An Analysis of the Narrator as the Voice of the City in Toni Morrison’s Jazz

The narrator seeks to be the voice of the city and follows the characters of Toni Morrison’s Jazz, to document their lives. In an attempt to provide the reader with an accurate account of their actions and characteristics, the narrator dismisses the possibility of being tainted lens. As each voice is created to further an agenda, this narrator is unable to provide an unbiased version of the story.

The narrator wishes to be the voice of the city by speaking and listening on behalf of it. As the city, the narrator is to address the city’s culture and roots. However, the city cannot be described by a single narrator as the city is experienced differently by each individual. The story that the city tells to each person is unique and as it stimulates its residents, each perception of the city created is significantly different. The voice of the city may be one that is the most generic version of the most common perception but the narrator is unable to speak in this voice. The ambiguity of the city resembles in the undefined narrator. By not identifying the narrator’s gender, race or age, one is free to determine the details of the narrator’s character. This opens the possibility for the reader to insert them into the novel. The narrator’s claim to be the voice of the city is a statement that limits the imagination of the readers as the setting is created as a character. Yet it also opens the possibility of an opportunity for the reader to create the city as the narrator.

The city itself would be the ideal narrator as an unbiased and all knowing character. One who could speak on behalf of every character and provide an accurate background of each character or location. The narrator as the voice of the city creates depth within the novel. The illusion of the city’s free spirit is created through the flow caused by the lack of punctuation and describes each street as composed of a symphony of sounds. As the narrator describes the city, it comes to life as a character but when s/he attempts to become the city, s/he fails to embrace its true essence. As the narrator is to convey the messages that the characters cannot verbally share, s/he inserts their opinion of the characters and actions. The narrator’s investment in the defense of the characters takes away from the effect of being the voice of the city. By becoming the city, the narrator hopes to tell the secrets of the characters but is unable to do so without their personal bias affecting their stories.

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