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Jazz | Study Guide

Toni Morrison

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Jazz | Part 10 | Summary



The narrator admits that Joe and Violet "contradicted" her prediction, being "changeable." She never really knew what Joe and Violet were thinking. She suspects that Joe's tears were not just for Dorcas but for Wild, living in the rocks in her "chamber of gold." Wild seems to the narrator a good person with whom to close the story. Wild has reached out to touch the narrator, and now the narrator knows.

Alice moves to Springfield in search of work for her industrious needle. Felice still buys her records; "her tempo is next year's news," and the narrator will keep an eye on her. Joe takes a job at a speakeasy so that he can "run around" with Violet in the afternoons. They no longer sleep at night, instead catching naps as needed. They retell old stories and nurse the sick bird Violet brought to health by carrying the cage to the roof to let it hear wind and music.

The narrator recalls an evening in 1906 before Violet and Joe came to the City. Violet rinsed her face and let down her hair. She pulled off one work shoe and fell into a trusting sleep. Joe had been away working; he came home to find Violet, one heavy shoe still on, asleep. He touched her face, admired her strong arms, and then slipped the other shoe off. She laughed in her sleep, a "light happy laugh" he'd never heard.

For the narrator all people are fascinating, living and loving, secretly and openly. She likes to hear them "whisper to each other under the covers," telling stories that bind them, safe from envious comparisons. They express their love in countless gestures that say, "I have loved only you ... I have watched your face for a long time now." The narrator is still waiting for this love, but readers are free to reach out and claim it.


The narrator reveals a sweet vulnerability in this last part, which offers a gentle and happy ending to intertwined stories of loss and challenge. Not only does she admit her fallibility, but she praises Joe and Violet, who have fooled her and who knew all along that she was watching them and commenting on their lives. She thought that, like Malvonne, she was nearly "invisible" as she listened in on the characters' lives, but they were onto her all along.

Jazz plays with the idea of omniscient narration. In many novels, especially traditional novels, the reader is asked to trust the omniscient narrator to lead the way through the story. Often this kind of narrator is an authorial and authoritative voice. However, Jazz employs a narrator who doesn't even trust herself and who, like the characters, is needy. She craves story, like Malvonne; she craves companionship, like Joe and Victory and like Alice and Violet. She searches for a motherly presence and finds it in Wild; she invites the reader to reach out and take her love. Disembodied, almost like a presence in the novel rather than a person, the narrator is still very human, flawed but relatable. She leads the reader to think back to previous events in the book and to question their truth—and whether or not the truths were embellished or completely false. In a sense the narrator is relating the story to the reader as if she were gossiping about the characters, much as people in communities gossip with one another, and the stories are changed as they are passed down through generations as part of family life and tradition.

The novel's final pages are a kind of hymn to mature love, the love Joe and Violet demonstrate. They integrate themselves into the community, inviting friends to play cards and looking after the children of younger people.

Having endured the fire, their love seems purer, yet Joe and Violet carry the scars of the burns. In bed at night, Joe sees through the window a dark "shape of a shoulder with a thin line of blood" that morphs into a bird with a "blade of red on the wing," symbolic of Dorcas's fatal wound and the redwings that appear where Wild does. Violet, meanwhile, lays her hand on Joe's chest and imagines that it is a "sunlit rim of a well" in which someone is gathering little treasures to hand out. Wild and Dorcas, Rose Dear and Violet's father—all the history that preceded Joe and Violet and all the history that links them—is there with them in the neatly kept, dark room, incorporated into their private love.

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