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Jazz | Study Guide

Toni Morrison

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Jazz | Part 9 | Summary



The residents of Lenox Avenue "preen" in the beautiful weather. Musicians on the rooftops change their tune, playing "high and fine like a young girl singing by the side of a creek." On this "kind, pretty day," Violet stands on the porch to escape Joe's crying and sees a girl who looks like Dorcas coming toward her steps. The girl carries a record and some meat wrapped in paper. She makes the narrator "nervous" as she approaches "Violent."

The narrative shifts to Felice's perspective. She doesn't see her parents much—42 days a year, by her count—because they work some distance away. They love her, however, and bring her gifts, such as the opal ring she loves.

Although Dorcas was her closest friend, Felice describes Dorcas as shallow, a girl who worried about who had bad breath or who was conceited. But many people at school shunned Dorcas and Felice because of their dark skin, so they stuck together. The fun days ended when Dorcas took up with "that old man." Dorcas enjoyed intrigue and scheming, and Felice thinks she loved the sneaking around more than she loved Joe.

Felice loves her opal ring, in part because she knows her usually honest mother stole it to spite a snobby white salesman. Felice loaned the ring, unwillingly, to Dorcas, and now she wants it back. She also decides to tell Joe the truth about Dorcas to ease his grief.

Felice is too angry to attend Dorcas's funeral, but she's heard what "Violent" did there. Still, Mrs. Manfred befriended Violet, so Felice doesn't fear her. She likes that Violet speaks frankly, stating right away that Dorcas was "ugly. Outside and in." Felice also likes Mr. Trace, who looks good "for an old man" and "has a way about him."

Felice says that Dorcas refused to give up Joe's name or call for help. She called an ambulance twice, but it came too late, supposedly because of icy roads. Felice cries as she recalls Acton's callousness—the first tears she has cried for her friend. She explains that Dorcas let herself bleed to death and reports her final words: "There's only one apple. Just one. Tell Joe."

The opal ring, Felice learns, has been buried with Dorcas. She watches Joe and Violet dance and says that next time she visits she'll bring records. Joe is ready to have music in the house again—and birds too.


Violet and Joe move gingerly around each other; little gestures show that their relationship has begun to heal. They touch each other gently, "just a pat on his shoulder," and call each other pet names such as "baby" and "Vi." They are rediscovering their identities as husband and wife and recovering from the shock of the violence each has perpetrated. Because of this change, Violet and Joe are able to shift into appropriate roles with Felice, and the narrator's concern that Felice's presence will cause Violet to become "Violent" is allayed.

Violet takes on a motherly role—a role she's longed for—advising Felice gently to make her own life instead of running "up and down the streets wishing" she were someone else. Violet wasted too much time on such nonsense. And Violet lets Felice ask questions, even hard ones such as why Violet slashed Dorcas's face. "Lost the lady," Violet said, and had to find her again. Violet cooks for Felice and explains that her holding onto the image of the idealized blond boy caused her to betray herself and Joe.

Joe, for his part, helps Felice to see the more vulnerable aspects of Dorcas so that she can forgive her friend. He takes the blame off Dorcas's shoulders: "For the rest of my life, it'll be me." He explains that it was his "luck" to watch over Dorcas's needs and fears for as long as he could. He failed because he was "scared" and didn't know "how to love."

Felice returns Joe's kindness by sharing Dorcas's final words—"There's only one apple"—with him. The memory is bitter for Felice because Joe, not Felice, was the last person in Dorcas's thoughts, but Joe is pleased. The narrator doesn't say why; perhaps Dorcas's message meant that she had not had sex with anyone else. Felice doesn't tell Joe and Violet that Dorcas's life became for her a cautionary tale of sin punished, like the stories the Miller sisters told. Dorcas poured her intelligence and energy into pleasing cruel, callous Acton. She triumphed with Acton over her rivals—other girls—crowing, "I won him. I won!" Felice wonders, "What the hell did she win?" and decides to find another path into adult life.

The friendships that develop after, and in fact because of, Dorcas's death break barriers of age, gradations of rank within the City, and biases against skin tone. Alice, the "dignified lady" who socializes, and Violet, the loner, learn to empathize with each other. Joe and Violet, whom Felice's parents would likely wrinkle their noses at, turn out to be fine surrogate parents. The substitution of community for rivalry, and kindness for prejudice, results in Joe and Violet's home becoming a place of welcome and refuge; the contrast with the home described in the novel's first part could hardly be more striking.

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