Idea of “Choice” in Jazz

Something I’ve noticed come up in the assigned readings thus far is the emphasis Violet and Joe both place on choice. What’s ironic is that Violet talks about choosing Joe, while Joe talks about choosing Dorcas. It gave me an image in my head of a sort of circle– as Violet pursues Joe, Joe pursues Dorcas. It also brought me back to the whole concept of churning that happens in Toni Morrison’s novels.

The first mention of choosing that caught my attention was when Violet was describing the funeral and attempting to explain why she did what she did. On page 95 she says, “That’s why it took so much wrestling to get me down, keep me down and out of that coffin where she was the heifer who took what was mine, what I chose, picked out and determined to have and hold on to. . . ” (Morrison). I’ve bolded all the words here that I believe have relevance to this concept of choice. Initially I thought this language was bizarre. Nowhere does Violet use the word “love.” Instead, all of her language points to possessiveness.

This is important because possessiveness is often mistaken for love, especially in unhealthy, abusive relationships. In fact, a sign of a mentally abusive boyfriend, for example, is possessiveness, such as becoming jealous over his partner having interactions of any kind with the opposite sex, controlling her, etc. I’m not suggesting Violet was an abusive partner, but I am suggesting her concept of love is skewed and abnormal. I think it’s equally important to point out her use of the word “what” instead of “who” in that sentence, as if Joe is not a person, but a thing, only emphasizing the idea that he is to be possessed, not loved.

Later on, Joe uses the same language when describing Dorcas: “I chose you. Nobody gave you to me. Nobody said that’s the one for you. I picked you out. Wrong time, yep, and doing wrong by my wife. But the picking out, the choosing. Don’t think I ever fell for you, or fell over you. I didn’t fall in love, I rose in it” (Morrison 135). The similarities between Violet’s passage and Joe’s are undeniable and important. Joe describes the same actions of choosing and picking Dorcas and even explicitly says he did not fall in love with her, he rose in it. I think Morrison’s use of the verb “rose” is important here because while falling has the connotation of being unable to control yourself from doing something, rising has the connotation of purposely doing something, or choosing.

Knowing what Joe ultimately did to Dorcas leads me to have a greater tendency to view Joe’s possessiveness as more toxic and unstable than Violet’s. I’m unsure whether being ignorant of the knowledge that Joe murdered Dorcas would change this opinion, because usually society views men as more violent than women, especially in situations of dating violence and domestic abuse.

I think there are reasons stemming from both Violet’s and Joe’s pasts, their separate pasts and their past as a couple, that leads them to view the object of their affection just that: an object to be possessed.

One obvious possible explanation that jumped out at me is slavery and the possession of African Americans by white people. Both Violet and Joe were indebted to landowners before moving to the city and this indebted servitude was really just a continuation of slavery. Their power to choose was taken away from them during this time. It could be, then, that the emphasis on choice is so strong because that’s what’s important to them. The moment they were able to leave and go to the city was the same moment they were given the power of choice, the same moment they began their lives together. Could this have started the problems between them? Did they never learn to love because of the situation they were in?

Interestingly, Joe does not speak about choosing Violet. In fact, it’s the exact opposite: he quite literally fell into her.

I’m still struggling to fully unpack this entire idea of choice and choosing, but I’m excited to see where it goes, if it goes anywhere.


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