Toni Morrison is actually one of the authors I am somewhat familiar with – I had read and analyzed Sula, another one of her works, back in highschool. While Sula was much different than Jazz in terms of writing style and narrative form, it dealt with many of the same themes: the urbanization of the country, the radical shifts in ideas and identity, and the development of the African-American lifestyle. What I found most interesting in Jazz which I had not encountered in Sula was Morrison’s use of the narrative voice: instead of the third-person narration that was used in Sula, the narrator in Jazz seems to be much more connected with the characters, and even occasionally switches to the characters’ perspectives.

File:Adi Holzer Werksverzeichnis 899 Satchmo (Louis Armstrong).jpg

Satchmo (Louis Armstrong) (2002). In the public domain. Accessed from Wikimedia Commons.

The perspective of the narration in Sula tended to be a very distanced view from the characters of the plot, with numerous references to the view of other townsfolk, and mentions of gossip and the image of the main characters in the eyes of their society. Jazz also seems to do this, albeit in a very different way – the opinions given are that of the narrator himself/herself, instead of a general comment by neighbors.

“This notion of rest, it’s attractive to her, but I don’t think she would like it. They are all like that, these women. Waiting for the ease, the space that need not be filled with anything other than the drift of their own thoughts. But they wouldn’t like it. They are busy and thinking of ways to be busier because such a space of nothing pressing to do would knock them down.” (16)

The narrator assumes that he/she knows these women, and gives his/her opinion on them – without providing any evidence of how she obtained her knowledge. While there would have been little problem had the narrator shown himself/herself as an omniscient narrator, there is little to show that he/she actually does know of the minds of these characters. In fact, there seems to be more evidence leading to the opposite conclusion: the narrator is just another character of the town, and makes assumptions of the other characters’ lives as opposed to truly knowing about them. The narrator often presents himself/herself in this way:

“Joe probably thinks that the song is about him. He’d like believing it. I know him so well. Have seen him feed small animals nobody else paid any attention to, but I was never deceived.” (119)

Here the narrator presents himself/herself as not only an interconnected character, but as a well-knowing acquaintance – even though he/she never reveals how or in what nature he/she obtains this information. While this does give us a perspective that is possibly more well-knowing of the characters, thus increasing the reader’s personal connection to the events in the story, the narrator’s position as trustworthy becomes even more doubtful.

Sorry for the late post!

One thought on “Jazz

  1. Good examples here. I can see that the narrator makes claims to know the characters, to understand them in a deep way, but since we have no clue who this narrator even is (though s/he seems to be one of the characters in the story), it can lead readers to immediately question how/why or even IF the narrator really has such knowledge. Good point that if the narrator were presented as a typical, omniscient one, this problem wouldn’t arise. Thanks for making this interesting argument here! I can’t say much more than…I agree!

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