Study Guide

Jazz Women And Femininity

By Toni Morrison

Women And Femininity

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.

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