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Jazz | Study Guide

Toni Morrison

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Jazz | Part 7 | Summary



The story jumps ahead 13 years as Henry LesTroy narrates by way of a flashback. The woman who gave birth in his house lives in the woods near the cane fields, alongside the community but apart from it. He recalls her laugh and how for a few days after the baby came she seemed "peaceful." Still, not even Henry, called Hunters Hunter for his prowess with wild things, could get her to stay. Golden went with her, the pair becoming an example thrown up to "caution children and pregnant girls." Honor is the first to spot the woman and Golden together. He tells his mother later that he first saw Golden standing in the door of Henry's house, a rainbow arched above, and thought him a ghost.

When Henry arrived home that day, the sight of the fine carriage made him nervous, and the sight of the pregnant woman surprised him. However, most surprising was the blond, gray-eyed young man calling him "Daddy" and explaining the mystery of Vera Louise's disappearance. The man's clothes "would make a preacher sigh," and his hands were soft. Before father and son could talk, the woman screamed in labor. The baby "clung to the walls of that foamy cave," but Henry and Honor delivered it. The woman wouldn't look at it, so Henry sent Honor to ask his mother for help. Then Henry leaned over the woman to tend to her. She bit his cheek, hard, so he named her Wild.

Henry asked Golden where he found Wild. "In the woods. Where wild women grow," he replied, abandoning his heroic fiction. Henry wondered why Golden sought him out—to "chastise" him, to stay with him, or "to see how black I was." He told Golden to choose what he wanted to be—"white or black." If black, Golden should "draw his manhood up"—that is, take on a man's responsibility—but Henry refused to hear any "whiteboy sass," provoking murderous thoughts in his son. "It must have been the girl who changed his mind," the narrator guesses. Women have that power—to "steer a man away from death" or toward it.

The narrator digresses to explain the events that later drove Joe from Vienna: First came rumors and then a warning to pack. Then 900 African Americans walked out of Vienna, "encouraged by guns and hemp" but with nowhere to go. Behind them the Klan burned the former residents' fields and homes. Henry walked a while with his community but then turned back, while Joe and Victory went on, finding work and heading toward Violet.

Before Joe leaves, however, he tries to find Wild. Henry hints that Wild is Joe's mother and that she no doubt has "reasons" for living as she does. Henry has taught Joe to "never kill the tender and nothing female if you can help it." Now Henry adds that Wild is not "prey" but "somebody's mother." Joe feels shame, denial, and curiosity. He walks his beloved woods, seeking Wild, and finds a rocky enclosure with footprints outside it. He slips inside, but nothing is there. Yet he hears breath and asks, "Are you my mother?" No one replies. Joe thinks of mothers who are whores and drunks, mothers who sell their children—even these, he thinks, are better than "this indecent speechless lurking insanity."

The narrative shifts back to the City. Joe is far from the Virginia woods. He heads out to track Dorcas but doesn't plan to harm her—she is "tender" and "not prey." He "stalks" through the City, which does not "interfere," and thinks of what he wants to tell her. Joe has pawned his hunting rifle to get a "fat baby gun," but he would never harm "fledglings." Joe watches couples on the train—women willing to trade their beauty for "the right to be overcome," men more than willing to overcome them. He wonders what Dorcas wants with a "rooster" and persuades himself that she will return to him. He'll be proud of her choice, and she'll be "arching and soft," ready for lovemaking, with Joe only.

Joe remembers finally finding Wild's dwelling place—the circle of cooking stones, objects purloined from homes, a bright green dress, and a fine, creamy shirt. He found something of his mother. But he hasn't found Dorcas.


Henry's narrative is straightforward and practical, like he is.

At this point the narration styles have developed to coincide with character. Throughout the novel the narration, whether first person or third person, often reflects a character's nature or state of mind. When Violet grapples with her dual nature, the sentences are rambling and scrambled, pressed together and frantic. The various stories Golden tells of how he found Wild, too, reflect his changing opinion of himself and of her—heroic when he needs to feel brave, plain when he doesn't. When the reader finally hears Dorcas's voice in Part 8, her restless thoughts and childishness ring through.

Henry is an exemplary man. He respects the wild—and Wild. He doesn't hesitate to help Wild give birth; unlike Golden (or Acton and the party hostess in Part 8) he doesn't care that Wild's blood is ruining his cot. Henry acts decisively to save the baby, and he lays out Golden's choices without delay or disrespect. When Henry chooses to train Joe and Victory, it is a "proud-making" moment for Joe.

Wild, on the other hand, never speaks. The narrator doesn't say whether she can and chooses not to; her past is a mystery the novel doesn't address, which allows the reader to consider Wild a kind of earth mother figure. In a way, Wild represents women whose voices are either misunderstood or simply not heard. Victory admires her "toughness," but to Joe she is a shameful burden. Joe nevertheless shares traits with his mother. She survives for years in the woods; he loves the woods and is attuned to its sights, sounds, and smells. The same wind that makes bucks look up and "gophers freeze" makes "attentive woodsmen" like Joe "smile and close their eyes." He knows "the music the world makes" and can read subtle clues in nature. He knows how the redwings that Wild is often near flock, settle, and fly. Joe finds Wild's abandoned dwelling place, persisting in his tracking just as he does when he follows Dorcas in the City.

Throughout the novel Joe struggles with his identity, and he will never know whether Wild's hand touched his in the bushes or whether twigs brushed against him. But he is clearly Wild's offspring. When Joe cries for weeks over Dorcas, he may not only be grieving his lost youth, his shattered new love, and her untimely death but also doing penance for having broken Henry's law against harming the young. Joe went against his core self when he let fear suck him into the room where the party was. He killed something that was not prey. The rapid shift between the City and country highlights once again the theme of City versus Country. Joe's contact with Wild also underscores the prevailing themes of Identity and Motherhood that are often interwoven throughout the book.

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