Jazz By Toni Morrison, Written Commentary Essay, Research Paper
Violet thought it would disappoint them; that it would be less lovely than Baltimore. Joe believed it would be perfect. When they arrived, carrying all of their belongings in one valise, they both knew right away that perfect was not the word. It was better than that.
Joe didn’t want babies either so all those miscarriages – two in the field, only one in her bed – were more inconvenience than loss. And citylife would be so much better without them. Arriving at the train station back in 1906, the smiles they both smiled at the women with little children, strung like beads over suitcases, were touched with pity. They liked children. Loved them even. Especially Joe, who had a way with them. But neither wanted the trouble. Years later, however, when Violet was forty, she was already staring at infants, hesitating in front of toys displayed at Christmas. Quick to anger when a sharp word was flung at a child, or a woman’s hold of a baby seemed awkward or careless. The worst burn she ever made was on the temple of a customer holding a child across her knees. Violet, lost in the woman’s hand-patting and her knee-rocking the little boy, forgot her own hand holding the curling iron. The customer flinched and the skin discolored right away. Violet moaned her apologies and the woman was satisfied until she discovered that the whole curl was singed clean off. Skin healed, but an empty spot in her hairline Violet had to forgo payment to shut her up.
These two hundred fifty words or so are a small percentage of the book as a whole, but contain many of the themes and stylistic devices Morrison uses throughout her novel. We learn much of our two main characters – Joe and Violet – and as well the reader gains valuable information, allowing us to begin the process of piecing the novel together; a process made difficult by Morrison’s constant time shifts and questionable narrator. In terms of the content, the idea of bearing children is prominent. Through this we learn about Joe and Violet’s position on having children of their own, a theme introduced time and again. As well, Morrison’s style in this passage is one of great contrast. It is not the first time we see this stylistic device, but it is one of the more obvious and important examples.
The issue of child birth is raised often and plays a major role in the general psyches of our main characters. Morrison, through her narrator, refers to female reproductive cycles multiple times, as well as the stories of Violet attempting to steal a baby and the birth of Joe in Hunter’s cabin. These are both important stories in the goal of understanding Violet and Joe, but neither give as good an insight into the characters minds as the account on page 107. “Joe didn’t want babies either, so all those miscarriages – two in the field, only one in her bed – were more inconvenience than loss. And citylife would be so much better without them.” This sentence at best is misleading in the search for understanding our character’s minds. Violet had three miscarriages, implying that the couple was indeed trying to have a child. Granted that birth control was not the same is it is in our day, if Violet and Joe had no intentions whatsoever of having children, one would think that after one pregnancy (it doesn’t matter how it turned out) the pair would be more careful with further sexual acts. To say that Violet’s three tragedies were more inconvenience than loss solely due to the fact that citylife would be better without children is not only a brutal attempt at making light of the situation, but an entirely ludicrous statement; especially when you read further in the passage.
“Years later, however, when Violet was forty, she was already staring at infants, hesitating in front of toys displayed at Christmas.” Does a woman who never wanted babies hesitate in front of toys displayed at Christmas? It is obvious that Violet, as she aged, realized that she was past her childbearing years and began to pine for children of her own. “They liked children. Loved them even But neither wanted the trouble.” It is hard for the reader to believe that neither wanted the trouble when Violet is “Quick to anger when a sharp word [is] flung at a child, or a woman’s hold of a baby [seems] awkward or careless.” Her want of a child helps to explain her actions surrounding Dorcas. It makes some sense now as to why Violet would place a picture of a girl she should hate on her mantle, and look at it ever single day. She hopes that Dorcas can become or take the place of the child that she was never able to have with Joe.