First edition cover
|Publisher||Alfred A. Knopf Inc.|
|Media type||Print (hardback & paperback)|
Jazz is a 1992 historical novel by Pulitzer and Nobel Prize-winning American author Toni Morrison. The majority of the narrative takes place in Harlem during the 1920s; however, as the pasts of the various characters are explored, the narrative extends back to the mid-19th-century American South.
Narrative style and themes
The novel deliberately mirrors the music of its title, with various characters "improvising" solo compositions that fit together to create a whole work. The tone of the novel also shifts with these compositions, from bluesy laments to up beat, sensual ragtime. The novel also utilizes the call-and-response style of jazz music, allowing the characters to explore the same events from different perspectives.
This book also features "untrustworthy narrators" whose emotions and perspective colour the story. Narration switches every so often to the viewpoint of various characters, inanimate objects, and even concepts. The book's final narrator is widely believed to be Morrison or perhaps the book itself.
Jazz was Morrison’s most recently published work when she was awarded the 1993 Nobel Prize for Literature. “[Morrison] uses a device which is akin to the way jazz itself is played… the result is a richly complex, sensuously conveyed image of the events, the characters and moods.”
- Joe Trace, a door-to-door cosmetics salesman and the murderer of his young lover.
- Violet Trace, an unlicensed beautician. Violet is married to Joe. She is nicknamed "Violent" because she assaulted the corpse of Joe’s lover with a knife at the funeral.
- Dorcas, Joe's young lover, who is shot down at a party. Dorcas is inspired by a picture from The Harlem Book of the Dead (a collection of funeral photographs by James Van Der Zee).
- Alice Manfred, Dorcas' aunt and guardian. A conservative Christian ashamed by her niece's behavior. Alice enters into an unusual friendship with Violet.
- Felice, a friend of Dorcas' who goes to the Trace household in search of answers.
- Golden Gray, a mixed race man from the 19th century. Golden appears in both Joe's and Violet's histories.
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