Jazz by Toni MorrisonLiterature

What are the Important Themes in “Jazz”?

6 Mins read

The novel Jazz, published in 1992, is the second in a loose trilogy (Beloved, Jazz, Paradise) of novels. The novels don’t share characters however slightly the theme of excessive or obsessive love.

Jazz (1992) deals with romantic love and parental love. Its most important plot is set simply after World War I within the Harlem neighborhood of New York City. A young woman is murdered by her older, married lover.

Here are some vital themes found in Jazz:

Theme of Violence and Race

Cultural violence and race are woven into Jazz’s historic setting. Race riots erupt as African American staff crowd into Northern industrial cities to work in factories; veterans who fought within the war come house to endure racist treatment; and systemic racism by whites threatens African American males with violence and women with sexual violence. The novel is full of examples: Alice’s brother is “stomped to death.”

Joe survives a beating solely because a white man decides he ought to. Young males are lynched or crushed. The narrator maintains, often, a surprisingly impartial tone when she experiences violence, maybe to let readers make of this insanity what they could.

Friends, families, enemies—all are vulnerable to interpersonal violence or the urge towards it in Jazz. Dorcas’s final memories of her mom are of the “pop and sting” of a slap to the face. Alice imagines a horrific death for her rival: she would experience “four iron hooves” over the woman till nothing was left however a “twitchy, pulpy body.” The novel’s central act of interpersonal violence appears to occur of its own accord. Joe would not actively intend to hurt the “easy prey,” but the path “finds” him and leads him to Dorcas. Violence seeps from generation to generation, as Vera Louise’s being pregnant is revealed. Colonel Gray’s “rage seeped into the room, clouding the crystal,” whereas Mrs. Gray offered the “final cut”—a glance of disgust. Vera Louise, although not physically harmed, is sent away to “die … elsewhere.”

Read About: Appropriateness of the Title “Jazz” by Toni Morrison

Even the language of the novel resonates with violence. The narrator describes light that “slants like a razor cutting the buildings in half,” and the pharmacy illuminates clients in a “thin sharp light,” for instance. Violent music rings with “complicated anger” and hostility. And but set towards this permeating violence, like balm unfold over burned skin, are many acts of gentleness, compassion, and restraint.

History underpins Jazz’s reasonable depiction of the consequences of slavery and racism on families. True Belle, for instance, has been Vera Louise’s slave for years when Vera Louise goes to Baltimore to have her child. Vera Louise simply assumes that True Belle will depart her husband and two young daughters, and she does. True Belle redirects her love for her daughters to Golden till she comes home, free and with wages to spend. Meanwhile, Rose Dear loses a reliable, caring mom, marries a wandering man, and hardly attends to her children. The consequences ring down two generations, filling Violet with a terror of shedding the one individual she has, Joe.

Post-slavery, racism nonetheless destroys households. When Felice complains that her parents’ jobs hold her from seeing them usually, Dorcas reminds her that she has no parents—solely a picture. Fearful, racist beliefs—that whites had been shedding their jobs to new employees from the South, being crowded out of “their” properties, “their” city—shatter Dorcas’s family. The friend who was preserving Dorcas that day cannot or will not converse of what she noticed.

Many characters try and flee Southern racism and search alternatives by migrating north. Geography determines what African Americans can do. When Joe and Violet take the train north, an attendant pronounces breakfast within the dining car—however solely as soon as the train clears Delaware. This attendant longed to see each individual rise up and walk to the dining car because not does the “green-as-poison curtain” separate them from the white eating space. Of course, Northern cities usually are not free from racism. Alice Manfred experiences it on Fifth Avenue, where “white-men” attain for her from the vehicles, cash in hand, and white girls will not sit by her because “you never know what they have.” And the riots are proof that the violence of the South can occur wherever. But within the City, where many African Americans have congregated, art and music flourish, and families elevate their youngsters in relative security.

Identity and Motherhood

Individuals similar to Joe and Golden search to create and keep identity in Jazz. Joe’s “inside nothing” stems not from an absence of affection—his foster household embraces him. He doesn’t know who he’s because he doesn’t know to whom he belongs. His misunderstanding of “without a trace” makes the purpose. The name Joe chooses is a case of mistaken identity. The “proud-making” determination Henry made in training Joe supplies him with identity as a hunter and woodsman, however these abilities are of little use to a salesman. Joe has identity, too, as Violet’s husband, however this falls away when she turns into silent; his affair with Dorcas is an try and turn out to be one other “new” man.

Golden suffers, too, unaware of his father till he has imbibed the cultural hate of the South. The loss appears like a missing arm; he’ll by no means know what life would have been with the arm, although he will get alongside well sufficient with out it. No father “helped me over the stile” or “fed me food.” Golden’s father-longing is a starvation. He both despises his African American heritage and needs to inform his father concerning the “missing part of him” in order that they’re “free, arm-tangled and whole.” But reconciliation is tough; Henry will not be what Golden expects. Henry challenges Golden to decide on his identity. “If you choose black, you got to act black”—like a reliable man accountable to himself and his group. Either means Henry will not take Golden’s “white-boy sass.” Fascinated by Wild, nevertheless, Golden finds a 3rd alternative. He walks away from his white privilege and from Henry’s model of manhood, discovering his identity within the woods. Golden is not going to be parted from Wild; the sight of them collectively—her very dark skin and hair by his pale skin and golden curls—amazes individuals and suggests an identity that supersedes race.

Motherhood occupies a vital place in Jazz. Mothers—good, absent, incompetent, or surrogate—pepper the novel. Joe desires his mom to acknowledge him, however there isn’t any substitute for Wild’s contact. If Joe cannot persuade himself that he felt it, within the twilight of the woods, he cannot full his identity. Violet’s identity, however, is generally wrapped up in her marriage to Joe. She felt complete with him in the beginning of their marriage. Her unfulfilled longing to become a mom, nevertheless, created a rift between them. When Joe has an affair with Dorcas, Violet nearly believes she may have liked Dorcas the best way she would have liked her own daughter, however this was not meant to be. Violet’s desire to be a mom is maybe associated to the absence of her own mom, Rose Dear, who committed suicide, an act that had a profound impact on younger Violet. True Belle becomes Violet’s surrogate mom, however as a grownup Violet desires to experience the motherly love that Rose Dear didn’t present. Conversely Alice treats her niece, Dorcas, like her own child and tries to protect her from the depraved methods of the City. Alice’s strict spiritual upbringing causes her to see the City in an adverse light, stuffed with perversity and hazard. Dorcas feels liked by Alice but additionally stifled. Golden experienced motherly love rising up from both his mom, Vera Louise Gray, and her slave, True Belle. However, this isn’t sufficient for him, and he seeks out his father, Henry, as a way to grasp his true identity.


Marriage is a crucial theme of Morrison’s novel. Joe and Violet’s marriage is riddled with issues, primarily stemming from the truth that they’re unable to produce children. The ensuing emotional separation causes Joe to seek companionship elsewhere. Violet’s view of marriage is affected by her mom’s failed marriage, and thus she clings to Joe, a person very totally different from her own absent father. Violet takes her revenge on Dorcas for threatening her marriage by cutting the dead girl’s face.

Alice’s failed marriage has distorted her view of males. Her late husband’s affair devastated her, and she convinces Dorcas that males are harmful and to not be trusted. Learning about Dorcas’s affair with Joe brings again painful reminiscences of her own marriage. Marital issues and infidelity are recurring points in the novel Jazz, and so they principally have an effect on women, Violet and Alice specifically.

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