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Jazz By Toni Morrison The City Essay, Research Paper

The City

For all people in all societies the characteristics of the land are portrayed by the people and those places from which they live. The setting can act as an influence on people and can be just as strong as a parental figure, but this influence is not always positive. It can corrupt, blind and institutionalize all those in its reach. This form of influence is emphasized in the book Jazz, written by Toni Morrison, with the contrast between the city life and it s inhabitants.

Before the Harlem Renaissance Joe Trace, the protagonist of the novel, believed that the city was a sanctuary for the New Negro. This is because in the south, if you was claimed to be coloured, you had to be new and stay the same everyday the sun rose and every night it dropped. And let me tell you baby in those days it was more than a state of mind (135). Joe believed that the city claimed to offer a better life for southerners with new hopes of opportunity. He believed that the city would offer an age for the New Negro but he had been a New Negro all his life (129). Joe also noticed that the city was taking over his primal urges for love since it had already taken it away from his relationship between Violet and himself and given to Dorcas.

You can t get off the track a City lays for you. Whatever happens, whether you get rich or stay poor, ruin your health or live to old age, you always end up back where you started: hungry for the one thing everybody loses-young loving It was the best thing, if you were young and had just got to the City But Joe has been in the City twenty years and isn t young anymore. (120)

This indoctrination of the city does not only apply to Joe, but to Violet as well.

Like the others, they were country people, but how soon country people forget. When they fall in love with a city, it is forever, and it is like forever. As though there never was a time when they didn t love it. The minute they arrive at the train station or get off the ferry and glimpse the wide streets and wasteful lamps lighting them, they know they are born for it. There, in a city, they were not so much new as themselves: their stronger riskier selves. And in the beginning when they first arrived and twenty years later when they and the City have grown up, they love that part of themselves so much they forget what loving other people was like-if they ever knew, that is. (33)

The above paragraph clearly emphasizes how the city can change the thoughts and feelings of people. Violet’s insanity can be related to the City as well, because when the setting takes place in Violet s past, a completely different character is described. It is only when Violet enters the city that her character changes from Violet to Violent . Violet was born and raised in the South and that Violet did not belong to the City. She knew that she was a country person and that it was the City that was the cause of her recent tragedy between Joe and herself in that before {she} came north {she} made sense and so did the world (207). As well, the mood of the City contributed to her transformation from Violet to Violent.

I am already disturbed by the ash falling from the blue distance down on these streets. A sooty film is gathering on the sills, coating the windowpanes: Now she is disturbing me, making me doubt my own self just looking at her sauntering through the sun shafts like that. Climbing the steps now, heading for Violent. (198)

There wasn t a single character that seemed to escape the influences of the City, and Dorcas was no exception. At the beginning of the novel Dorcas was viewed as an innocent child caught in between Joe and Violet s vanishing marriage. But as her character developed you could see that she was already caught up in something even stronger. Jazz, the music of the City, had stolen Dorcas s innocence and transformed her into the hedonist that she became right before she was killed. This is evident in one of the conversations between Dorcas and Violet.

What s the world for if you can t make it up the way you want it?

What s the point? I can t change it.

That s the point. If you don t it will change you and it ll be your fault cause you let it. I let it. And it messed up my life (208).

This is also made obvious in the way that Dorcas acts when she is in an adult club, in that the club causes her to think and act foolishly. You know something wicked is going on in a room with a closed door. But there is enough dazzle and mischief here, where partners cling or exchange at the urging of a heartbreaking vocal (188).

It was loving the City that distracted me and gave me ideas. Made think I could speak it s loud voice and make that sound sound human (220). In the above quotation it is clearly conclusive that the city played as a major character of it s own through the novel. It is through the personifications of the City that the City becomes a character, but it s through the actions of its civilians that it becomes a presence.

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