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Jazz | Part 8 | Summary

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Summary

Finally Joe finds the right party, an "adult party" where gin makes the talk witty and the partners willing. He can tell that "something wicked" is going on in other rooms; the jazz is "urging" coupling and uncoupling. Dorcas, draped around handsome, young Acton, is "satisfied, content." She and Acton "agree on everything above the waist and below"; they are primed for love. Acton is "up and coming," not a man with gray in his hair. He's desired, and "lucky" Dorcas has him, for now.

The narrative shifts to Dorcas's voice, who says that she knows Joe "is coming" for her. She tried to break up gently and then more forcefully when he objected. She told him she hated the rented room and that Joe made her "sick." That part she didn't mean, but she was determined to take "this chance with Acton" and earn other women's admiration. Felice had laughed and then frowned when Dorcas told her about Joe; Dorcas is embarrassed by him now.

Dorcas feels Joe "everywhere" as he tracks her and resigns herself to being found. She knows that in some ways Joe is the superior partner. Acton monitors what she eats; she's changed her laugh and her look for him. He's picky about how she touches him. Still, she thinks, Acton is helping her find her "personality."

The narrator interrupts to comment that parties are like "war": Everyone thinks "about other people's blood." Rivals attack with schemes, failing or triumphing as "alliances are rearranged." People "play for keeps" on the social battlefield, where Dorcas is a novice. The music throbs, couples kiss behind curtains, "things pop." Gesture speaks, and old men are out of place.

Dorcas sees Joe enter the room, crying. She realizes that she is falling as Acton tries to support her and people stare. Dorcas finds herself on a bed and feels "cold, so cold." She sees that Acton is annoyed by the blood on his coat, and the hostess is irritated that her party is "ruined." People ask, "Who? Who did this?" Dorcas sleepily grasps that, unless she says Joe's name, they can't pursue him. She hears a woman singing and someone playing the piano. She thinks she screams the name in Felice's ear but isn't sure. Her gaze falls on a bowl of oranges—in winter, in Harlem—and she listens to the music.

Analysis

Music permeates this part of the novel, and the narrator seems to take Alice's side as she describes its influence. The sound of a "heartbreaking vocal" may cause couples to cling to each other or drift part. The men in the room "groan their satisfaction" while the women "hum anticipation," backed up by music that "bends, falls to its knees to embrace them all," and pushes them to "live a little." The music says that "this is the it" the people are seeking. The narrator doesn't say the music is deceitful explicitly, but given that "wicked" things are happening and that "mischief" is working the crowd, it's possible that in this scene jazz is all that Alice fears, and it has Dorcas under its spell.

Until this part of the novel, the reader has known Dorcas mostly through the eyes of other characters; here she gets to speak for herself. Like Wild, Dorcas has now found her voice. She has been an object, but at this point she becomes the subject, even if she is still objectifying herself with Acton. Alice recommends to Violet that a woman make her world what she wants it to be, and later Violet passes the same advice to Felice. Dorcas, from what she tells the reader, is trying to do just that, though her goals could be called immature. Dorcas wants to be beautiful (she learns to pencil her eyebrows for Acton), socially acceptable (she is happy beyond measure to be at the swanky party), desired by "up and coming" young men, and envied by her girlfriends.

Dorcas is aware that her plan has pitfalls. Acton is controlling and demanding; he doesn't spoil her as Joe did but instead requires her to perform for him and the crowd. With Joe she "worked the stick of the world" and "pleased herself," which pleased him. She knows this, but Acton is so handsome and envied. She loves how they look together, how her skirt "drapes down in back" and "taps" her calves as they embrace and dance. Despite the hazards Dorcas has confidence in her plan. When Joe finds her, he'll see that she's "not his anymore."

For all her protestations, Dorcas protects Joe as she dies so that no one will "take away his sample case," which holds her clothespins dolls "Rochelle and Bernadine and Faye." Dorcas's strange dying thoughts may suggest that she is pregnant with Joe's child, or they may simply be her worst and oldest trauma—watching her house burn with her mother and dolls inside—asserting itself as she dies, listening to jazz coming from the other room. This moment reveals Dorcas's lack of maturity and the fact that she still thinks like a child. She is dying, and yet she is concerned about the well-being of her dolls. This could be a result of her childhood trauma, which may have had a negative impact on her development.

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