is a 1992 historical novel
and Nobel Prize
author Toni Morrison
. The majority of the narrative takes place in Harlem
during the 1920s, however, as the pasts of the various characters are explored, the narrative extends back to the mid 1800s American South
The novel forms the second part of Morrison's Dantesque trilogy on African American history, beginning with Beloved and ending with Paradise.
Narrative style and themes
The novel deliberately mirrors the music of its title
, with various characters "improvising" solo compositions that fit together to create a whole work. The tone of the novel also shifts with these compositions, from bluesy laments to up beat, sensual ragtime. The novel also utilizes the call and response
style of Jazz music, allowing the characters to explore the same events from different perspectives.
The various "improvisations" in the novel are held together by an ostensibly omniscient, anonymous narrator. Unusually for this style of narration, the narrative voice is in the first person and not the third person.
One of the themes of the novel is purgatory and the cathartic ability of Jazz music.
- 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, the young lover of Joe, 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 helps the Traces to understand each other.
- Golden Gray, a mixed race man from the 1800s. Golden appears in both Joe's and Violet’s histories.