Study Guide

Dorcas in Jazz

By Toni Morrison

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Dorcas is a real wild child, a flapper, a jazz lover, a juvenile delinquent, and a speakeasy aficionado. She's the 1920s in a nutshell: a very sexually attractive nutshell with bad skin, to be precise.

And yet, for all of this dynamism and strength, and for how important she is for the plot of Jazz, Dorcas isn't exactly a character whose interiority is explored. Everyone else in the book has an opinion about Dorcas, but we don't get many of Dorcas's thoughts.

Joe thinks she's the cat's meow; Violet thinks she's the worst thing in the world until she starts to feel warm maternal feelings toward her; Felice thinks that she's ugly, inside and out; Alice thinks she's trouble with a capital T; and Malvonne thinks that she's okay because she gets an extra two bucks a week so Joe can carry on his affair with her. But what does Dorcas think about? Surprisingly little. She thinks about her new boyfriend Acton, who is a super-hot and totally rude. She also really likes jazz. Check it:

Dorcas lay on a chenille bedspread, tickled and happy knowing that there was no place to be where somewhere, close by, somebody was not licking his licorice stick, tickling the ivories, beating his skins, blowing off his horn while a knowing woman sang ain't nobody going to keep me down you got the right key baby but the wrong keyhole you got to get it bring it and put it right here, or else. (3.16)

It's not that surprising that Dorcas doesn't have a lot of interiority, because she basically exists as an advertisement for/PSA against being a flapper. She's sensual, and sensuality doesn't have a lot of interior thought behind it. Or so the thinking of the time seems to go.

She's also—and this is hugely important—basically related to as a dead girl. The memory of her is more important than her actions as a flesh-and-blood living woman in this book. We learn a lot about the rest of the characters in Jazz by how they relate to Dorcas, but we never really get to learn a ton about Dorcas herself. The dead, after all, can't talk.

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