Study Guide

Jazz Contrasting Regions

By Toni Morrison

Contrasting Regions

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.

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