A Morrison Interview and a New Take on Jazz

In my discussion group, we entertained the question of Morrison’s trilogy. Why are these three works considered her trilogy, as opposed to her other works? Did she intend for them to be a series from the outset? Did she introduce them as a trilogy or was it her editors? I did some searching, and I couldn’t find out when the term trilogy was first introduced to these three works, but I did find an interview in which Morrison calls them the trilogy (at this point, she was still working on Paradise.) In this interview, Morrison provides some insight into her writing process, as well as her perspectives on writing Beloved and Jazz. Among many very insightful and clarifying statements from Morrison, I found an excerpt about Jazz that I found particularly interesting in relation to the last chapter of Jazz.

Morrison has an interesting relationship with her characters. She mentions, “if I come to a place where I am unsure, I have the characters to go to for reassurance. By that time they are friendly enough to tell me if the rendition of their lives is authentic or not.” However, almost paradoxically, she is always in control of her characters: “I take control of them. They are very carefully imagined. I feel as though I know all there is to know about them, even things I don’t write—like how they part their hair. They are like ghosts. They have nothing on their minds but themselves and aren’t interested in anything but themselves.”

This is especially interesting in relation to the last chapter of Jazz, in which the narrator, whom some in the class imagined might be Morrison, discussed being surprised at the complexity and transformation of the characters over the course of the story. She does mention, though, that something enjoyable about writing Jazz was the ability to encounter the threesome, the melody as she terms them, “time and again, seeing it from another point of view, seeing it afresh each time, playing it back and forth.”

I find her comment that her characters “have nothing on their minds but themselves and aren’t interested in anything but themselves” as a jumping point for conversation. At no point in Beloved or Jazz did I think that the characters were self-absorbed or too distracted by their own concern for their wellbeing. In fact, most characters seem to be mostly concerned and interested with those that surround them and more specifically, the opinions of those that surround them. For example, the deeply intertwined connection between Sethe, Denver, and Beloved demonstrates an instance where each character is obsessed with another, over their own wellbeing. One of the major themes of Morrison’s works, that I have found, is the theme of churning and the notion that there is no outside of the system in which we operate. Everyone is deeply engaged with one another whether they realize it or not, and the situations of Beloved and Jazz seem to make it impossible for any character to be insular or separate from the group.

On a side note, I was also surprised to hear Morrison using language of control and “ghosts” (another word for “shades”) when talking about her characters, especially since we have discussed the possible violence that accompanies telling stories of slavery and human violence, which Morrison is in conversation with.

On another, more minor side note, I also thought it was entertaining how she recognized the potential frustration of readers when faced with reading Jazz, especially since some in the class have expressed similar feelings: “This playful aspect of Jazz may well cause a great deal of dissatisfaction in readers who just want the melody, who want to know what happened, who did it and why.”

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