Study Guide

Jazz Chapter 3

By Toni Morrison

Chapter 3

  • Whoa, who is Alice Manfred? Besides someone watching the 4th of July Parade in 1917?
  • We know that she's hurt by the "cold black faces" and the drums in the parade. Aren't parades supposed to be fun?
  • Being hurt is better than being afraid, and Alice is perpetually afraid. For good reason: White people in multiple states, and now in New York City, have been really horrible.
  • For example: They try to pick her up as a prostitute, and don't sell her things, and move away from her rudely.
  • Oh, she's hurt by the parade because the faces in the parade mirror her own fear of existing as a black woman in America, 1917. She's not afraid any longer, though, because she's in charge of an orphan girl.
  • She dresses the orphaned girl conservatively, so people don't harass her. Women these days dress too provocatively, according to Alice.
  • Provocatively, but also—Alice secretly thinks—beautifully. She's a seamstress, and she knows well-made clothes.
  • Alice believes that post-WWI life is a sign of the Imminent Demise, as evidence by the clothes and especially the music. It makes people think nasty sex thoughts.
  • Somehow, in Alice's mind the "lowdown" music is connected to the cold faces of black men in the 4th of July Parade, and to riots in St. Louis.
  • Alice's brother-in-law was one of the many black men killed in the St. Louis riots, and her sister died shortly thereafter when her house was torched.
  • The dead sister and brother-in-law left behind a girl named Dorcas.
  • Ah-ha—we get the connection. You know that there is only one person named Dorcas in this book.
  • So Alice Manfred is Aunt Alice to Joe's dead ex-girlfriend.
  • The one who didn't call the cops on Joe. This makes sense now. No one was arrested for the murder of Alice's sister and brother-in-law, so why should anyone be arrested for the murder of her niece?
  • Gosh, the world stinks sometimes.
  • But you know what makes the world stink, according to Alice? Jazz music.
  • The music is sexy, but also has a core of hostility and anger. The music gets to Alice, and she thinks about it when she's trying to sleep.
  • Dorcas loves jazz. She loves the sexiness and she loves the City.
  • If jazz is angry, maybe that's why Dorcas likes it so much: Dorcas is also angry.
  • Dorcas is also really enamored by the idea of tragic lust and love.
  • Yeah, Dorcas likes boys a lot. She tries to dance with two handsome brothers at a dance but, because her aunt dresses her like a young girl and she has to wear clunky shoes, they reject her.
  • Ouch. Rejection is the worst. Dorcas wonders if anyone will ever want her, and then Joe comes through the door and whispers that yes, he definitely wants her. Definitely.
  • It was about time, too. Dorcas was going stir-crazy with her aunt's rules and sexual desire, and the allure of the City and the constant sexy jazz didn't do much to calm her down.
  • Okay, perspective switch. We get Joe's account of the meeting. Joe went over to deliver some of his wares (Cleopatra beauty products) and was thinking dismally about the dinner Violet was preparing for him.
  • He used to like Violet's cooking, but it's not his style any more. Jazz tip: In jazz music, as in Jazz, cooking is sexual metaphor number one.
  • Joe doesn't like Violet's cooking (wink, wink) but he likes candy. And when he sees Dorcas again, he remembers seeing her the first time, when she was—nudge, nudge—buying candy.
  • It's a big deal that Joe starts an affair with Dorcas because women flirt with him, like, all the time.
  • But until Dorcas, he doesn't make a move. Dorcas makes him distracted.
  • The narrator (still unnamed) interjects to say that Dorcas was always kind of a hussy. Judgmental much, narrator?
  • Another thing about Alice Manfred: She's a news junkie. Loves newspapers and current events, which is why (just maybe) she doesn't have an optimistic outlook on the world.
  • Okay, we're leaving October and fast-forwarding to March. Dorcas is dead and Alice is peeved about it. Wow. That was a fast love affair, all told.
  • Alice thinks about how Joe really seemed like he could be trusted before, you know, he killed Dorcas.
  • Who should arrive on Alice's doorstep but Violet, whom Alice—shocker—doesn't want to see.
  • More Alice history: Her parents instructed her on how to be a lady. The shorthand is that, before marriage, don't have sex and don't even look like you want sex. After marriage, have all the babies.
  • Okay, we're really getting to know Alice and her uptightness seems pretty reasonable, considering her history.
  • Black women, according to Alice, should be armed with either a weapon, God, money, or an armed man.
  • Thinking over this "black women should be armed" thing, Alice lets Violet into her house and tells her about Dorcas.
  • They talk, they laugh, they become something approximating buddies.
  • Huh. It turns out that Alice was once left by a man, and she has harbored a burning resentment not toward men, but toward women. She daydreams about killing women she thinks behave like sluts. Whoa there, Alice. Whoa.

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