Questions on Jazz

This post is regarding my presentation questions from our last Jazz seminar! Yeah, I know I’m super late, I’m sorry.

  1. What is the significance of the lack parenting?
  2. What importance does the parrot that says “I love you” have? Why does Violet leave the knife in his cage?

Firstly, the theme of parents affects many characters in the novel. Here’s a recap:

  • Orphans: Violet, Joe, and Dorcas
  • Raises other people’s children: Alice, True Belle

The other main thing that all these characters share is that they are all African American. It is because of this, and because of American history, that it makes sense to say that the loss of motherhood could be connected to African people’s loss of “mother tongue” and of their language and culture during the slave era. The characters in Jazz are like continuations of this oppression, the repercussions of their assimilation into modern 20s “white people culture”. Like Dabydeen, they could be going through some sort of identity crisis, not knowing how they fit into society = not knowing their mother/parents. Golden Grey fits really well into this theory, being a person of mixed race. His motives for hunting down his father are discussed a little, and Hunter, his father, accuses Golden’s motivation of finding him was only to see if his father really was as black as they say. Like in jazz, the musical genre, the 20s were a part of the transition for the genre. It went from being an almost exclusively black type of musical, derived mostly from slave songs, later turning into blues. The first type/sub-genre of jazz was something called “Dixieland” that came out of New Orleans¬†and was very much dominated by black people. I guess what I’m trying to say is that jazz was invented by black Americans, and only later on did it turn into swing, big band style jazz, which was heavily loved by the rest of America (white America). It’s in this subgenre of jazz that you find a lot white artists, like Frank Sinatra. This convergence of the music genre is parallel to the convergence of the actual people in many cities like Harlem, NY. It wasn’t until the later half of the 60s that African American jazz legends like Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, and Miles Davis were in the limelight of the jazz community and recognized for their talent. In my opinion, I do think that the effects of jazz’s history of being (sorta) whitewashed is still seen today. The most prominent voice for jazz in popular culture right now is very white Ryan Reynolds, because of his role in La La Land, which faced some backlash for being an incredibly white film. All of this shows how fitting the title of this novel is. Jazz can stand as a symbol of the many varying struggles of African Americans in a city like Harlem, NY.

Secondly, the birds are important because they symbolize Joe and Violet’s relationship. When the novel opens, their love had just fallen after hanging on by a thread for who know’s how long. The narrator explains how they have been barely tolerating each other for many years. The presence of the parrot that mindlessly repeats “I love you” could be a parallel of their relationship as they go along with being together “in love” without putting in any effort to actually be in love. They are both very caught up with their own problems to truly open up to each other, which is fixed by the end of the novel. After Violet finds out about Joe’s dishonesty and goes on her rampage to Dorcas’s funeral, she goes back to their apartment and lets her parrot free. This act could be her trying to lose all ties to Joe and their relationship. What’s interesting is how it is noted multiple times that she is not sure if the parrot dies from this or not. It seems very likely that the parrot would be dead, like how Joe’s affair would most likely ruin any relationship with Violet. But Violet wonders if the parrot could’ve lived, suggesting she still loves Joe. When they are working on fixing their relationship at the end of the novel, they adopt another bird that is sick, and they are nursing it back to health, much like their wounded relationship.