Course Hero. "Jazz Study Guide." Course Hero. 28 July 2016. Web. 8 June 2023. <https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Jazz/>.
Course Hero. (2016, July 28). Jazz Study Guide. In Course Hero. Retrieved June 8, 2023, from https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Jazz/
(Course Hero, 2016)
Course Hero. "Jazz Study Guide." July 28, 2016. Accessed June 8, 2023. https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Jazz/.
Course Hero, "Jazz Study Guide," July 28, 2016, accessed June 8, 2023, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Jazz/.
Without her birds, Violet misses the calming bedtime routine of covering the cages, and her nights are troubled by Dorcas's image. Joe's nights, too, are difficult. Dorcas was "his necessary thing" for three months, yet already he is forgetting her "dearness." He rehearses the day they met to keep the details fresh but knows he will forget, just as he forgot happier times with Violet.
Readers learn via flashback that Joe visited Alice Manfred's apartment to sell cosmetics to women at a luncheon. When Dorcas, the "peppermint girl" he noticed at the drugstore, opened the door, he felt "the ping of desire" for the first time in years.
When Joe met Violet in Virginia, they were "drawn together" by circumstance. They moved to Harlem in 1906 as part of a wave of African Americans abandoning the South for new lives in Northern cities, and they found the City more than perfect. The narrator sings another love song to the City, praising in particular its mesmerizing, starless night sky. It doesn't take Joe long to replace his love of Virginia's woods with City love. He recalls in particular a place along a river where a woman who might be his mother lived and his yearning for her acknowledgment. This, he tells Dorcas, is his "inside nothing." She has one too. She tells him of the night her home burned, with her mother and her precious clothespin dolls inside.
Twenty years after they arrive, Joe and Violet talk less, laugh less, dance less—but Joe's lovemaking with Dorcas is intimate and energetic. Afterward Joe returns to his silent wife, marveling at Dorcas, who "both blesses his life and makes him wish he had never been born."
The narrative shifts to Malvonne Edwards. Malvonne does custodial work in an office building, where she eavesdrops on conversations and gleans clues from trash. She observes her neighbors closely too. Recently her nephew Sweetness stole mail from a post box before leaving for a Western city. Malvonne reads the opened mail, particularly fascinated by a letter from Winsome Clark, who writes asking for money to join her husband in Barbados.
As Malvonne tries to deal with the letters' unfinished business, Joe interrupts with a proposition: he'll pay to rent her room while she's working. Malvonne objects to abetting an affair but is moved by Joe's admission that he "can't take the quiet" in his home.
This part steps the plot back to October 1925, when Joe meets Dorcas and they begin their affair. Joe's grief over Dorcas is complicated. He loves her, but he kills her. He relished every moment with her, but his memories of these moments are already fading. Dorcas made Joe feel young again; she awoke his "randy aggressiveness," which had lain dormant for many years. It's not just Dorcas Joe is grieving. He also mourns the loss of the new man he became because of her. Because his love for Dorcas is excessive, how will he cope with her loss?
Malvonne Edwards, though a minor character, is a revealing example of wasted gifts. Malvonne is highly observant and intelligent. She reads widely—news and "other people's stories." As she cleans the offices of white people, she picks up clues like a forensic scientist would and can report who "fought his son" or "had a passion for justice." Malvonne peers behind the books on shelves and overhears phone calls. Because she is an African American woman, she is nearly invisible to the office personnel, and she happily exploits that fact. Malvonne is not actually interested in white people's lives, but her natural abilities beg to be exercised.
She can't guess why Sweetness stole the bag of mail—perhaps to extract any cash that might be in the letters. The other lives contained in the mail are like more little stories to her; she finds herself wanting to write back with advice, forward letters on with useful notes, and help strangers in need. Malvonne is, like many other characters, smart and curious, but she inhabits a world with little use for sharp, able African Americans. The waste of her gifts is a little tragedy and develops themes of race and oppression.
As for Joe, the narrator comments that he has become a "Thursday man." Thursday men are happy on Thursdays as they anticipate romance, but their contented mood gives way on the weekend to the painful realities of human love and lust. Throughout the novel the narrator uses the metaphor of grooves on a record (a jazz record, of course). People think they are acting freely when they are actually riding "the circles and grooves" of a record, as the needle follows its path from a record's edge to its center. Joe is pleased now, but the narrator reminds the reader that in the City love's music can change from "freezing to hot to cool" without warning.