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Jazz | Part 6 | Summary

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Summary

The narrator can only imagine what True Belle feels, returning to Rome, Virginia, in 1888 as a free woman, wages in hand, to the family living in a shack and eating meager handouts from neighbors. True Belle, relentlessly competent, rescues her grandchildren, but Rose Dear drowns herself in a well anyway.

True Belle tells stories of her life in Baltimore, where she raised Golden Gray, a beautiful child with pale skin, gray eyes, and blond curls, with his mother, Vera Louise Gray. Both women adored and "completely indulged" the child. True Belle knew who the father was. No one else knew, other than that he was "a Negro boy." The rage of Vera Louise's father "soften[ed] the starched tablecloth," and her mother's disgust was visceral. They gave their daughter money to set up house and disowned her. No one asked True Belle whether she wanted to leave her young daughters behind; she was Vera Louise's slave, so to Baltimore she went, staying until Golden turned 18 and left home. She never saw him again.

However, the narrator knows Golden's story. After True Belle explains his parentage, he packs his beautiful clothes and drives away to find his father and "insult his race." On the way his carriage strikes a stone; he sloshes through the rain to check for damage and sees, to his shock, a very pregnant, utterly naked, filthy woman. When she tries to flee, she hits her head against a tree and falls, unconscious. The thought of touching her disgusts Golden, but shamed by the thought that he cares more about his horse than a person, he lugs her to the carriage and drives on to his father's house. Golden wipes his horse down, brings in the trunk, and finally carries in the woman, laying her on a cot. Not wanting to ruin his coat, he finds a bright green dress to cover her. With difficulty he lights a fire and waits for his father as he drinks Henry's liquor and concocts a heroic story to cover his shame and fear. The narrator forgives his "self-deception" because he is "young and hurting," unprepared for the truth.

A boy arrives to look after Henry's animals and says that Henry will be back soon. Golden puts on "formal, elegant" dress in which to meet his father. To his surprise he is crying, thinking of his fatherless upbringing like a one-armed man thinks of his loss. He is "not angry" and doesn't "need the arm," and yet a part of him is missing. He is torn between cursing his father and trading missing parts with him so they can be "arm-tangled and whole."

The boy returns and gently washes the woman's face. Golden watches, ready to look into her "deer eyes" should they open.

Analysis

Modest heroes and small villains populate this part of Jazz.

Among those who behave poorly are Violet's father, who signs away the family's land and house, leaving them impoverished, and Colonel and Mrs. Gray, who cannot bear the thought of a biracial grandchild. The villains shatter families and deny the ties that bind them to others.

Among those who behave heroically are True Belle, who pulls her grandchildren out of ruin, and the young boy (Honor), who is immediately compelled to help the injured woman brought to Henry's house. Another heroic character is Vera Louise Gray. Going to Baltimore to raise the baby with no man in the house was a "renegade" choice, and proper women shun the progressive Vera Louise. She doesn't care; she's busy reading books, writing leaflets, and adoring Golden. After the Civil War ends, Vera Louise not only establishes a wage for True Belle but also gives her back pay. Vera Louise is not perfect; she frets that Golden's skin may darken, for example. Still, for her time she's a remarkable woman. Most "whitegirls deposited their mortification," that is, their illegitimate or biracial babies, at foundlings hospitals. Vera Louise keeps her baby, creating a new family.

Where does Golden Gray fall on the hero–villain spectrum? The narrator seems unsure. She tells the story of his journey to Vienna three times, altering it slightly each time as if reimagining the events will help her grasp Golden's motivations. The narrator worries that his upbringing has led him to bring his clothes in from the carriage before he carries the woman in, but she also sees "the hurt" that growing up fatherless has caused him. She finds his attempts at casting himself as the hero in his own story pathetic. However, he is "young, young and hurting," and so she forgives him.

Golden, the narrator says, yearns for "authenticity, for a right to be in this place" without having to strike a false pose. He seeks his cultural and individual identity.

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