Jazz Additional Summary

Toni Morrison


Jazz is the story of a husband and wife living in Harlem, New York in the 1920s. Joe and Violet Trace’s marriage has experienced the usual ups and downs, but in the winter of 1926, their lives are nearly destroyed by Joe’s infidelity with 18-year-old Dorcas whom he shoots to death. Because there are no witnesses, Joe is not arrested or made to pay for his crime in the traditional sense. Instead, he punishes himself.

His wife Violet is humiliated and outraged by Joe’s betrayal of their love. Her reaction is to blame the dead girl and to strike out against her. Violet attends Dorcas’ funeral to see what makes this girl so beautiful and why her husband loves her so fiercely.

At the funeral, Violet tries to attack the corpse with a knife. Violet is physically thrown from the funeral service. Now both Joe and Violet are the subjects of ridicule in their community.

However, neither of them is concerned. Joe is too busy crying. Violet spends her days trying to find out more about her husband’s dead lover. Violet still considers Dorcas her rival for Joe’s affections.

Violet becomes more and more mentally unglued. She is willing to do anything to hold on to her husband and to keep herself from going crazy. Violet becomes friends with the dead girl’s aunt Alice Manfred and with Dorcas’ best friend Felice.

As the story unfolds, we find out what causes the anguish suffered by Joe and Violet. Joe...

(The entire section is 524 words.)


(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

Jazz is an account of both the personal and the historical. While focusing on the lives of Joe and Violet Trace, the novel also provides an account of African American life in the South from the mid-nineteenth century through the Great Migration that brought millions north beginning in the 1870’s and continuing in a steady stream into the twentieth century. The story of the Traces’ move in 1906 from Virginia to Harlem is part of the African American story.

The novel opens and closes with the puzzling relationship of Joe, Violet, and Felice. The narrator, a strong and critical voice throughout the book, has access to the information readers will need to understand a fifty-year-old man who “fell for an...

(The entire section is 962 words.)


(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Jazz, Toni Morrison’s sixth novel, is a lyrical, multifaceted narrative that explores the Harlem lives and back-country roots of a number of African American characters in the years from 1873 to 1926. In keeping with the loose, improvisational nature of the music that gives the book its title, Jazz is composed of ten untitled, unnumbered chapters. The principal first-person narrator is an unnamed omniscient observer with a distinctly subjective personality who knows Harlem and the main characters well. The novel also includes first-person passages narrated by Joe, Violet, Dorcas, and Felice, that give the reader a rich and sometimes conflicting range of perspectives on the characters and action.


(The entire section is 834 words.)


(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

A three-month affair between Joe Trace and the young Dorcas Manfred ends when Joe shoots Dorcas at a party. At the young woman’s funeral, Joe’s wife, Violet Trace, is nicknamed Violent after she tries to cut the face of the corpse. For months, Violet and Joe grieve. They have only a photograph of Dorcas. The narrator believes that another scandalizing threesome is about to occur, as Dorcas’s friend, Felice, visits the couple.

The childless, withdrawn Violet had once collapsed in the street. At another time she had intended to take someone else’s baby home. Violet’s public craziness differs greatly from the determined and vocal woman she used to be. After Dorcas’s funeral, Violet even cast out the parrot who...

(The entire section is 1147 words.)


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Much as in Beloved and in Paradise, Morrison focuses in Jazz on a particular period of African American history: the 1920’s, sometimes called the Jazz Age. African Americans migrated in large numbers to urban areas of the Northeast in the early part of the twentieth century. They came to escape the racial discrimination so prevalent in the South and to find economic opportunity that urban centers in the Northeast promised. Their migration, sometimes called the Great Migration, created all-black areas in cities such as Chicago and New York City. Harlem is the most famous of these and is the setting for Jazz. The existence of large numbers of people of African descent in places such as Harlem...

(The entire section is 605 words.)