Episode Two of “The Name Game”

A few weeks ago, Frank discussed in his blog post the important role names play in understanding the significance of a character. When reading Jazz, the name Dorcas really stuck out to me, so I decided to do some research and continue the conversation about the meanings behind names. I found here that Dorcas means “gazelle” in Greek, and is the Greek translation of the name Tabitha in the New Testament. Gazelles are notorious for their grace and beauty, their “soft but brilliant eyes,” and are associated with “an image of female loveliness.” The biblical Dorcas, or Tabitha, was a disciple of Christ in the New Testament, and possessed these gazelle-like qualities. She was known for her good-hearted and charitable work, and is primarily recognized for sewing garments for poor people. I also thought it was interesting that the article from which I got all of this biblical information (I haven’t read the New Testament) mentioned Dorcas eyes briefly. It stated, “She certainly lived a lovely life, and had eyes reflecting the compassion of the Master whom she so faithfully served.” The last seemingly-valuable piece of information I acquired on Dorcas/Tabitha is that she died “in the midst of her works of charity.”

Now, why do I think these features of the biblical Dorcas are relevant to Morrison’s Dorcas? Well, firstly, Morrison makes an equally short but potentially significant mention of Dorcas’ eyes when she writes from Violet’s perspective, “When she isn’t worrying about his loss of appetite, his insomnia, she wonders what color were Dorcas’ eyes. Her aunt had said brown; the beauticians said black but Violet had never seen a light-skinned person with coal-black eyes,” (15). I know this isn’t much, but I do find it curious that both Morrison and Zondervan (the author of the article mentioned above) found it necessary to include just a slight description of Dorcas’ eyes. Maybe it’s purpose is to highlight Dorcas gazelle-like qualities, thus allowing the reader to recognize her as a gazelle? I guess I can’t be sure, so let’s move on.

The biblical Dorcas was distinguished for her charitable efforts, specifically making clothes for poor people. Again, on page 15 of Jazz, Violet thinks, “One thing, for sure, she needed her ends cut. In the photograph and from what Violet could remember from the coffin, the girl needed her ends cut. Hair that long gets fraggely easy. Just a quarter-inch trim would do wonders.” I don’t know about any of you guys, but when I read this I got an image in my head of the bottoms of my boot-cut jeans that I used to wear as a kid. I always neglected to let my mom hem the jeans because I thought I was too cool for that, but then a few weeks later the ends would be tattered and… well, fraggely I think is a pretty good word for how the bottoms of those jeans looked. If only I let my mom trim them just a quarter-inch for me. I guess this is a pretty far-fetched connection as well, to align Morrison’s Dorcas to the biblical one simply because the biblical one sewed dresses and Morrison spent two lines talking about trimming ends, but because the name Dorcas is so bizarre, I want to say that this shows there is some kind of relationship between the two women.

This last connection is probably my weakest (I know, I didn’t think it could get any worse either, but here I go taking another shot in the dark), so I just want to mention it and not talk about it too much. But in Zondervan’s article, he says that Dorcas “died in the midst of her work for charity.” Now, thinking about Morrison’s Dorcas, she was murdered by Joe in the midst of her relationship with him. I’m not saying that her relationship with him was a form of charity, but when Morrison writes from his perspective in the second half of the reading, Joe makes it sound as if what a married man like himself needs is the help of an outside charitable source to help him with “the problems men have with their wives,” (46).

Obviously we’re only a short ways into the book, so I don’t know how strong these connections between Morrison’s Dorcas and the biblical Dorcas will prove to be. On the other hand, let’s face it, Morrison is a genius and she does everything with intentions, so I find it likely that there exists a connection between the two. But what does it mean that Dorcas is the one who was shot? The victim in this story? If she is a symbol of grace, beauty, and charity, and she was murdered by a married man whose love for her, “made him so sad and happy he shot her just to keep the feeling going,” (3), then what is Morrison trying to say about men? It seems obvious, but again, it’s too early in the novel for me to feel compelled to jump to conclusions. But I think it’s important to question Dorcas significance as a character as well as a victim, hence this awkwardly-worded blog post.

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