Jazz Study Guide


Jazz by Toni Morrison

Jazz, which takes place in the 1920s, tells the story of married couple Joe and Violet after Joe begins an affair with the much-younger Dorcas. Joe and Dorcas' passionate affair ends in her death, and Violet and Joe, along with Dorcas' friends and family, struggle to put the pieces of their lives back together. The novel, which explores themes of race and violence, also incorporates vignettes which explain the pasts of Violet, Joe, and other characters.

  • Joe Trace , a door-to-door cosmetics salesman and the murderer of his young lover.
  • Violet Trace , an unlicensed beautician. Violet is married to Joe. She is nicknamed "Violent" because she assaulted the corpse of Joe’s lover with a knife at the funeral.
  • Dorcas , Joe's young lover, who is shot down at a party. Dorcas is inspired by a picture from The Harlem Book of the Dead (a collection of funeral photographs by James Van Der Zee).
  • Alice Manfred , Dorcas’ Aunt and guardian. A conservative Christian ashamed by her niece’s behavior. Alice enters into an unusual friendship with Violet.
  • Felice , a friend of Dorcas’ who goes to the Trace household in search of answers.
  • Golden Gray , a mixed race man from the 19th century. Golden appears in both Joe's and Violet’s histories.

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