice’s mother steals the ring for her daughter as the result of a racial slur that she experiences while in the store. Much to Felice’s chagrin and distress, Dorcas wears the ring to her grave. Felice lives with her grandmother, although her parents come home when they can from their employment in a town called Tuxedo Junction.
Before she learns that the ring her mother gave her has been buried with Dorcas, Felice visits Violet and Joe to inquire about the ring. Felice thinks that they might have some information about where Dorcas might have left it. After her first visit to Violet and Joe, Felice feels that the experience with the elderly couple helps her to understand Dorcas better. She even almost understands why Dorcas had a relationship with Joe. Felice and the couple become friends and, unintentionally, Felice helps them to recover their marriage and get over what happed between Joe and Dorcas. After Felice’s embrace of them, the couple no longer haunt Dorcas’s picture at night looking for answers. They find comfort in each other’s arms and in a newfound appreciation of their long-term love.
Felice’s mother is away from Felice working most of the time when Felice is young. She, along with Felice’s father, Walter, works in a town called Tuxedo Junction. Felice’s mother, who remains unnamed in the novel, misses going to church when she and Walter are working in Tuxedo Junction. As a result the woman is filled with regrets whenever Felice sees her mother. The woman loves to dance.
Apparently, Felice’s mother is bitter about the racism she experiences as a part of her work and is sensitive to racially based insults and slights. When injured by a racial slur, she steals a ring from Tiffany’s and gives it to Felice. This is the ring that Felice loans to Dorcas and it is, inadvertently, buried with the girl.
Felice’s mother grows too ill to work in Tuxedo. Felice empathizes and helps both her mother and grandmother with the things they need that require her assistance.
Frances Miller and her sister tend small children during the day. They belong to a group called the Doomsdayers. The women keep a list of nightclubs that sell liquor. Even though the nightclubs often are owned and/or frequented by other African Americans, the women are willing to report the lawbreakers to the authorities. When Dorcas is young and has moved to New York to live with Alice after the death of her parents, the sisters watch the child while Alice works. Frances Miller gives the kids in her care, including Dorcas, apple butter sandwiches and tells them stories about love. Dorcas’s romantic notions about love that she acts out later may have roots in the stories that she hears from the Miller sisters while she is a young, impressionable girl.
Frank Williams is the father of Victory Williams and the husband of Rhoda Williams. He and his wife adopt Joe after the child is abandoned as a baby by his mother, Wild. Frank Williams is good to Joe and treats him like one of his own children.
Gistan is a friend of Joe. When Joe has problems with Violet, and later with Dorcas, he cannot talk with his friend about it. When Joe kills Dorcas at the rent party, Gistan comes by Joe and Violet’s house with Stuck, Joe’s other friend, to tell Joe that they cannot play cards with him anymore. The two friends shun him because of his murder of Dorcas. The girl’s death, however, does not end the men’s relationship forever. The friendship between the three is renewed by the end of the novel. Once their friendship is reestablished, Gistan helps Joe get a better job at a hotel. The hotel’s clientele are so wealthy that they are able to tip the workers with paper money—a fact that helps Violet and Joe financially.
Golden Gray is Vera Louise’s mixed-race son. Vera Louise Gray conceives the boy while, during her youth, she has an affair with African-American Henry LesTroy. Following her parents’ discovery of her pregnancy, Vera Louise Gray is disowned by her family. Although they cast her off, they supply the woman with enough money for her to live comfortably for the remainder of her life away from them and from her home. Vera Louise takes their money and the woman who has functioned as her MAMMY, True Belle, and relocates to Baltimore where she gives birth to her son whom she names Golden Gray because of his appearance.
Ignorant of his parentage until he is 18, Golden believes he is Vera Louise’s protégé rather than her son. He is raised by Vera Louise and True Belle.
The women dote on him and make him feel as if he is the most important person in the world. The two women name him for his hair, which is golden and curls in tendrils around the boy’s neck. True Belle tells him that pretty hair can never be too long. True Belle, Vera Louise’s slave, is Golden Gray’s first love. Golden Gray is proficient at two things: reining in his horse and playing the piano.
Golden Gray learns the truth about his parentage when Vera Louise finally tells him the story of his life. Capable of conceiving of life only in chivalric terms, he decides that his sole course of action is to go and confront the man who is his father in order to defend his mother’s honor. Golden Gray leaves Baltimore, his home, Vera Louise, and True Belle, and goes out into the world on a confused and misguided quest for revenge and justice. Golden Gray cannot reconcile with his selfimage—the reality that he is black. He has always looked down on people that he considered to be black and as a result is in the only turmoil he has ever had to face as he tries to understand who he is as the illegitimate son of a black man.
Golden Gray sets off on an ill-conceived journey designed to assuage his discomfort and to revenge his mother. He sets off with all of the trappings of the chivalric hero—velvet jacket, carriage, and horse. While on his quest, Golden Gray happens upon a young, naked, and pregnant black woman who, when she sees him, knocks herself out by running into a tree. The chivalric hero, ironically, is not pleased by his discovery of a damsel in distress. Golden Gray puts the woman, ultimately known as Wild, in his carriage only with the greatest of reluctance. Although Golden Gray has cast himself in the role of chivalric hero, the youth is more concerned about his clothes than Wild’s well-being.
When Golden Gray finally arrives at his destination, the home of Henry LesTroy, he is uncertain how to proceed. Again, his concerns and priorities demonstrate a marked disregard for the life of Wild and her unborn child. Eventually, he settles the woman, without ceremony or concern, on Henry LesTroy’s bed.
When LesTroy finally returns from his hunting trip he confronts Golden Gray, who he thinks is white, about his intrusive presence in his house. Golden Gray tells LesTroy that he is his son and the two proceed to have an encounter, the outcome of which the reader does not have access to and does not fully experience.
The only other account of Golden Gray in Jazz occurs through both Joe and Violet’s recollections of the enigmatic man. Violet learns about Golden through the stories told to her by her grandmother, Vera Louise Gray’s slave, True Belle. When True Belle leaves Vera Louise after news of the downfall of her daughter Rose Dear, she returns to her family after her long exile to care for her grandchildren, one of whom is Violet. True Belle is enamored of the young Golden Gray who has been under her primary care since his birth. She transfers her adoration of the boy to her granddaughter, Violet. The stories of Golden Gray make Violet feel inadequate and unattractive. The stories of Golden Gray’s hair may be the source of Violet’s adult occupation as a hair dresser. True Belle’s stories are at the nexus of Violet’s feelings of loss and inadequacy, feelings that are particularly acute following the death of Violet’s mother by suicide. Rose Dear, Violet’s mother, kills herself by drowning herself in the family well and that loss, interspersed with True Belle’s stories of Golden Gray, sets Violet on a path of low self-esteem that eventually contributes to the decay of her marriage to Joe.
Likewise, Joe is also plagued by the legacy of Golden Gray. Joe is adopted as a child by the Williams family, which raises him as their own He ultimately recognizes, however, that he is an orphan. This recognition makes him long and search for his mother, who, he learns from rumor, might be Wild. As he searches for Wild, he finds traces of Golden Gray.
Harlon Ricks is the owner of the farm where Violet and Joe work when they first meet in Virginia. Joe and Violet live at Harlon Ricks’s place when they first marry. Ricks sells the land to Clayton Bede who proves even more exploitative.
One of the letters Malvonne’s miscreant nephew Sweetness (William Younger) steals and Malvonne finds is addressed to Helen Moore.
Henry LesTroy (Lestory, Hunter’s Hunter)
Henry LesTroy is the black man Vera Louise Gray has an affair with. Until Golden Gray arrives at his house, he never knows he has a son. He is out hunting when Golden comes to seek revenge against the man he learns is his father. LesTroy is a legendary hunter and is sometimes called Hunter’s Hunter. He helps the pregnant woman, Wild, give birth and, when Joe comes of age, teaches her son how to hunt. After Joe moves to the city, he recalls this first teacher as a man who could remember things clearly and who would express the truth.
Honor is Patty’s boy. He is the first to see Golden Gray at Henry LesTroy’s house. Honor tends animals for Henry LesTroy when he is hunting. Although he is a child, he knows better than Golden Gray how to care for the injured and laboring Wild. He is compassionate and exhibits a large degree of common sense. Honor is startled when he first discovers Golden Gray in Henry LesTroy’s home and believes that Golden Gray is a white man.
Hot Steam is the female writer of a letter to Mr. M. Sage. The letter is one of those stolen by Malvonne’s delinquent nephew Sweetness. The letter is so spicy that Malvonne is conflicted about sending it on and fostering what she sees as the couple’s sinfulness.
Joe Trace is Violet’s husband. Shortly after his birth he is abandoned by his mother, a woman called Wild. Following his abandonment at birth by Wild, Joe is raised by Rhoda and Frank Williams. Rhoda tells him that his mother disappeared without a trace, so, with the misapprehension of a child, he assumes he is the trace in the sentence. So when he is asked at school what his name is, he tells the teacher that his name is Joseph and then he adds the last name Trace, thinking that trace is his last name. Joe is given the name Joseph by the Williamses.
As a boy, Joe’s first job is cleaning fish. Before leaving Virginia to relocate to New York, Joe is a hunter. One night while sleeping in a tree, he falls out of a tree landing onto the ground beside Violet. This nocturnal fall is how the two first meet.
After marrying Violet, the two begin working a part of the property Harlon Ricks owned that is later turned over to Clayton Bede. Bede establishes a SHARECROPPING relationship that keeps all of his workers in his debt and ensures that they remain that way. As a consequence, Joe leaves to work in the sawmills for five years. He also works for a while laying rail. Then, he decides to buy some land of his own, but loses the land to whites who steal it from him. Eventually Joe gives up on the idea of remaining in the land that he knows so well and that he loves to hunt. Joe decides to leave Virginia with Violet after a fire decimates his hometown. Joe loves the woods, so it shocks everyone that he knows when he takes Violet to the city.
Joe has eyes that are two different colors—one that is said to look inside the hearts and minds of other people and another that lets people look inside of him. He does not want to become a father when he marries Violet, but he has a way with children. While in the city some of the jobs he has include cleaning fish, waiting tables, and working hotels. Once, he is almost killed in a riot.
He moves north from Vesper County, Virginia, with Violet in 1906. While living in the city, Joe and Violet grow estranged and stop communicating with each other. Violet begins to act peculiarly and stops connecting with her husband. After their marriage disintegrates, he begins having an affair with Dorcas whom he later kills. The loss of Joe’s mother early in his life is profoundly connected to his attraction to Dorcas and his hunt for satisfaction and understanding.
Joe Trace is a diligent boyfriend and suitor and always brings Dorcas gifts. He is a door-to-door salesman for Cleopatra cosmetic products and he sells soaps and perfumes for the company. He talks a neighborhood busybody, Malvonne, into letting him rent a room from her in exchange for money, products, and fixing up the place. Joe is the kind of man whom everyone trusts.
Although Joe’s attraction to Dorcas is inexplicable to those outside of their relationship, Joe Trace is moved, literally and metaphorically, by Dorcas’ innocence, freedom, youth, and sweetness. While Dorcas paints Joe’s fingernails, they experience a metaphoric orgasm, implying that their connection is more than merely physical. Although he does not realize it until later, his hunger for the young girl is really about his yearning for his mother. When Dorcas leaves Joe, he feels the same pain of abandonment he experienced earlier as a result of not knowing his mother and feeling discarded.
Joe does not handle Dorcas’s breakup with him well. He responds in the only way that he knows how, as a hunter. He goes searching for Dorcas even after she repeatedly asks him to leave her alone. Joe even offers to leave Violet for Dorcas. Eventually, he kills the girl at a rent party. After he kills Dorcas, he sits at the window in his apartment and cries for months. Clearly, Joe mourns something other than his action and his lost love. Joe, like both Violet and Dorcas, grieves for his lost mother.
Eventually, he and Violet reconcile and grow close again. At the end of the novel, he is working at a speakeasy so he can spend his days with Violet. The two have an older, more settled love that can sustain them and that helps to heal the wounds of the past and their unfulfilled and impossible longings.
King is Golden Gray’s female cat.
L. Henderson Woodward
L. Henderson Woodward is Helen Moore’s father. Lila Spencer
Among the letters that Sweetness steals and opens, Malvonne discovers Lila Spenser’s application to law school. Missing is the $1 bill that was originally enclosed to pay for Lila Spenser’s application fee. Malvonne worries about this theft and sends the money that Sweetness stole along with the application.
Malvonne Edwards is the upstairs neighbor of Joe and Violet who rents a room in her apartment so that Joe can have a love nest for his affair with Dorcas. She lives alone and fulfills her emotional and psychological needs with other people’s stories. She cleans offices in the evenings. The room that she rents to Joe belonged to her nephew William Younger, also known as Sweetness, before he moved west. Malvonne was the caretaker for her nephew since he was seven. After her nephew moves out, she discovers that the boy was a thief and that he has stolen several bags of mail. She tries to fulfill the wishes contained in the letters William stole.
Martin is Dorcas’s dance partner at her first party. He had been in elocution class with her, but was told to leave after the first day as the instructor believed that he would not be successful in mastering the nuances of standard En glish. Martin’s dismissal from the elocution class is a commentary on the assimilationist aspirations of the African-American middle class.
May is True Belle’s daughter, Rose Dear’s sister, and Violet’s aunt. As a young girl, she loses her mother’s presence and care when True Belle is forced to relocate to Baltimore with Vera Louise when it is discovered that Vera Louise is pregnant with Henry LesTroy’s child. May is 10 when her mother leaves for Baltimore. She remains in the care of her father and her aunt, True Belle’s sister.
Miss Ransom is a client of Joe’s. Joe leaves Miss Ransom’s house just before he goes to Alice Manfred’s for the first time and meets Dorcas.
Mr. M. Sage (Daddy)
Mr. M. Sage is the intended recipient of a letter from an unnamed woman. The letter is in the mail bag that Sweetness steals and whose contents Malvonne attempts to resend. The letter to Mr. M. Sage is overtly sexual and makes Malvonne uncomfortable. The prospect of sending the sexual letter presents Malvonne with a conflict of interest. If she sends it, she feels she will be endorsing a relationship she views as inappropriate. Malvonne compromises with herself and sends the letter along with a cautionary note and an inspirational article.
The narrator of Jazz says she wants a long-term love like an old couple—a love that can be public. The narrator intervenes throughout the novel and shapes the story to her whim. She is, perhaps, the definition of the unreliable narrator. She cannot be believed or trusted with the story and is often incorrect about the motivations of the characters.
Neola Miller and her sister take care of young children while the childrens’ parents are at work. Neola reads Psalms to the children in her care. She has one working arm. Her fiance left her when she was a young woman and afterward, according to the stories she tells to the children, her left arm that had the engagement ring on it froze and curled up. She often tells the children stories about good behavior. She believes that these morality tales will help to control their actions when they are adults and prevent them from facing a situation like the one in which she finds herself.
After she tries to cut Dorcas’s face at the funeral, Violet puts her parrot outside in the cold to fly or freeze. The parrot says “love you” and remains on the stoop for several days before, eventually, flying off to an uncertain end.
Philly is the baby boy Violet may have tried to kidnap. When she is caught walking down the street with the infant, Violet says she is merely taking the baby for a walk. Most of the crowd, annoyed by Philly’s sister’s carelessness, is inclined to believe Violet, especially since she leaves her hairdressing supplies by the carriage on the sidewalk. Some who witness the incident, however, feel that Violet is trying to steal the baby.
Philly’s sister leaves her baby brother, Philly, in his carriage and asks Violet to watch him as she runs inside to retrieve the record, “Trombone Blues.” Most of the crowd who witness the event condemn her as irresponsible and blame her for leaving the child in the care of a stranger for no good reason.
Rhoda Williams agrees to adopt Joe when his own mother, Wild, refuses to care for him. Rhoda breast-feeds the infant Joe along with her own biological child, Victory. The two boys grow up to form a bond closer than that of most brothers. When Joe grows up and asks about his biological mother, Wild, Rhoda tells him that the woman disappeared without a trace, so, with the misapprehension of a child, he assumes he is the trace in the sentence and adopts Trace as a last name.
Rose Dear is Violet’s mother and True Belle’s daughter. When Vera Louise becomes pregnant with Henry LesTroy’s child, True Belle is forced to leave her family, including her daughter, Rose Dear, to go to live in Baltimore with Golden Gray and Vera Louise. Rose Dear is eight when her mother leaves for Baltimore. She remains in the care of her father and her aunt, True Belle’s sister.
As an adult, Rose Dear has four children, one of whom is Violet. When, in her husband’s absence, white men come to threaten her and repossess her furniture, they knock Rose Dear out of a chair although she is sitting in it at the time. Rose Dear never seems to recover from that fall. She and her family are dispossessed from her sharecropper’s hut and forced to move out. After learning of her daughter’s predicament, True Belle leaves Vera Louise in Baltimore and returns to her family. After her mother comes to stay with the family, Rose Dear jumps in a well and kills herself.
Sheila is Malvonne’s cousin. When Joe goes to Alice Manfred’s during the Civic Daughters meeting and accidentally meets Dorcas for the first time, he goes there with the intention of delivering Sheila’s order to her and collecting payment.
Stuck is a friend of Joe’s. When Joe has problems with Violet and later with Dorcas, he cannot talk with his friend about it. When Joe kills the girl, Stuck comes by with Gistan to tell him that they cannot play cards with Joe anymore. Their friendship is renewed by the end of the novel.
Sweetness (William Younger, Little Caesar)
William Younger, better known by the ironic nickname of Sweetness, is the nephew of Malvonne and is raised by her from the age of seven. Believing that it is cool, William changes his name to Little Caesar. Malvonne still calls him Sweetness. After he leaves town, Malvonne discovers that he is a petty thief who has robbed at least one mailbox. Sweetness leaves Harlem headed to a city whose name ends in “o.” Malvonne tries to right the boy’s misdeeds by going through the letters he stole and replacing and resending the money the boy took out of them.
True Belle is the grandmother of Violet and the mother of Rose Dear and May. She has to leave her two daughters, Rose Dear and May, as well as her husband, under the care of her sister when she is forced to go with Vera Louise Gray to Baltimore. True Belle is a slave in the Gray household and is responsible for Vera Louise’s care as a child and young girl. Having no choice, True Belle goes with Vera Louise to Baltimore after Vera Louise’s family disowns her when she becomes pregnant with a black man’s (Henry LesTroy) child. True Belle spoils the resulting child, Golden Gray, and dotes on the boy, but does not tell him that Vera Louise is his mother. She is particularly taken with his long, curly blonde hair. True Belle often smiles at Golden because she knows all along whom his father is and she seems bemused by the situation.
After the Civil War, True Belle transitions from being a slave to servant. Vera Louise begins to pay True Belle for her labors. True Belle leaves her job with Vera Louise in Baltimore when she learns that things are not well for her daughter, Rose Dear. Significantly, Golden Gray has already left Baltimore before True Belle makes the decision to return to her family.
After Rose Dear’s suicide, True Belle raises her four grandchildren, including Violet. True Belle lives with Violet and her sisters 11 years before she dies, which is enough time to see her son-in-law return four times and for her to make six quilts and 13 shifts. It is also long enough for her stories of Golden Gray to affect Violet and for the young girl to think less of herself by comparison. Violet’s career choices, mid-life crisis, and low sense of selfworth derive from the legacy of True Belle’s Golden Gray stories.
Vera Louise Gray
Vera Louise Gray raises and adores a blond boy, Golden Gray, as her protégé who is actually her own bi-racial child. Vera Louise is the daughter of Colonel Gray, a slave master and plantation owner. She has a sexual encounter with Henry LesTroy, an African-American man, which results in her pregnancy. As a result Vera Louise is disowned by her family and they give her a great deal of money to leave town. Vera Louise gives birth to a son named Golden Gray.
Following the Grays’ disowning of their daughter, Vera Louise moves with True Belle to Baltimore where they raise Golden Gray together. Vera Louise keeps largely to herself, reads, and explains to acquaintances that Golden Gray is an adopted protégé. The two women spoil and overindulge Golden Gray. Vera Louise never tells LesTroy, Golden Gray’s father, about the boy and does not tell the boy about his parentage until he is 18.
Victory Williams is one of Rhoda and Frank Williams’s sons. He is three months older than Joe and the two are raised like brothers after the Williamses decide to adopt Joe. Victory thinks that his parents will be upset when they find out that Joe gave himself the last name Trace instead of Williams when asked about his last name in school. Victory hunts with Joe—they are both picked out to become hunting men by Hunter’s Hunter, Henry LesTroy.
As a result of threats of vigilante violence against him, Violet’s father does not live with his wife, Rose Dear, and their children. Because of circumstances never made completely clear in the novel, it is dangerous for Violet’s father to return to his family. As a result, he visits the family periodically. When he arrives, he is always bearing gifts for everyone, but is not able to provide the continuous support they need to survive. His absence is a source of grief and longing for Rose Dear and may contribute to her mental decline and eventual suicide. Violet thinks of her father as a dashing character who brings presents to her and to her sisters but who never is a constant presence in their lives. After Rose Dear’s death, Violet’s father comes again, bearing gifts. Not knowing about his wife’s death, he brings her a pillow she will never use. He visits periodically over the next several years and then is never heard from again. After she moves to the city, Violet wonders if he is still alive.
When Jazz begins, Violet is a 50year-old resident of Harlem described as “skinny . . . but still good looking.” Violet is a freelance hairdresser who is unable to resolve her feelings about an affair her husband, Joe Trace, has had with a young woman named Dorcas. When Dorcas ends the relationship, Joe fatally shoots her at a rent party. Violet realizes that the shooting is evidence of her husband’s adoration of his lover. Violet longs for this kind of love and her desire leads her to peculiar acts such as trying to stab Dorcas’s body during the girl’s open casket funeral, sitting down in the middle of a busy Harlem street, trying, possibly, to kidnap an unattended baby, and releasing her pet parrot into the New York winter air because she cannot stand its repetition of the phrase “I love you.” These acts earn her the nickname Violent in her Harlem neighborhood.
Violet becomes obsessed with Dorcas. She wants to know everything about Dorcas so she can discover why her husband loved the girl with such intensity. She begins visiting Dorcas’s guardian and aunt, Alice Manfred, and she even keeps a picture of Dorcas on her mantel. Violet’s obsession feeds Joe’s and the two become caught in a cycle of selfdestruction that is rooted in their pasts. Some of the troubling events in Violet’s childhood include the suicide of her mother, Rose Dear, and the influence of her grandmother’s stories. Violet’s grandmother, True Belle, returns to Vesper County from Baltimore to take care of Violet and her siblings upon learning of Rose Dear’s death. When True Belle leaves Baltimore, she abandons the service of her white mistress, Vera Louise Gray, and Vera Louise’s mixed race son, Golden Gray.
In addition to her two miscarriages, another of Violet’s unresolved problems is her inability to attain the kind of adoration her grandmother, True Belle, expressed when telling stories about Golden Gray. Eventually, both Joe and Violet find resolution of their marital discord through their shared grief and through their interactions with Dorcas’s friend Felice. The couple begins listening to music again and even purchases another bird that they revive with their songs.
A flashback midway through the novel reveals a young Violet in 1906 as she travels 15 miles from her birthplace in Vesper County, a small, fictional African-American community in Virginia, to pick cotton as an itinerant worker. Although strong, Violet is not a good cotton picker. While working, she meets Joe, her future husband. The two first connect when Joe, sleeping in a walnut tree, literally falls on Violet. After this encounter, Violet never returns home. The narrator describes Joe and Violet as “dancing” into New York City and Harlem as they ride the train north from Virginia. Their dancing evokes the rhythms of the city and alludes to the title of the novel. When the couple arrives in Harlem, they feel at home, as if they have finally found a place to belong. Joe and Violet represent the thousands of anonymous African Americans who migrated from the South to the North in search of economic opportunities and freedom from racial oppression and violence.
Walter is Felice’s father. He works in a place called Tuxedo and when he comes for brief periods to the city he likes to sleep and to be waited on by the women in his life. He also relishes reading newspapers. Later in the novel, he gets a job working as a PULLMAN PORTER.
Wild is Joe Trace’s mother. Golden Gray discovers her, pregnant by the side of the road, as he travels to find his father, Henry LesTroy. When Wild sees Golden Gray, she flees from him and runs headlong into a tree, knocking herself unconscious. Golden Gray is disturbed by the woman and does not want to put her into his carriage, but, ironically, feels he is too chivalrous to leave her by the side of the road. Golden Gray puts the naked, pregnant Wild into his carriage and drives with her to Henry LesTroy’s. When he gets to the house, he places the woman on the bed, only after caring for his horse.
After giving birth to Joe, Wild is taken care of by Hunter’s Hunter, Henry LesTroy. Wild will not touch or tend to her child, Joe, who was given to the Williamses to raise. Joe, the child of the wild woman, needs to be nursed by another woman, Rhoda Williams, in order to stave off impending death. Wild’s refusal to nurse her child may be an indication of her symbolic rejection of motherhood.
When he becomes an adult, Joe searches for his mother in the woods. There are legends about Wild. Wild is said to disturb the minds of the men cutting cane and to cause women to lose their unborn babies. Joe finds traces of Wild in a cave in the woods but never sees the woman herself.
Mrs. Winsome Clark is the author of one of the letters that William Younger (Sweetness) stole from a mailbox. Her husband was working on the Panama Canal. She and her children are in a bad living situation and plan to return to their home in Barbados.
Hardack, Richard. “ ‘A Music Seeking Its Words’: Double-Timing and Double-Consciousness in Toni Morrison’s Jazz,” Callaloo 18 (1995): 451–471. Jones, Gayl. Liberating Voices: Oral Tradition in African American Literature. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1991. Loris, Michelle C. “Self and Mutuality: Romantic Love, Desire, Race, and Gender in Toni Morrison’s Jazz,” Sacred Heart University Review 14, nos. 1–2 (1993–94): 53–62. Mbalia, Doretha Drummond. “Women Who Run with Wild: The Need for Sisterhoods in Jazz,” Modern Fiction Studies 39 (1993): 623–646. Treherne, Matthew. “Figuring In, Figuring Out: Narration and Negotiation in Toni Morrison’s Jazz,” Narrative 11, no. 2 (May 2003): 199–213. Van Der Zee, James. The Harlem Book of the Dead. Dobbs Ferry, N.Y.: Morgan and Morgan, 1978. Yeldho, Joe V. “Toni Morrison’s Depiction of the City in Jazz,” Notes on Contemporary Literature 36 (January 2006): 14–16.
Source: Gillespie, C. (2008). Critical companion to Toni Morrison. New York: Facts On File.