Study Guide

Jazz Chapter 5

By Toni Morrison

Chapter 5

  • Spring in the City is better than winter in the City. Statement of the year, right?
  • If you were walking around Harlem in the Spring of 1926 you would have seen a man crying. Surprise: It's Joe. Crying over Dorcas.
  • Joe's sadness is compounded by a man singing the blues.
  • Joe really was a ladies' man. Not that he slept with them; they just really liked him and his Cleopatra cosmetics.
  • The narrator says that all Joe wanted was the same thing everyone else does: young loving. And Dorcas was definitely young and definitely loving.
  • Now we hear Joe's side of things. He's in the first person now, and wants us to know that he didn't tell other men about his conquest.
  • He had a boyhood buddy named Victory that he would have told, but Victory's gone—so he tells us instead.
  • Joe mentions how his work in the city has involved "selling trust." Waiting tables, selling cosmetics, and such are all part of the trust business.
  • He was born in Virginia in 1873, and raised by a family that took him in. Victory is his step-brother, as it turns out. Joe gives himself the last name Trace, because his birth parents left without a trace.
  • Joe describes the moment he gave himself the last name Trace as his first rebirth, or his second birth.
  • His third birth (he collects births the way some people collect stamps, we guess) came when he learned to be a man and become independent. The guy who taught him to be a man was named Hunter's Hunter and he was (no surprise here) a hunter.
  • His fourth birth came when he moved to Palestine, a town fifteen miles away from his hometown. He met Violet there, under that super-romantic tree.
  • The fifth birth comes when he and Violet move to New York City. These births are also describes as changes, so there are either five births or four changes—you know, just to keep you on your toes.
  • Violet and Joe were happy at first. (We've heard this tune before.) They were happy, but then Violet went mute.
  • A sixth birth fifth change happened in 1917 when a bunch of white men tried to beat Joe to death. The what now? This is the first time we've heard about this? That's brutal.
  • By 1925 Violet had become mute and started sleeping with a doll. Oh boy. That doll is kind of creepy sounding.
  • Joe is kind of just talking at the reader now, jumping back and forth in time. He talks about how everyone was shocked when he left Virginia because he was a country boy.
  • The seventh birth was when he saw Dorcas.
  • Now he starts talking about Dorcas. She had bad skin, but he thought her bad skin was kind of adorable and didn't want her to change.
  • He "tracked" Dorcas after she left him.
  • He mentions that he didn't intentionally start tracking her—he kind of blames the musicians singing the blues for making him act like such a stalker.
  • Oh dear. Now he starts addressing Dorcas as "you." We're deep inside his head now, and it's uncomfortable in here.
  • He says he knows that the things Dorcas said to him the last time they saw each other weren't true. Uh, sure, guy—she breaks up with you and your response is: It's not true. That's a little unhinged.
  • He's jealous of the young men whom, according to Joe, don't have to chase women but just sit and let all the women come up to them.
  • Joe remembers telling Dorcas that she's the reason Adam ate the famous apple in the Garden of Eden. So Dorcas is like the knowledge of good and evil?
  • He goes off the deep end a bit, and rants about how he carved their initials in a rock (a rock) and how he chose her and how important that was.
  • Back in the day, according to Joe, if you were black you needed to change/be reborn every day and every night; you also had to stay the same.
  • The rest of what Joe is saying is (intentionally) incomprehensible.

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