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Donostia Book Club

My name is Slawka Grabowska. I organize Donostia Book Club. We meet every month to discuss previously chosen books or short stories. Check out our FB page! https://www.facebook.com/pages/Donostia-Book-Club/105225566276875?ref=hl

Novel Written like Music: Toni Morrison's Jazz

Jazz - Toni Morrison

I'm sure most of the booklovers have heard at some point of their literary journey about Toni Morrison. And if you haven't read anything by her yet, it's time to catch up.



The first African-American to win the Nobel Prize in literature, an important figure in literary debates concerning how and why one writes about a specific racial or cultural group, all of het fiction, from her first novel, The Bluest Eye, to 2012's Home, explores both the need for and the impossibility of real community and the bonds that both unite and divide African-American women. Toni Morrison is a key player in the creation of a black literary aesthetic. Morrison has always sought to create an alternative to dominant assumptions about how we read and write about people. As a member of an oppressed social group and as a woman, she is interested in what it means to be subordinated and made invisible. Her writing is embraced by feminist critics who regard her prose style as distinctively female and who see her work as a continuation of Virginia Woolf's stream-of-consciousness narration. However she has a very unique style, unique narrative technique, varying from book to book and developed independently, even though its roots stem from Faulkner and American writers from further south. The lasting impression is sympathy, humanity, of the kind which is always based on profound humour.


She, herself says about her works: My work requires me to think about how free I can be as an African-American woman writer in my genderized, sexualized, wholly racialized world and in her book of essays Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination (1992) she adds: My project rises from delight, not disappointment


She was born in the small steel-mill town of Lorain, Ohio on February eighteen, 1931 and named "Chloe Anthony Wofford". She changed her name to "Toni" when she was an undergraduate at university. The second of four children in a black working-class family, her home state of Ohio reflects Morrison's own interest in the hybrid African-American experience as it combines the northern industrial feel of its big cities with a southern atmosphere and rural history. Morrison's family history also mirrors her interest in that her grandparents had migrated to Ohio from the Deep South. Through them, Morrison became familiar with southern black lore, black history of opression, great migration and struggle for equality.




She received her BA in English from Howard University and went on to get her master's in English at Texas Southern University. Returning to teach at Howard University, Morrison married a Jamaican architect with whom she had two sons. The couple divorced in the mid sixties and Morrison began a publishing career with Random House, eventually becoming one of their senior editors. She is known for her pioneering work as an editor of AfricanAmerican authors. In the late eighties Morrison began teaching at Princeton University (since 1989, a chair at Princeton University) where she continues to write cultural and literary criticism.


She began writing a short story in the late sixties that she was encouraged to expand into a novel. She made her debut as a novelist in 1970, soon gaining the attention of both critics and a wider audience for her epic power, unerring ear for dialogue, and her poetically-charged and richly-expressive depictions of Black America. This first novel was called The Bluest Eye. Since then Morrison has come out with a new novel every couple of years. Up to now she has written 10 novels and all of them have received extensive critical acclaim. She is also a member since 1981 of the American Academy of Arts and Letters She received the National Book Critics Award in 1978 for Song of Solomon and the 1988 Pulitzer Prize for Beloved. Both novels were chosen as the main selections for the Book of the Month Club in 1977 and 1987 respectively. In 2006 Beloved was chosen by the New York Times Book Review as the best work of American fiction published in the last quarter-century. And of course in 1993 the Nobel Prize in Literature was awarded to Toni Morrison "who in novels characterized by visionary force and poetic import, gives life to an essential aspect of American reality". In Award Speech Ceremony Professor Sture Allén, Permanent Secretary of the Swedish Academy praised her for giving ¨the Afro-American people their history back, piece by piece¨. Morrison co-authored the children's books Remember, the Who's Got Game? series, The Book of Mean People and The Big Box. Her books of essays include Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination; the edited collection Race-ing Justice, En-Gendering Power: Essays on Anita Hill, Clarence Thomas, and the Construction of Social Reality; and the co-edited collection Birth of a Nation'hood: Gaze, Script, and Spectacle in the O.J. Simpson Case. She is also an author of some musicals and lyrics, among them “Honey and Rue”, premiered January 1992; 'Four Songs' November 1994; 'Sweet Talk' April 1997; and 'Woman.Life.Song' April 2000; And the opera 'Margaret Garner' with music by Richard Danielpour, premiered in May 2005.Morrison has also authored Dreaming Emmett, a play produced in 1986, whichtells the true story of a fourteen-year old black boy who is murdered for allegedly whistling after a white woman.




She is probably most know because of her trilogy: Beloved (1987), Jazz (1992) and Paradise (1997).These three novels by Toni Morrison are linked not by shared characters or setting, but by a set of recurring themes, predominantly the exploration of African-American history from the mid-nineteenth to the late twentieth century. Morrison has stated that the books were intended to be read as a trilogy, but has never officially given the series a name. It is variously referred to as "The Beloved Trilogy", "The Jazz Trilogy", "The Morrison Trilogy" or merely "The Trilogy" by reviewers and critics.


Jazz is often considered the most vocal and I believe with a reason: the narrative's deliberately ungendered, unspecific voice and its avatars take center stage against a Harlem backdrop.the narrator whose identity is a matter of each reader's imagination. But what it consistently calls ¨the City¨ with a capital C only indirectly functions as historical background. It seems to be doing much more than encoding Afro-American place. The metropolis in 1926 is a vast receptacle of actual, historical, vocal, and memorial traces. As a new composite, the City is conditioned by the Great Migration from the rural South which started in the 1870s and climaxed between 1910 and 1930.




And here enters the music, the race music, as Toni calls it in the book. The author's approach is similar to the style in which jazz is performed. The opening lines of the novel provide its theme, almost the synopsis, the lives of a number of people. In the course of the novel we perceive a first-person narrator, varying, supplementing and intensifying the story. The final picture is a highly composite image of events, characters and atmospheres, mediated in sensual language with a deep inherent sense of musicality. Toni Morrison's way of addressing her reader has a compelling lustre, in a poetic direction (although she hates her prose being called poetic, it's the best description one can think about!).



Jazz is the story of a triangle of passion, jealousy, murder, and redemption, of sex and spirituality, of slavery and liberation, of country and city, of being male and female, African American, and above all of being human. Like the music of its title, it is a dazzlingly lyric play on elemental themes, as soaring and daring as a Charlie Parker solo, as heartbreakingly powerful as the blues. Like her other works, Jazz draws from a specific historical moment, the Harlem Renaissance, and seeks to embody, both in its form and in its themes, the culture and feeling of the era. While Morrison objects to the term "magic realism" when applied to her work, novels such as Jazz reflect a distinctive mix of fantasy and reality and a blurring of internal and external worlds. While Morrison has worked towards creating alternative models for African-American fiction she has courted controversy among scholars and readers who object to her endeavors to re-tell a cultural legacy.


As I have mentioned, we get to know what happened at the very first page: the impacting start of the story with Joe Trace (50 years old, perfect husband, door-to-door salesman of Cleopatra cosmetics) killing his lover of two months, 18 years old Dorcas. During the funeral, Violet, his wife, tries to cut the girl's face with a knife. And here starts the huge flashback, that itself includes other flashbacks, at points getting back to 1880 and 1926. The book doesn't focus on specifics of the geography or historical events, but definitely presents black history, although in a less traditional way than the one we are used to.


Themes are clearly visible in this book: violence, motherhood (or it's lack), race, African-American struggle for identity and their space in the society. Less obvious but not less important are motifs of orphans (Joe, Violet, Dorcas), music (Morrison did something unique--- she was able to use a musical genre as a structuring principle for an entire novel with her novel Jazz. The novel’s structure mimics a jazz orchestra.) and doublness (Violet – Violent, Dorkas in Joe's eyes and Dorcas in Felice's – her friend – eyes; Joe's double-coloured eyes). Also symbolism is present in this story, two most visible symbols are birds (caged vs. red-wing ones: Violet vs. Wild) and green dress (passes hands from Vera Louise Gray to Joe's mother, Wild).


The best part of the book is, no matter how much you have read about it before, there is no posible way to spoil the Reading for you: there are no spoilers for books that reveal the main point of action at the very first page!




I've used numerous sources writing this entry: