Jazz | Study Guide

Toni Morrison

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Jazz | Part 4 | Summary



Violet feels that there are two Violets. One Violet looked for the missing knife for months. The other—"that Violet"—knew that the knife was in the parrot's cage. That Violet found out where the funeral was and had the strength to push past the ushers and nick the flesh by Dorcas's ear. That Violet made animal sounds as men dragged her out of the church, and then she evicted her birds, unable to bear the parrot's memorized line: "I love you."

Violet wonders why that Violet is proud of having attacked a corpse. She imagines the affair in painful detail and angrily admits that she is that Violet—the same person who once "handled a four-mule team" and adored Joe, the man who "carried a light inside him" and saw only her. Then she felt loved and chosen; now she wonders whether they both fell in love with fantasies. Violet's fear of losing Joe is unspeakable.

She thinks of her mother, Rose Dear, who collapsed under the strain of her marriage to an irresponsible, absentee husband. Violet's father signed away all their possessions; the repo men literally slid Rose Dear out of the last chair in the house. Rose Dear finally drowned herself. Violet wonders what was "the one and final thing" her mother couldn't bear. Personal pain? Violent racism? Or "was it that chair they tipped her out of?"

The night Violet and Joe met, they talked, "teasing, explaining," until morning, when she "claimed him." They stayed in Virginia 13 years, but tales of Northern cities with "streets where colored people owned all the stores" persuaded them to migrate. Three miscarriages had left them childless, merely an "inconvenience" until Violet turned 40 and "mother-hunger ... hit her like a hammer." Violet sometimes wonders if Dorcas was the "scheming bitch" who stole Joe or "the daughter who fled her womb."

During a visit Alice observes how "small and quick this little bitty life is" and recommends that a woman make it what she wants. Caught up in the thought, Alice burns the shirt she's ironing and shouts, "Oh, shit!" The women erupt in laughter, and Violet recalls how True Belle laughed so hard that she had to lean on the wall to stay upright. When she thinks of what a sight she must have been at the funeral, her laughter nearly chokes her.


This part focuses on Violet and is told partially in a first-person stream-of-consciousness style in which Violet moves quickly from thought to thought and image to image. The narration reveals much about her upbringing and its effects on her present.

  • Violet's father was a man struck by wanderlust and quick to involve himself in shady deals. Absent most of the time, he brought little gifts when he came home, but Violet does not excuse his treatment of her mother. She learns from him the threat of abandonment.
  • Violet's grandmother, True Belle, offers a model of stamina and perseverance in the face of challenges. "Thank God for life," True Belle says after Rose Dear's suicide, "and thank life for death." However, True Belle also unwittingly harms Violet by telling her endless stories about Golden Gray, with his pale skin and blonde curls. Golden takes up residence in Violet's mind and becomes the impossible standard against which she measures other men.
  • Violet's early years with Joe were full of love, but her sudden desire to have children and inability to do so crush her spirit and drive her into silence. Violet evicts the birds, unable to bear the parrot especially. Each time Violet went down the apartment stairs, the parrot, having forgotten how to fly, accosts her with the painful words "Love you." He is gone by the second morning, taken perhaps by a dog or a person whose home lacks "mirrors" and a "supply of ginger cookies." Violet regrets having never named or cosseted the parrot. True Belle had Golden to raise and adore; Violet has no one.

However, the part ends on a positive note that brings out a central idea in Morrison's works: the importance of supportive friends, especially for women. Violet tells Alice that, had circumstances been different, she could have loved Dorcas—if she could figure out what love is. Violet's longing to be a mother meant she could have loved Dorcas like her own daughter, but this was not meant to be. However, Violet is beginning to heal. She drinks malts to put flesh on her skinny frame, she laments the loss of her birds, and she owns her mistakes, large and small. She can even step back and view her actions at the funeral from a more objective point of view, laughing at her foolishness.

In the last three parts, the reader will note the historical underpinnings of the novel. Because Morrison's trilogy (Beloved, Jazz, and Paradise) follows African American history over more than a century, historical events are interwoven with fictional story lines. The history is like the harmony against which the jazz melodies are played. Joe and Violet are two people out of millions who made the Great Migration from the South to the North, seeking a place where African Americans were "laughing all night and making money all day." Joe resists the pull of the North for a long time, and Violet wonders what made him change his mind. Perhaps it happened because Booker T. Washington (or, as Joe and Violet call him, "Booker T.") dined at the White House in 1901. This event outraged many people because Theodore Roosevelt invited Washington to a formal dinner at a time when segregated dining was still the law in the South. For African Americans the event was a sign of hope for the future and a matter of racial pride.

Questions for Part 4

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Respond: Part 1: Compare the literary description of the holocaust in Elie Wiesel’s Night with the cinematic portrayal of similar events in Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List. Is literature or cinema
Respond: Part 1: In “An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness” Nigerian novelist Chinua Achebe critiques Conrad’s representation of Africa and European imperialism. Discuss Achebe’s ow
Respond: Part 1: What key pieces of art or literature surprise you about women in the 16th and 17th century? Do you think it reflects their rebellion and/or renaissance or their oppression? Provide an
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