When the woman, her name is Violet, went to the funeral to see the girl and to cut her dead face they threw her to the floor and out of the church. (1.1)
The nonchalance with which Violet's violence is presented is a symptom of just how much violence goes down in Jazz—the tone of this quote is pretty unemotional. The really crazy action (cutting a dead girl's face) is buried in the fairly sane action of throwing old Violet out of the church.
He was pulled off a streetcar and stomped to death, and Alice's sister had just got the news and gone back home to try and forget the color of his entrails, when her house was torched and she burned crispy in flames. (3.9)
Ugh, this quote is a one-two punch of evil violence. This kind of insanity was so prevalent in the lives of turn-of-the-century African Americans (especially in the South—this quote refers to St. Louis) that, from Alice's point of view, it's remarked upon in kind of a conversational, quiet tone.
Toward the end of March, Alice Manfred put her needles aside to think again of what she called the impunity of the man who killed her niece just because he could. It had not been that hard to do; it had not even made him think twice about what danger he was putting himself in. He just did it. (3.53)
According to Joe, all's fair in love and war, even shooting his lady love. Alice, who has seen a fair share of violence and doesn't trust the authorities to do anything about it, just chills out in the wake of her niece's death and thinks "The nerve!"
Did police put their fists in women's faces so the husband's spirits would break along with the women's jaws? (3.64)
Yet another ugly symptom of racism in turn of the century America, folks. But this gross observation is embedded in what Alice finds comfort in: that God's wrath will smite down those who do evil. We guess you need to find comfort in something if you live in such a mixed-up world.
She had never picked up a knife. What she neglected to say—what came flooding back to her now—was also true: every day and every night for seven months, she, Alice Manfred, was starving for blood. Not his. Oh no. For him she planned sugar in his motor, scissors to his tie, burned suits, slashed shoes, ripped socks. Vicious, childish acts of violence to inconvenience him, remind him. But no blood. Her craving settled on the red liquid coursing through the other women's veins. An ice pick stuck in and pulled up would get it. (3.83)
And this is why Alice doesn't hate Violet: She knows what it's like to feel violent urges after being cheated on or left for another woman, and like Violet, she directs the anger and violence not at the man but at other women. Turns out Alice is not as sickly-sweet as she lets on. And to that we say: Hooray! Complicated characters are so much better than plain old good or bad ones.
It bounced off, making a little dent under her earlobe, like a fold in the skin that was hardly a disfigurement at all. She could have left it at that: the fold under the earlobe, but that Violet, unsatisfied, fought with the hard-handed usher boys and was time enough for them, almost. (4.2)
You have to feel badly for Violet here. She's trying to exact revenge on a dead girl (newsflash: Violet is not the sanest crayon in the box) and she ends up just giving her a glorified ear piercing. So she does the next-best thing and engages in a little boxing match with the ushers. Oh, Violet.
I don't know exactly what started the riot… that party, he said, where they sent out invitations to whites to come see a colored man burn alive. Gistan said thousands of whites turned up. (5.29)
It's quotes like these that make the smaller-scale violence of the individual characters in Jazz look like the behavior of relatively stable people. It's one thing to go shooting your lover or cutting a dead girl's face if you live in a world without disgusting acts of hate-fueled, racist violence—but when there is a "party" to see a "colored man burn alive," well, the entire world is freaking horrific. We just threw up in our mouth a little bit.
He isn't thinking of harming her, or, as Hunter had cautioned, killing something tender. She is female. And she is not prey. (7.38)
Here we have the testimony that would have gotten Joe a few less years in prison for Dorcas's murder: It was not premeditated. He doesn't want to harm her, because she is both way younger than he is (tender) and female.
In his coat pocket is the forty-five he pawned his rifle for. He had laughed when he handled it, a fat baby gun that would be loud as a cannon. Nothing complex; you'd have to fight your own self to miss, but he isn't going to miss because he isn't going to aim. (7.41)
And here's the testimony that would have complicated Joe's trial (if there had been one) big time. He says he doesn't intend to kill her, but he swapped his hunting rifle for a forty-five? Hmm… that's fishy, Joe.
"He's here. Oh, look. God. He's crying. Am I falling? Why am I falling? (8.15)
Yikes, this one hurts. We get Dorcas's point-of-view of getting shot, and it's confused and upsetting. She's just dancing with sleazeball Acton, and then her fifty-year-old former lover shoots her. Not pretty, guys.
"I read about white policemen who were arrested for killing some N****es and said I was glad they were arrested, that it was about time. He looked at me and shouted 'The story hit the papers because it was news, girl, news!'" (9.10)
Poor Felice. She's trying to bond with her Dad over current events and gets a horrific dose of reality when he tells her that, um, most policeman that kill black people get away with it, circa 1926. Are you as furious as we are right now?
"Dorcas let herself die. The bullet went in her shoulder, this way. […] She bled to death all through the woman's bed sheets on into the mattress." (9.46)
Sometimes Felice isn't the best friend. It's true that Dorcas bled to death at what sounds like a raging party with awesome music (worse places to die, right?) but it's kind of hard to stop yourself from bleeding to death. Just another quote that proves that, when you're surrounded by senseless death and dying you get a little too used to it.
Up there, in that part of the City—which is the part they came for—the right tune whistled in the doorway or lifting up from the circles and grooves of a record can change the weather. From freezing to hot to cool. (2.45)
Jazz is pretty awesome music. It was even awesomer back when it was totally new sounding and was breaking all of the musical rules. It's so powerful and sexy that it can definitely raise the temperature in a room (bow chicka bow bow), and it can be so sad that it makes you weep.
They did not know for sure, but they suspected that the dances were beyond nasty because the music was getting worse and worse with each passing season the Lord waited to make Himself known. Songs that used to start in the head and fill the heart had dropped on down, down to places below the sash and the buckled belts. (3.6)
Cue the sultry saxophone solo. Alice is a little flustered by this newfangled music and kids these days, because her understanding of music is pious and about God instead about hooking up with a hot neighbor and wearing scandalous lipstick.
It was the music. The dirty, get-on-down music the woman sang and the men played and both danced to, close and shameless or apart and wild. (3.10)
What would Alice have thought about twerking? We think she would have fainted. But this quote reinforces why 1920s-themed parties are awesome even today: The 1920s saw the advent of the first really sexy dancing. Part of it was totally the lack of corsets, and the other part of it was jazz.
Yet Alice Manfred swore she heard a complicated anger in (the music); something hostile that disguised itself as flourish and roaring seduction. But the part she hated most was its appetite. It faked happiness, faked welcome, but it did not make her feel generous, this juke joint, barrel hooch, tonk house, music. It made her hold her hand in the pocket of her apron to keep from smashing it through the glass pane to snatch the world in her fist and squeeze the life out of it for doing what it did and did and did to her and everybody else she knew or knew about. (3.13)
You know how they say the opposite of love isn't hate, but apathy? Yeah, Alice certainly hates jazz music, but it's totally getting to her—she's not quite liberated enough to appreciate the sexy side of jazz, but she is aware enough to feel the anger in jazz. Why would jazz musicians have anything to be angry about? Uh, check out our thoughts on violence elsewhere in this section, guys.
Wondering at this totally silent night, she can go back to bed, but as soon as she turns the pillow to the smoother, cooler side a melody line she doesn't remember where from sings itself, loud and unsolicited, in her head. "When I was young and in my prime, I could get my barbeque any old time." (3.15)
Pro-tip: "Barbeque" in this context doesn't mean a delicious brisket sandwich; it means sexytimes. If you hear any food references in jazz, consider these to be references to sex. If you hear any nature metaphors in jazz, those are also about sex. If you hear any references to snakes… You get the idea. A cigar is never just a cigar, everyone.
While her aunt worried about how to keep the heart ignorant of the hips and the head in charge of both, 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)
So Dorcas is not like her aunt Alice. She thinks that jazz is exciting and sexy, and the idea of proximity to jazz players is thrilling. And with lyrics like this, and metaphors for playing instruments that are this scandalous, we can't really blame her.
And when "Wings Over Jordan" came on he probably turned the volume down so he could hear her when she sang along with the choir instead of up so as to drown out her rendition of "Lay my body down." (4.9)
New love is sweet: It's that period of romance when you want to hear your BF or GF sing more than you want to hear an actual recording. Violet has been married to Joe long enough that he just wants to hear professional musicians do their thing.
Young men on the rooftops changed their tune; spit and fiddled with the mouthpiece for a while and when they put it back in and blew out their cheeks it was just like the light of that day, pure and steady and kind of kind. (9.2)
Jazz isn't just about sexytimes, it's also about the entirety of life, man, so it can be pure and bright, too. Someone should tell Alice that.
Somebody in the house across the alley put a record on and the music floated in to us through the open window. Mr. Trace moved his head to the rhythm and his wife snapped her fingers in time. (9.55)
You know your relationship is back on track when you can dance again after arguing. So even though Joe and Violet are both a little nutso, and even though their marriage was on the rocks for a little bit after following a little touch of cheating 'n' murder, it looks like clear skies ahead in the Trace household.
Violet is mean enough and good-looking enough to think that even without hips or youth she could punish Joe by getting herself a boyfriend and letting him visit in her own house. (1.3)
Don't get mad, get even. If your husband sleeps with, and then kills, an eighteen-year-old, you should totally go out and get a boyfriend. Or, uh, actually not. This doesn't really pan out for old Violet, but not because she's old—she's still smoking hot.
"Women," answers Violet. "Women wear me down. No man ever wore me down to nothing. It's these hungry little girls acting like women. Not content with boys their own age, no, they want someone old enough to be their father. Switching round with lipstick, see-through-stockings, dresses up to their you-know-what…" (1. 26)
Hmm… We're pretty sure that this is not the most feminist stance to take. But Violet is having a rough time of it and doesn't particularly feel like throwing her husband out because she's been with him for quite a few decades. She's still so angry, though. Hey, Violet—maybe you should get a punching bag to vent some of that aggression if you don't feel like kicking your hubby to the curb?
When the baby was in her arms, she inched its blanket up around the cheeks against the threat of wind too cool for its honey-sweet, butter-colored face. Its big-eyed noncommittal stare made her smile. Comfort settled in her stomach and a kind of skipping, running light traveled her veins. (1.42)
Holy mama-lust, Batman. Violet's biological clock is ticking like a time bomb, but she's too old to have any babies of her own. So she contemplates stealing a baby, no biggie. That "skipping, running light" in her veins is so pleasant, she's tempted to cut and run with a random infant.
Even before the wedding her parents were murmuring about grandchildren they could see and hold, while at the same time and in turn resenting the tips showing and growing under the chemises of Alice's younger sisters. Resenting the blood spots, the new hips, the hair. (3.61)
Ah yes, the antiquated double-standard of motherhood and virginity. Before you're married, the female body is gross thing that needs to be covered up (or better yet, locked up). After marriage, it's time to become a breeding machine. Is it any wonder that Alice is afraid of jazz music, with parents like these?
By and by longing became heavier than sex: a panting, unmanageable craving. She was limp in its thrall or rigid in an effort to dismiss it. (4.31)
Yeppers, Violet wants to have a baby. She wants a baby more than she wants sex and it sounds like she has some serious flu-like symptoms wrapped up in her baby-crazed cravings. Luckily for Violet, she's surrounded by people playing jazz, the music that best speaks to the feelings of cravings. Or maybe not so lucky—this might be like wanting a cupcake while surrounded by people singing about how delicious cupcakes are.
Just when her breasts were finally flat enough not to need the binders the young women wore to sport the chest of a soft boy, just when he nipples had lost their point, mother-hunger had hit her like a hammer. (4.32)
Timing can be the worst. Violet passes the point in life when she could have a kiddo and just like that—bam—she wants one. We're thinking it's no coincidence that Violet craves youth (a baby) around the point at which Joe craves youth (a teenaged girlfriend)…
Who posed there awake in the photograph… Mama's dumpling girl? Was she the woman who took the man, or the daughter who fled her womb? (4.32)
Oh dang, complicated feelings. Violet wants a daughter so badly that when she sees Dorcas's picture on the mantelpiece she starts imagining her, not as the trollop that stole her husband, but as the daughter she never hand.
From the on he wrestled with the notion of a wildwoman for a mother. Sometimes it shamed him to tears. (7.29)
Mamas run the show in Jazz, if you haven't figured that out. Poor Joe never knew his mommy, because she was kind of a weirdo that ran off to live in a cage. Gosh, maybe Freud was right—maybe all problems do relate back to our parents…
Too brain-blasted to do what the meanest sow managed: nurse what she had birthed. (7.34)
If someone is mean to you, just call them "brain-blasted"—it's an excellent insult. That said, Wild gives birth to Joe and then hauls off to live in the woods, and no one can forgive her. There are complications surrounding mamahood in Jazz and Wild complicates things further. Being a mother is awesome, saintly, the best thing, but it's also something that, like, any sow can do. But it you don't do mamahood at all, or your don't do it right, then you're seriously messed-up. Sigh.
Jazz is complicated because life is complicated.
There are boys who have whores for mothers and don't get over it. There are boys whose mothers stagger through town roads when the juke joint slams its door. Mothers who throw their children away or trade them for folding money. He would have chosen any one of them over this indecent speechless lurking insanity. (7.35)
Can we say mommy issues? Yes, yes we can. But we're not saying that Joe is being unreasonable here, not at all. He never met his mom, and he knows that she lives in a cave. That's weird. And that's maybe part of the reason he and Violet decide not to have kiddos of their own.
Immediately, now that they were out of Delaware and a long way from Maryland there would be no green-as-poison curtain separating the colored people eating from the rest of the diners. (2.10)
Yuck. Segregation was a disgusting and shameful chapter of American history. Like all the Big Historical Stuff in Jazz, segregation is referred to in a casual manner. Since it's a historical novel, the characters in Jazz don't respond to the injustices of their day with the same incredulity that we do.
The wave of black people running from want and violence crested in the 1870s; the '80s, the '90s but it was a steady stream in 1906 when Joe and Violet joined it. (2.14)
History lesson: So the South in general was super-racist toward black people after the Civil War (and before and during) so a lot of black people decided that they would move to the North toward friendlier areas with more miserable weather. This is called the Great Migration, and our protagonists, Joe and Violet, are among the last wave of the Great Migration.
Everybody with fingers in a twenty-mile radius showed up and was hired on the spot. Nine dollars a bale, some said, if you grew your own; eleven dollars if you had a white friend to carry it up for pricing. (4.19)
Yeah, more casual references to how messed up the world is. A bale of cotton goes for nine dollars (not even very much back then) if you're black, but you get a substantial pay raise if you hand in the exact same bale of cotton and happen to be white.
Whitepeople literally threw money at you—just for being neighborly: opening a taxi door, picking up a package. In fact, there were streets where colored people owned all the stores, whole blocks of handsome colored men and women laughing all night and making money all day. (4.27)
And this is why the City is so appealing: You can make a living doing hospitality work, and there are black people that are making seriously decent money operating their own stores and generally having a good time. Compared to Virginia, New York City is heavenly.
Blues man. Black and bluesman. Blacktherefore blue man. (5.4)
Morrison engages in some wordplay to highlight the impact of racism. If you're black in 1926, you'll feel blue, because racism is seriously messed up. And you know what is literally black and blue? Bruises. Which we'd say every major character in this book carries as a result of racism.
One was the secret of kindness from whitepeople—they had to pity a thing before they could like it. (5.20)
Well that's a bleak thought. This lesson comes straight from Hunter's Hunter's mouth, and it refers in part to Hunter's Hunter's interaction with Golden Gray when he helps Wild deliver her baby, and also to Vera Louise's decision to keep Golden Gray when he is a vulnerable infant instead of putting him in an orphanage.
Then long come a summer in 1917 and after those whitemen took that pipe from around my head, I was brand new for sure because they almost killed me. (5.28)
Gross history time, part one million: Joe gets beaten badly during a riot, and is only saved because someone stops a group of white men from "finishing him off." Oh, and Joe didn't do a thing to deserve it. Just racism being disgusting, as per usual.
They were bringing in swarms of colored to work during the War. Crackers in the South mad cause N****es were leaving; crackers in the North mad cause they were coming. (5.29)
The Great Migration in a nutshell, everyone: People are miffed in the South because a part of the labor pool is leaving, and people are miffed in the North because the labor pool is expanding so rapidly. Also, everyone is being racist. Ugh.
Her state of mind when she moved from Baltimore back to Vesper County must have been a study. She'd left Wordsworth, the county seat, a slave, and returned in 1888 a free woman. (6.2)
True Belleleaves with her scandalously pregnant "mistress" and goes to Baltimore, and by the time she comes back to Virginia, she's free. This gives you a bit of the time-span we're dealing with: Jazz covers more than a fifty years.
Realizing the terrible thing that had happened to his daughter made him sweat, for there were seven mulatto children on his land. (6.8)
Yeah, Vera Louise's dad puts the hypocrite in hypocritical. He's scandalized that his baby girl not only gets pregnant out of wedlock, but with a black man, yet he's totally had affairs of his own with several different black women. You know, that he enslaves. So we're guessing they didn't have much of a choice in the matter? So disgusting, so infuriating.
He had always thought there was only one kind—True Belle's kind. Black and nothing. Like Henry LesTroy. Like the filthy woman snoring on the cot. But there was another kind—like himself. (6.27)
Golden Gray not only has a cool name, but he also has a newly minted identity complex. He thought he was white for his entire life, and now, with the understanding that he has a black father, he's thrown for a loop. Not only does he not know who he is, he's no longer clear on the distinction between black and white. Welcome to the real world, Golden—it's complicated.
"I know what you came for. To see how black I was. You thought you was white, didn't you? She probably let you think it. Hoped you'd think it. And I swear I'd think it too." (7.17)
Not surprisingly, Hunter's Hunter isn't totally tickled by the idea of having a son that the mother hid from him. But then again, Vera Louise's father did force her to go into hiding.
I like the way the City makes people think they can do what they want and get away with it. (1.13)
What happens in New York City stays in New York City. The City is big and bold and full of those no-good, short-skirt wearing ladies and makes everyone feel free and strong. It's an illusion, but it's a really sweet illusion.
Hospitality is gold in this City; you have to be clever to figure out how to be welcoming and defensive at the same time. (1.16)
Ugh, how exhausting. The grind of the city isn't just about partying; it's also about making sure that you never get hurt. You know how people have this stereotype of New Yorkers as cold and rude? This quote speaks to that stereotype. Defense is the best offense.
Like the others, they were country people, but how soon country people forget. When they fall in love with a city it is forever and it is like forever. As though there was never a time when they didn't love it. (2.14)
Aw, the country mice come to the city and fall in love with its glamour. It's a tale as old as time, or at least as old as cities—they're seductive, expensive, and full of pretty things and people. They're everything the country isn't. What's not to love? And this was before New York was so expensive you could only afford to live in a walk-in closet, so it was extra lovable.
The woman who churned a man's blood as she leaned all alone on a fence by a country road might not expect ever to catch his eyes in the City. But if she is clipping quickly down the big-city street in heels, swinging her purse, or sitting on a stoop with a cool beer in her hand, dangling her shoes from the toes of her foot, the man, reacting to her posture, to soft skin on stone, the weight of the building stressing the delicate, dangling shoes is captured. (2.15)
Maybe she's born with it, maybe it's New York City making her look good? That lady is not as pretty as you think she is—it's just the City making her look hot. The City is basically the first form of PhotoShop, giving all those New York lassies a nice airbrushed finish. The idea is that the City is built on such illusion that it influences even the most basic human interaction: chemistry.
Alice Manfred had worked hard to privatize her niece, but she was no match for a City seeping music that begged and challenged each and every day. "Come," it said. "Come and do wrong." (3.34)
Yeah, Dorcas is a good girl gone bad. At least according to Aunt Alice. And guess who's to blame? Dorcas? Nope. Aunt Alice? Uh-uh. Joe? Try again. It's everyone's favorite scapegoat: the City. Oh, and jazz. If everyone had just stayed in the country…
Joe didn't want babies either so all those miscarriages—two in the field, only one in bed—were more inconvenience than loss. And city life would be so much better without them. (4.30)
We know that Alice and Joe don't want babies, and Jazz takes place before birth control. In order be able to live in New York, Alice induces miscarriages in order to keep her and Joe's freedom and funds intact. The siren song of New York is seriously powerful, guys.
They said the City makes you lonely, but since I'd been trained by the best woodsman ever, loneliness was a thing couldn't get near me. (5.33)
Yeah, okay, Joe—we believe you. Loneliness isn't a thing that can get near you, but you're so sad that Violet has gone off her rocker and is playing with dolls that you break down and find an eighteen-year-old girl to fool around with. Hmm… And you were a nice guy before your wife went nuts? Sounds like loneliness to us.
The city man looked faint, but Honor and Hunter had not only watched the common and counted-on birthings farm people see, but had tugged and twisted newborns from all sorts of canals. (7.13)
Country living is big on the birds and the bees and the birth canals. Golden Gray is all fancy-pants and Baltimore-bred, so he's never seen a birth, but in the country, births are more common than harvests. This quote underlines with bright red ink the fact that country = fertility and City = infertility.
Joe is wondering about all this on an icy day in January. He is a long way from Virginia, and even longer from Eden. As he puts on his coat and cap he can practically feel Victory at his side when he sets out, armed, to find Dorcas. (7.38)
It's harder to be further from Virginia, metaphorically if not geographically, than New York City. At least for Joe. Virginia was sleeping in trees and working with the spoils of the earth and chasing his runaway mother, Wild. New York, on the other hand, is about selling Cleopatra beauty products and chasing his wayward ex-girlfriend, Dorcas. Hmm… Maybe New York isn't so far removed from Virginia after all?
The young men with brass probably never saw such a girl, or such as creek, but they made her up that day. On the rooftops. (9.2)
Just a bunch of dudes, conjuring up the image of a pretty young thing splashing her feet in the creek. These city boys have never seen a creek, but they can make one happen musically. The power of jazz, ladies and gentlemen: It connects the city boys and the rubes.
"Living in the City was the best thing in the world. What can you do out in the country? When I visited Tuxedo, back when I was a child, even then I was bored. How many trees can you look at?" (9.39)
Seriously, though: How many trees can you look at? Or skyscrapers, for that matter? Don't they just get old after a while? Herein lies the great divide between the metaphorical city mice and country mice. City mice don't know what the point of the country is, and country mice don't know why someone would live in the city. Unless, of course, you're a country mouse named Violet or Joe. In that case, the country can keep their dang trees.
"You in trouble," she says, yawning. "Deep, deep trouble. Can't rival the dead for love. Lose every time." (1.30)
Violet gets some wise words here: Those that are dead or those that are missing get obsession, whereas those who have stuck around merely get some affection. Dorcas will live on as young and beautiful, at least in the mind of Joe. She's just the first person in this novel whose presence in absence is stronger than her presence.
For Violet, who never knew the girl, only her picture and the personality she invented for her based on careful investigations, the girl's memory is a sickness in the house—everywhere and nowhere. (2.2)
The only thing worse than a New York City roach infestation is a ghost infestation, and Violet and Joe's apartment is haunted. Maybe it's a bad idea to put the picture of a dead girl your husband had an affair with and then shot on the mantelpiece. Maybe? Unless it brings you closer to your husband somehow, which, in the screwy dynamic that is Violet and Joe's marriage, totally happens.
He remembers his memories of her; how thinking about her as he lay in bed next to Violet was the way he entered sleep. He minds her death, is so sorry for it, but minded more the possibility of his memory failing to conjure up the dearness. (2.3)
Aw, dang. Memories are one thing, but memories of memories? Joe is getting a little memory-melodramatic (memodramatic?) here. He also sounds a little psychopathic when he laments the possibility of conjuring her more than, you know, he does killing her. But in a book where life is fleeting and so many people disappear in a puff of smoke, the memory of a person can be as dear as the person themselves.
Now he lies in bed remembering every detail of that October afternoon when he first met her, from start to finish, and over and over. Not just because it is tasty, but because he is trying to sear her into his mind, brand her there against future wear. (2.4)
First of all, we should all agree that memories should be described as "tasty" from here on out. Good adjective for memories, or best adjective for memories? You decide. This is an instance of the memories of Dorcas being more precious (and tastier) than Dorcas herself. When Dorcas died she was Joe's ex, but in his memory of her she can be his for eternity.
In no time at all he forgets little pebbly creeks and apple trees so old they lay their branches along the ground and you have to reach down or stoop to pick the fruit. He forgets a sun that used to slide up like the yolk of a good country egg, thick and red-orange and the bottom of the sky, and he doesn't miss it, doesn't look up to see what happened to it or to stars made irrelevant by the light of thrilling, wasteful street lamps. (2.15)
The allure of the city is so powerful, so all-absorbing, that it makes you forget everything that came before. The city signals a kind of loss-of-innocence, where you can't even remember what it was before the loss happened. And in the world of Jazz, the loss of memory is either the best thing that can happen to you (forgetting all the terrible things that you've gone through, starting fresh) or the worst (forgetting loved ones that have gone, forgetting happiness).
Whatever happens, whether you get rich or poor, you always end up back where you started: hungry for the one thing everybody loses—young loving. (5.7)
De-pressing. But also why Ponce de Leon went looking for the fountain of youth, why anti-aging creams exist, and why old people say stuff like youth is wasted on the young while shaking a finger at you. Everyone wants to be young, healthy, and in love. This is also the stuff of approximately 99% of all front-porch, old-person reminiscences.
"See? You were the last thing on her mind." (9.53)
Maybe Joe was the last thing on Dorcas's mind because, well, he shot her. Just maybe. But Felice tells Joe that Dorcas was thinking about him until the very end in a great act of charity: She knows this will make Joe feel peace and help preserve his memories of Dorcas as ever-loving.
It never occurred to me that they were thinking other thoughts, feeling other feelings, putting their lives together in ways I never dreamed of. Like Joe. To this moment I'm not sure what his tears were really for, but I do know they were for more than Dorcas. (10.5)
Dorcas was Joe's version of hitting fifty and buying a red convertible. The narrator/Felice realizes at the end of the novel, when all good epiphanies must occur, that Dorcas was more than a pretty face for Joe. She was a great number of things: a chance at renewed youth, a younger and saner version of Violet, a daughter never born, and a mother never connected with. Man. Maybe Joe should have just gotten a convertible.
A lot of the time, though, they stay at home figuring things out, telling each other those little personal stories they like to hear again and again… (10.12)
In perhaps the most surprising plot twist of the novel, Joe and Violet end up fairly happily ever after. These two weirdoes were meant for each other. One of the ways in which they are compatible is their love of remembering, and in repeating their memories to each other. Sure, everyone likes to look backward, but Violet and Joe have it elevated to an art.
When I see them now they are not sepia, still, losing their edges to the light of a future afternoon. Caught midway between was and must be. For me they are real. (10.17)
The narrator/Felice is now looking back at her time with Violet and Joe, and she's remembering them remembering. Sheesh. Can't anyone in this novel be content with just straight-up memory? But what Felice/the narrator understands about Violet and Joe is that they are most content existing in perpetual partial memory. They want to remember even as they forge their future. It's kind of sweet.
They are remembering while they whisper the carnival dolls they won and the Baltimore boats they never sailed on. (10.20)
Here's where we get just why exactly Joe and Violet belong together: They remember both that which did and that which did not happen. They're a little cracked, right? So they can make stuff up and process it as a memory. It's why they're both unreliable narrators, why they're such fascinating characters, and why they're totally meant for each other.
She wakes up in the morning and sees with perfect clarity a string of small, well-lit scenes. In each one something specific is being done: food things, work things, customers and acquaintances and encountered, places entered. But she does not see herself doing these things. She sees them being done. (1.52)
Uh-oh… Violet's losing it a wee bit. In what would clinically be called disassociation, Violet is imagining her life as existing independent of herself. Stuff is so routine, and she feels so divorced from her reality, that she imagines that her life would go on just the same without her in it.
Sometimes when Violet isn't paying attention she stumbled onto these cracks, like the time when, instead of putting her left heel forward, she stepped back and folded her legs in order to sit in the street. (1.52)
Man, sometimes you just sit in the street, right? No? Oh, well that's what Violet does, because she feels that doing one (normal) thing, like walking forward across the street, is basically just as easy as doing another (abnormal) thing, like sitting down in the road. And she has a point: We do what we do because it's societally acceptable, not because we have to. So really, old Violet is living life to the fullest and looking into each possibility. Hmm… Maybe we'll have a sandwich for dinner, or maybe we'll just eat a huge bowl of pudding.
Long before Joe stood in the drugstore watching a girl buy candy, Violet had stumbled into a crack or two. Words connected only to themselves pieced an otherwise normal comment. (1.53)
Okay, so on the surface, Violet is acting nuttier than trail mix, but under the surface of this comment? Uh, she's acting kind of like jazz music. She's riffing, she's improvising—you never know what she's going to say. That's a little crazy and disorienting, but you know what? Jazz is also kind of crazy and disorienting. It's a new way of storytelling, a new way of expressing truth.
She means nothing can be done about it, but it was something. Something slight, but troublesome. Like the time Miss Haywood asked her what time she could do her granddaughter's hair and Violet said "Two o'clock if the hearse is out of the way."(1.55)
Another Grade A Prime example of Violet acting like a nutso, but also acting a whole lot like a jazz riff. She starts with something sensible—"Two o'clock" is a perfectly reasonable answer to the question—but ends up with something a little askew, a little morbid, a little shocking. She starts out in familiar territory, but lands someplace else.
Whenever she thought about that Violet, and what that Violet saw through her own eyes, she knew there was no shame there, no disgust. (4.9)
If you're going to have split personalities, make sure that one of them is shameless and hard to disgust, right? Especially if you live in a world where (as we've seen) so much of what women do is labeled shameful or disgusting. You know, like wearing silk stockings. Violet has a pretty sensible kind of crazy sometimes.
And that's why it took so much wrestling to get me down, keep me down and out of the coffin where she was the heifer who took what was mine, what I chose, picked out and determined to have and hold on to, NO! that Violet is not somebody walking round town, up and down the streets wearing my skin and using my eyes s*** no that Violet is me! (4.9)
Existential crises are much harder when you have various personalities to keep track of, unless, like Violet, you come to the grand epiphany that actually, you're all one big happy self. Who doesn't think of themselves as in someway split? There's a reason that the whole angel-and-devil-sitting-on-the-shoulder-thing is a thing. They represent two sides of yourself, the good Shmooper who is going to eat salad for dinner and the bad Shmooper who is going to eat tater tots.
Violet just phrases real-life in a way that sounds unsettling—it's still true. Kind of like a little musical genre called jazz.
I got quiet because the things I couldn't say were coming out of my mouth anyhow. (4.10)
Here's another Violet-as-jazz gem. This quote sounds seriously spooky, right? Violet sounds like the kind of woman that you would cross the street to avoid because she might be having an argument with a streetlamp. But, thought of in a different light, what she's saying makes tons of sense: Keep stuff bottled up and it's bound to come out in an unpleasant, unsettling manner.
It had rocked him when he heard who and what his father was. Made him loose, lost. He had first fingered and then torn some of his mother's clothes and sat in the grass looking at the things scattered on the lawn as well as in his mind. (6.48)
Violet is not the only person who loses it a bit. Golden Gray kind of breaks when he finds out that his father is black because, you know, his entire identity has been a lie. When confronted with a crazy situation, acting crazy makes sense. And what could be crazier than realizing (1) that you could have been born a slave, and (2) the idea of slavery itself?
"But I understood what she meant. About having another you inside of you that isn't anything like you." (9.42)
Felice knows what Violet is talking about—she's had the experience of feeling like there are disparate parts of her personality battling inside of her. And you know what this feeling is kind of like? The conversation between various instruments within a single jazz composition.
"How did you get rid of her?"
"Killed her. Then I killed the me that killed her."
Sure, on the surface this sounds like an existential version of the logic puzzle where you have to move a tiger, a goat, and a bunch of grain across a river using one boat. The initial takeaway is huh? But all Violet is talking about, in her signature Violet style, is the sensation of realizing that her various personalities or public faces—wife, hairdresser, woman who tried to cut a dead girl, bird-lover—are part of the same woman.
The young are not so young here, and there is no such thing as midlife. (1.20)
The quintessential live-fast-die-young-in-the-City quote. Life moves so fast, and there is no much scandalous sin everywhere, that the young people get wise beyond their years. In the same way, life is so nonstop and exhausting that you just get old after a certain point. No midlife crisis for the City-dweller. No innocence, either.
From then on she hid the girl's hair in braids tucked under, lest whitemen see it raining round her shoulders and push dollar-wrapped fingers towards her. Much of this she could effect with her dress but as the girl grew older, more elaborate specifications had to be put in place. High-heeled shoes with the graceful strap across the arc, the vampy hats closed on the head with saucy brims framing the face, makeup of any kind—all of that way outlawed in Alice Manfred's house. (3.4)
Alice is the gatekeeper of innocence, and is working with the backward understanding that loss of innocence is something that comes from the outside. Her logic goes: As long as a man doesn't see Dorcas as sexual, she won't be sexual. Hmm… We know how well that works out.
When Alice Manfred collected the little girl from the Miller sisters, on those evenings following the days her fine stitching was solicited, the three women sat down in the kitchen to hum and sigh over cups of Postum at the signs of Imminent Demise: such as not just ankles but knees in full view, lip rouge as red as hellfire, burnt matchsticks rubbed on eyebrows, fingernails tipped with blood: you couldn't tell the streetwalkers from the mothers. (3.6)
Giving Alice the full historical benefit of the doubt, we guess she has a right to be shocked. The 1920s were super-shocking. Women were wearing dresses down to the floor a decade prior, and now they were showing off their scandalous knees. Lipstick was, prior to the 1920s, essentially stage makeup, it was the cosmetics equivalent of wearing a Vegas-style feathered headdress. No wonder it looked like innocence was gone for good for old women like Alice.
I always believed that girl was a pack of lies. I could tell by her walk her underclothes were beyond her years, even if her dress wasn't. (3.50)
Felice knew that Dorcas was playing the oldest game in book: going out with parent-approved clothes on and then making a switcheroo to something sexier. But Dorcas didn't just swap a sweater for a crop top. She swapped out weird 1920s girl-underwear for weird 1920s woman-underwear. Seriously, those things look like torture devices. But hey, proof positive that loss-of-innocence doesn't start with the first application of lipstick. Hear that, Alice?
What did she see, young girl like that, barely out of high school, with unbraided hair, lip rouge for the first time and high-heeled shoes? (4.9)
What does Dorcas see in Joe? Well, we know that a couple of mean boys at a party didn't want to dance with Dorcas, so by the time Joe comes around she is super-happy to have someone drooling over her. But from all accounts, Joe is a silver fox. He might be fifty, but he's aged gracefully.
But Joe had been in the City twenty years and isn't young anymore. I imagine him as one of those men who stop somewhere around sixteen. Inside. (5.8)
Yeah, this answers—partially—the question about why Joe wants to date an eighteen-year-old so badly. Because he's sixteen inside. He wants a girl around his own age—he's not being an old perv, he's just a teenaged boy trapped in a fifty-year-old body. Proving that innocence can be lost at any age, and it can also persist to any age.
He was sure he was tending a sweet but abused young girl at first, but when she bit him he said, Oh, she's wild. (7.3)
If you take away one thing from Jazz (besides an appreciation of jazz music) remember not to make snap judgments about girls. Not all young girls are sweet and innocent, and neither are all young girls scandalous and after older men. The characters in this book keep learning this over and over again, with women tending to view girls as sinful and men tending to view them as innocent.
"I taught you both you all never kill the tender and nothing female if you can help it." (7.27)
The laws of hunting, folks: Don't kill babies, don't kill women. This is one of those things that is totally sound when it's kept to sphere of hunting, but starts getting angry-making when it becomes metaphorical. Because it lumps women and babies together as innocent, defenseless, kind of unformed entities, and that's kind of messed up when you think about it.
The girls have red lips and their legs whisper to each other through silk stockings. The red lips and the silk flash power. A power they will exchange for the right to be overcome, penetrated. (7.44)
This is Joe's point-of-view, and you can tell a whole lot about Joe from this statement. This highlights both his feelings toward young women and his feelings toward young men: that both are more powerful than he is, and that both are equally lacking in innocence.
"But he must not have known about her. How she liked to push people, men." (9.28)
This line underlines in neon yellow the thesis statement Dorcas is not innocent. She likes to provoke, she's of her time, the provocative 1920s. Dorcas's lack of innocence isn't a form of shaming in the context of Jazz; it's a testament to her agency as a character. She's a victim of murder, absolutely, but she isn't manipulated and used by Joe. Her lack of innocence is full of power.
He fell for an eighteen-year-old girl with one of those deepdown, spooky loves that made him so sad and happy he shot her just to keep the feeling going. (1.1)
Ah, love… hearts, red roses, and killing your lover. Ain't love grand? Joe cherishes the feeling of loving more than he cherishes Dorcas herself. So he has to shoot her in what is a quintessential crime of passion. Spooky love indeed: You know when a novel starts like this it's going to be pretty preoccupied with matters of the heart.
It was a randy aggressiveness he had enjoyed because he had not used or needed it before. The ping of desire that surfaced along with his whisper through the closed door he began to curry. (2.7)
Lust and power are equated a ton in Jazz. He (or she) who holds the lust holds the power. A lot of conquests in this novel are described as wins: If a person lusts after someone and gets them, they've won. So when Joe picks Dorcas instead of being picked by Violet, it's a win, which is why he enjoys his "randy aggressiveness" so much.
They try not to shout but can't help it. Sometimes he covers her mouth with the palm of his hand so no one passing in the hall will hear her, and if he can, if he thinks of it in time, he bites the pillow to stop his own yell. If he can. (2.25)
Yep, Dorcas and Joe have some white-hot passion. It's described as an unstoppable force, something they can't help. Another unstoppable force in this novel, something that is sweeping the city and can't be helped, is the Jazz Age. We're not saying that Dorcas and Joe's passion is just a metaphor for jazz—it's also a complex love affair in its own right—but for the characters who fear change, Dorcas and Joe's affair is exactly the kind of sinful activity that jazz is going to provoke.
Resisting her aunt's protection and restraining hands, Dorcas thought of that life-below-the-sash as all the life there was. (3.17)
Here's another handy jazz-is-lust, lust-is-jazz passage. For Alice, spiritual music is the music of the head and heart, while jazz is the music of the "below-the-sash" region. Dorcas, who loves jazz, is also really interested in kick-starting her love life. Coincidence? In the world of Jazz, nope.
The children scratched their knees and nodded, but Dorcas, at least, was enchanted by the frail, melty tendency of the flesh and the Paradise that could make a woman go back after two days, two! or make a girl travel four hundred miles to a camptown, or fold Neola's arm, the better to hold the pieces of her heart in her hand. (3.21)
When Neola tells Dorcas about the devastating effects of lust—the ruined lives and the women who fell for the wrong men just because of their looks—Dorcas thinks it all sounds fantastic. This is not the intended effect of Neola's lecture, but hey, you can't win them all. Oh, and this passage kind of proves that Dorcas doesn't have a child's understanding as love as all white doves and wedding cakes and happiness; instead she's "enchanted" by the disastrous possibilities.
They spoke to her firmly but carefully about her body: sitting nasty (legs open); sitting womanish (legs crossed); breathing through her mouth; hands on hips; slumping at table; switching when you walked. (3.61)
Poor Alice. She's subjected to all of these rules about being ladylike. To our 21st-century perspective, being ladylike sounds like a really uncomfortable and constricting activity. But the idea that Alice is raised with is that being a lady means appearing as nonsexual as possible. Lust = bad, while breathing through your nose = good.
I picked him out from all the others wasn't nobody like Joe he make anybody stand in cane in the middle of the night; make any woman dream about him in the daytime so hard she miss the rut and have to work hard to get the mules back on the track. Any woman, not just me. (4.9)
Violet remembers when Joe was super-hot. All the ladies loved Joe, and Violet felt victorious when she was the one that ended up with him. This is both perfectly normal—everyone likes to feel like they've landed a hottie—and symptomatic of Jazz's approach to lust and power. Having lust, and picking your mate, makes you powerful.
Under the table at the Indigo was she drumming on a thigh soft as a baby's but feeling all the while the way it used to be skin so tight it almost split and let the iron muscle through? Did she feel that, know that? (4.9)
Violet's lust toward Joe is, first and foremost, based in memory. She remembers when Joe was young and strapping and wonders whether Dorcas's lust toward Joe was, in some way, based in the same memory. Violet's lust toward Joe has deteriorated the same way Joe's thighs have, and she wishes they could have both been preserved. This is kind of similar—though nowhere near as violent—as Joe killing Dorcas in order to keep his lust for, and memory of, her intact.
"She's so glad I found her. Arching and soft, wanting me to do it, asking me to. Just me. Nobody but me." (7.48)
Right, so this is Joe's fantasy. Dorcas doesn't actually want Joe, Joe and only Joe—she has a new boyfriend named Acton and she lurves him. But Joe's ideal reconnection with Dorcas has her wanting him exclusively. Has his love for Dorcas always been this selfish, or is this Joe just being a sad spurned lover?
You can drink the safe gin if you like, or stick to beer, but you don't need either because a touch on the knee, accidental or on purpose, alerts the blood like a shot of pre-Pro bourbon or two fingers pinching your nipples. (8.1)
Hey, what's more intoxicating that pre-Prohibition bourbon? A touch on the knee. For all the actual doing it contained in Jazz, the most lust-filled passages refer to either the possibility of sex or the memory of it. Not surprisingly, jazz music is also about the possibility or the memory of sex.