Deceptive First Impressions in Morrison's Jazz
The novel Jazz by Toni Morrison is an extremely well written account of black life during the mid 1850's to the late 1920's. Morrison manipulates the three main character's personas while analyzing their lives to show the effect that a person's history has on their present day life. The most interesting thing I found concerning this novel has the way in which Toni Morrison was able to present you with a first impression of the characters, then proceed through history, to give you a new conception of their character. This is seen through three important individuals: Violet, Joe, and Dorcas. At the beginning, Violet is depicted as crazy and foolish, but through the interpretation of her history, a clearer picture of a woman in love is presented. At first, Joe is seen as a man without standards who is simply a cheating husband who kills his girlfriend, but this also is abolished when the extenuating circumstances of his history are described. Dorcas plays the role of the piteous,innocent woman who is stuck in the middle of this crisis at the beginning, but is relieved of this generalized characterization through her actions towards Joe and her search for self-satisfaction. Even though the history that is recounted in this novel is more gossip than fact, it presents a more accurate story than the one depicted in the “offical story” located at the beginning of the novel. Toni Morrison attempts, through these three characters to illustrate how the narrator's perception of each character's history can alter the reader's understanding of a character's actions. Through this technique, she is able to demonstrate that circumstances andevents are not always as simple or truthful as they seem.
The first impression of Violet is presented through the "official story" established at the beginning of the novel. Her character is seen as the crazy, jealous wife who went to the funeral of her husband's girlfriend to cut the girl's "dead face" (1). She is depicted as crazy because she has conversations with Joe's dead girlfriend, Dorcas, in her head and obsesses over the girl's features (Morrison 15). The narrator, Morrison, clearly describes Violet, and in doing so mirrors the opinions of the town people: "Violet is mean enough and good looking enough to think that even without her hips or youth she could punish Joe by getting herself a boyfriend and letting him visit her in his own house" (4). Another reason she is seen as half-witted is because she also tries to steal a baby. After this distinct characterization of Violet has been established, only then does the reader learn of her history. When she was only twelve she was
Dispossessed of house and land, the sad little family True Belle
found were living secretly in an abandoned shack some neighbors had
located for them and eating what food these neighbors were able to
share and the girls forage (138).