Critical Evaluation

(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Set in New York in 1926, Toni Morrison’s Jazz takes the reader back through the rural and city histories of the two main characters, Violet and Joe Trace, to make sense of their actions in the present. Historically, Jazz alludes to the great migration of African Americans from the South to the North, to returned veterans of World War I who cannot get respect or the work they deserve, to the Reconstruction period after the Civil War, and most emphatically, to the Harlem Renaissance, with its jazz and literature.

Jazz comprises ten sections in which the unnamed narrator characterizes the city and discusses what she knows of the lives of Joe and Violet. Subsections in each chapter are focalized through Joe, Violet, Dorcas, Alice, and Felice. The subsections fill out the narrator’s improvisations, take them somewhere else, embellish them, and often contradict them. Various events, loves, and losses that have shaped the characters are repeated or given significance with differences in meaning, range, and depth. The last line of one section is usually picked up in the opening of the next. The idea of the South as the Promised Land for former slaves is also improvised upon by the narrator, who adores the city, and through Joe and Dorcas’s love affair. Joe thinks of Dorcas as his Eden, believing he has eaten the first apple and its core.

The narrator is energized by the contradictions, bravado, and vibrancy of the city, and she often begins a section or a subsection with a riff on its excitement, diversity, changeability, and sheer spectacle. Like all Morrison novels, Jazz demands...

(The entire section is 669 words.)