Study Guide

Jazz Chapter 1

By Toni Morrison

Chapter 1

  • Someone speaking in the first person used to know Violet and her husband Joe. Who is this person speaking?
  • Hmm. Trouble in paradise, folks: Turns out Joe fell in love with an eighteen-year-old girl and then shot her "just to keep the feeling (of love) going." So this isn't a happy marriage, we're guessing.
  • Violet did what any woman with a philandering husband would do and cut the dead girl's face as she lay in the coffin and then let all of her pet birds out of their cages. Seems reasonable.
  • The dead girl's aunt didn't press charges on Joe because of lawyer fees and whatnot. Also, they figured he was suffering enough.
  • Violet is fifty, but she's still a hottie. Hot enough to get a boyfriend, even though her husband doesn't care.
  • Seeing that her husband doesn't care if she has another man in her life, she does a one-eighty and decides to be a domestic goddess: washing his handkerchiefs, putting a picture of his dead girlfriend on the mantle… Wait, what?
  • She also asked everybody about who the dead girl was. Curiosity killed the cat, Violet.
  • Ugh, then she starts doing the same dance moves as the dead girl. Creepy.
  • Joe and Violet's household is described as "mighty bleak," which seems like the understatement of the year.
  • Hmm, but later they invite another young girl into their house and start a "scandalizing threesome." Whoa, dudes—these are not the kind of fifty-year-olds we know.
  • Okay, so now the unnamed narrator is talking about the City.
  • It's an awesome city, and the narrator describes it in loving detail. The light is beautiful, the people are beautiful, the buildings are immense. It's a hard, exciting place. Sounds like New York to us.
  • Oh, yeah: It's Harlem, to be exact.
  • It was seven years after Armistice when Violet tried to cut the face of her husband's young, dead girlfriend. Our mathematical prowess and history knowledge tells us that this was the winter of 1926.
  • It's bitterly cold, but you know what? The City still rocks. The narrator continues to lovingly detail the landscape and population of the city. We're guessing the narrator has an "I Heart NY" t-shirt.
  • The City is awesome, but Joe and Violet's household is still bleak. Violet should not have let those birds out. Joe and Violet's favorite activity is to wake up in the middle of the night and stare at the picture of the dead girl. Healthy.
  • Oh, the dead girl's name is Dorcas.
  • Even with no birds and a creepy Dorcas photo, their apartment is comfy. This is good, especially since it's also where Violet works as a hairdresser.
  • Sometimes she makes house calls, too, and when she does, she talks to her clients about Dorcas. Our hairdresser talks to us about the weather—we officially feel grateful.
  • Hmm, Violet wonders if she's falling in love with Dorcas. Lesbian ghost love? In Harlem, 1926? We're so happy we picked this book up.
  • It turns out that Violet may not be the sanest hairdresser in the world. She's an excellent stylist, but she also does things like sit down in the middle of the street for no reason and um, steals babies?
  • Well, she didn't actually steal the baby. She only walked down the street with it, but she contemplated stealing him. But she was caught, and had an alibi.
  • Aw, Violet wants a baby. But she's too old. Bummer.
  • She didn't used to be crazy—nope, she used to be no-nonsense and determined. But "cracks" started forming in her notion of reality.
  • Sometimes she says inappropriate things.
  • Her reaction to this is to go completely mute. This depresses her husband, and kind of prompts him to start looking at other women with serious interest.