Study Guide

Jazz Violence

By Toni Morrison

Violence

Yeah, a novel that starts with the shooting of an ex-girlfriend and a woman who tries to slice open a dead girl's face is going to be a little bloody. Leave your squeamishness at the door for this one, Shmoopers.

Jazz isn't just about two violent lunatics, though. It's about the violence that has impacted Violet and Joe since their childhoods: the suicides, the beatings, the horrific racist violence of turn-of-the-century America, and the violence inherent of slavery. There's so much violence in Jazz that the characters speak about it with chilling matter-of-factness. "He was pulled off a streetcar and stomped to death," is spoken with the kind of Yep, that happened attitude we might use to comment on yesterday's rain.

Questions About Violence

  1. What are some of the different manifestations of violence in Jazz?
  2. How does the violence Joe and Violet commit echo the violence they encountered during their childhoods?
  3. What is the effect of the unemotional tone in which violence is described?
  4. How does violence impact the lives of each of the characters in Jazz?

Chew on This

Jazz portrays violence as a cycle that is doomed to repeat.

Joe's murder of Dorcas is an unpremeditated crime of passion.

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