Movement and Narration in Morrison and Dante

By: Cal Hoag, Ashley Daddona, Jenna Doolan, Margaret Pigliacelli, Kat Johnson, Micayah Ambriz, Ellie Walker

Movement, transition, and togetherness are major components of the lives of the characters in Toni Morrison’s Jazz as well as in the spiritual improvement of the sinners found in Dante’s version of purgatory in Purgatorio. Movement within the minds of sinners as they re-evaluate and repent for their actions on Earth is manifested in physical movement up and down Mount Purgatory. Canto IV describes the mount: “This Mount is not like others: at the start / it is most difficult to climb, but then, / the more one climbs the easier it becomes” (88-90). This journey appears to be a simple movement from bottom to top, yet the path is not so linear as it circles around and around the mountain as it comes to the precipice. 

Morrison’s novel follows this same roadmap laid out by Dante as a casual, seemingly omniscient narrator describes a fraught, loveless marriage between characters Joe—who had just murdered his young teenage lover, Dorcas—and Joe’s wife Violet—who assaulted Dorcas’ body in a rage as it was presented at her funeral. The start of the couple’s journey is difficult and full of pain as they attempt to rebuild and reconcile their relationship, yet as they move up their personal purgatorial mountains the journey gets easier because of the way they simultaneously move backward in time. 

With memory as a basis of time, movement of the characters and Jazz’s narrator is no longer progressively forward (or upward) based, mirroring the inconsistent rise and descent of a soul, or Dante and his guide Virgil, through purgatory. The specific movement of the forward into Paradise in which the original guides leave their pilgrims so that another will take their place is similar in both works. At the end of Dante’s Purgatorio, Virgil is suddenly replaced with Beatrice who will lead Dante through Paradise. At the end of Jazz, the narrator leaves Joe and Violet when Felice appears. The etymology behind the name Felice is ‘happiness’ and ‘luck’ which could symbolize Joe and Violet’s movement into Paradise hence the change in guides. This movement could also refer to their spiritual happiness and paradise as well. 

In Paradiso, Beatrice berates Dante for his previous physical love of her as he was only infatuated with her outside appearance and this isn’t true love. It is the spiritual love beyond the face that allows people to reach true happiness and become closer to God. In Jazz, Joe has moved from his excessive love of the flesh into a state closer to spiritual love which allows him to be happy with Violet and not seek out Felice the same way he did Dorcas. Dorcas was the object of his infatuation with the physical appearance and it took his movement through his own purgatory to reach this spiritual awakening.

The passage of time to the characters almost becomes irrelevant, as their versions of reality become rooted in the past, making it difficult for readers to identify how time passes and nearly impossible to trust the characters’ judgment or acknowledgment of time because it is strongly based on memory. The same could be said for grief: there is no linear path from start to finish, but instead, an individual must constantly return to the past in order to proceed further still. Our group had a similar experience while completing this project. Similar to Virgil being replaced by Beatrice, our guide was also replaced as we were exiled from campus. Our circumstances while doing this project are so different from what we did for the first collaborative essay that, separated from each other by long distances and from our memory of Jazz by time and stress, we needed to come together to remember what it was like not only to be a student but to be a person working with other people. In this way, we were also walking a recursive, complex path with no clear beginning or end.

Spirituals and the Nationalistic Music of the United States

Spirituals and the Nationalistic Music of The United States

The Conservatory of Music

Alongside the early stages of the development of Western music in the Americas during the late 1800s came the global desire to establish national boundaries; music was one particular area where countries wanted to display their national pride and establish their nationality. The Americas, particularly the United States, was at an awkward stage in the development of its own nationalistic music, as it was not clearly established what “American music” was at this point. Eventually, a composer from Prague alongside the National Conservatory of Music, founded by Jeannette Meyers Thurber, in the United States would help push the majority of the country see that “American music” was to be built off the country’s foundation: the music and rhythms of the indigenous people and African Americans—this American music consists of the African American spirituals that WEB DuBois discussed in The Souls of Black Folk; this post serves to give some more context around the spirituals that emerged from traditional African songs that were passed down from the very first slaves in the U.S.

The United States – Early 20th Century

By the late 19th century, when the United States was trying to establish its own music, European music had already been established in the several countries, making the creation of their nationalistic music simple and original. American music, however, was in its early stages of development, leaving the people of the United States reliant on the more established European classical music (Grout, 2019). The study of music was also extremely dependent on European music; people from the United States started traveling to Europe in order to study music there—after placing European music at the center of music, many people then tried to imitate this music and during the era where national boundaries were rising attempted label it as America’s nationalistic music, in spite of the music that already existed in the United States. Continue reading “Spirituals and the Nationalistic Music of the United States”

Some synthesized thoughts on Jazz/Purgatorio part 1

While I think there is a benefit to examining specific similarities between Morrison’s Jazz and Dante’s Purgatorio, I also believe that, in order to make more progress on this project, it is important to also see these similarities on a broader level. I’m almost finished with Purgatorio, but now I’ve read enough to be able to see some larger trends that are present in both texts. Through my reading, I’ve found four distinct threads that I feel are important for both Jazz and Purgatorio. These can then be further subdivided and of course are up for debate (and I definitely think my own thoughts would benefit from larger discussions). I thought perhaps this organized list would be the best way to show my thinking:

Continue reading “Some synthesized thoughts on Jazz/Purgatorio part 1”

Recurrence of “Vesper”

In my rereading of Jazz, I was intrigued on page 30 when Morrison begins a paragraph with, “They met in Vesper County, Virginia, under a walnut tree.” I knew that Vespers was a type of prayer, and so immediately I marked it in my text, knowing that at least it had somewhat of a (potentially superficial) connection to religion, and therefore potentially Dante.

Continue reading “Recurrence of “Vesper””

Dante, Morrison, and the prevalence of “violence”

**I’ll just start with saying that this is definitely going to be one out of a few blog posts I write in the next few days. I’m seeing a lot of connections between the two texts and have just some other thoughts on this whole process/project and I think that my ideas are best understood if they’re separated into different posts, rather than one giant one. So, bear with me if my name pops up here a ton.**

Continue reading “Dante, Morrison, and the prevalence of “violence””

“Love” in Jazz

In my last post, I was thinking about the three categories of love that Dante splits Purgatory into: Misdirected Love, Deficient Love, and Excessive Love. I’ve been trying to compare this to how Morrison uses love in Jazz. So last night I became the human “control + F” and scanned through Jazz, trying to find every use of “love.” What I found was that the word love often was described with an adjective; and (get this!) in a book supposedly about “couple love,” according to Morrison’s forward, the word itself was used WAY more in the beginning of the novel. I haven’t quite figured out where I’d place that in terms of connections to how Dante uses love, but I figured I’d share the ways in which Morrison uses the word here:

Continue reading ““Love” in Jazz”

A bit of a research breakthrough

When presented with the chance to do research on Morrison, and specifically her connections to Dante, I was thrilled; it felt as if I was getting the chance to do real things in terms of literary analysis in a new, more professional atmosphere. But I found myself easily frustrated and overwhelmed because I simply wasn’t sure where to start.

Continue reading “A bit of a research breakthrough”

Toni Morrison’s Jazz and Dante Alighieri’s Purgatorio: Out in the Open

As Erin Herbst‘s and Brianne Briggmann‘s posts indicate, we along with Ron Herzman are taking the first steps towards a collaborative essay exploring how Toni Morrison’s Jazz recapitulates and revises Dante Alighieri’s Purgatorio.

The project is an offshoot of Fall 2016’s Toni Morrison’s Trilogy course where the class concentrated on the relationship between Morrison’s Paradise and Dante’s Paradiso, and we hope to do much of the thinking towards it in public.

There are risks to doing so, of course. For instance, anyone from anywhere can read this, scrape our interpretations, and use them elsewhere without credit or citation. Continue reading “Toni Morrison’s Jazz and Dante Alighieri’s Purgatorio: Out in the Open”

When Harlem Was In Vogue chapter 1 thoughts

I may as well start with the disclaimer that I read this chapter mainly for content, seeing some connections to Jazz and Purgatorio; I think it’s safe to say that mentions of the Great Migrations naturally make my brain think to the concept of movement in both Dante and Morrison’s works. Besides that, however, I can’t say that I have any concrete connections– then again it’s only chapter 1. Continue reading “When Harlem Was In Vogue chapter 1 thoughts”