Jazz (take two) thoughts

I figured I’d post this after finishing Jazz now for the second time. Literally like right after. I think I put the book down three minutes ago. There’s a feeling that comes after finishing a novel and if you don’t act on it, it goes away. So I figured maybe I’d try to capture it in a post. (This might be long)

The first time I finished Jazz I was left incredibly dissatisfied, and very upset. In my mind, the novel had a seemingly “happy ending” where Joe and Violet seemed to be healing, but there was a dead eighteen year old who never got the chance to live her life. All of that is still true after my rereading, but in connection to Dante, I’m starting to see Violet and Joe as being in the middle of a journey (that’s where Purgatory comes in) rather than just living independent of everything.

I know that Beth has also started to see a pattern in the names of the terraces in Purgatorio and the characters in Jazz. We haven’t discussed it in depth though. So, I’m not sure if she sees Joe and Violet as climbing up these terraces or if she sees any order to them specifically in Jazz, because I don’t. That being said, just because there isn’t a clear linear progression does not mean that there is no relationship or conversation between the two texts. In fact, I think that’s one of the things Morrison really does right with Jazz. She’s able to take concepts from Dante’s Purgatorio, but apply them to her own narrative goals. Morrison is never going to give her audience straightforward, so I think she’s pushing back against Dante, or at least challenging some of his thoughts with her own unique form and structure. Despite having a very defined sense of narrative structure that imitates music, Jazz to me is so Morrison; there are lots of elements that can be found in her other novels as well.

In my last post, I talked about how Morrison doesn’t really use the specific language of the Seven Deadly Sins too much, instead relying on other words/feelings that get across the same point. I did however try to keep a count (I cannot say this is 100% accurate) and I found it interesting that the concept of Purgatory is to keep ascending until reaching Paradise (someone please feel free to correct me here because I’m not totally sure). Yet, Morrison uses the word “proud” more often than any of the other titles for the terraces, and uses the word “envy” on the last page of the novel, where seemingly if this story was moving in an ascending direction, we would be past envy by now. I’m basing this concept of ascension on Dante the Pilgrim’s journey up the terraces in Purgatorio.

Where I would like to go in my own thinking of Jazz and Purgatorio is to examine how the terraces are split up by love. There are three categories: Misdirected Love, Deficient Love, and Excessive Love. I think that Jazz is really focused on love and that examples of all three categories can be found within the novel, and I think that there are some genuine connections here. I’m just starting to think about that so I’ll update the blog with my thoughts on that soon.

I’ll leave this post with one last thought, less concerned with Morrison and Dante, but more thinking about Jazz and its place in contemporary society. The first time I read this novel, it was very hard for me to sympathize with Joe. I thought of him primarily as a murderer, and that the violence he committed was not dealt with enough and that he was not repentant enough (even though there are multiple instances of him crying). After reading this a second time, I see Joe in a new light, but I almost wonder if maybe that isn’t such a good thing. I think its impossible to read Jazz without the knowledge of abuse that black women have faced and still continue to face, especially in terms of domestic violence. There are more black women affected by domestic violence than white women, so I’m trying to see whether or not I think Morrison is making a commentary on the abuse that black women face in this novel. I would think that she believes this to be a serious problem, but the likability of Joe Trace complicates this for me. I guess it’s more of a question on if Morrison was thinking of this consciously? And, if so, what was she trying to say?

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