Study Guide

Jazz Art and Culture: Jazz Music

By Toni Morrison

Art and Culture: Jazz Music

It's no shocker that the art form in a novel called Jazz is jazz music. The novel's structure borrows heavily from jazz music, including different character solos, a preoccupation with lust and violence, and (not going to lie to you) a tendency to get confusing. It's also set during the Harlem Renaissance, when jazz music was becoming A Thing and either seducing people with its sexiness and daring—like Dorcas—or making old women clutch their pearls, like Alice.

Jazz, like jazz, doesn't play by the established rules. It swoops around in time and slows down, speeds up, and changes direction. It's also, like jazz, totally unique and mesmerizing. Enjoy the ride.

Questions About Art and Culture: Jazz Music

  1. How do the characters in Jazz act like instruments in a jazz composition?
  2. Jazz music is heavily based on improvisation. Although you can't really improvise a novel, what elements of Jazz seem improvisational? Why?
  3. Within the novel Jazz, is jazz music portrayed as a force for good or a sinful force? Does this influence your reading of the book overall?
  4. How does jazz music impact the lives of the main characters in Jazz?

Chew on This

The older generation in Jazz fears that jazz music is a corrupting force, and Dorcas is a realization of these fears.

Violet is the character that most fully personifies jazz music.

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