Social Injustice Tormented the Psyche of Parentless Children: A Study on Toni Morrison's Jazz

Social Injustice Tormented the Psyche of Parentless Children: A Study on Toni Morrison's Jazz

Alagesan M. (SRM Institute of Science and Technology, India), S. Horizan Prasanna Kumar (SRM Institute of Science and Technology, India), and B. Meadows Bose (Mahindra World School, India)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-3464-9.ch022
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This study explores how social injustice affects the characters of the three parentless children in the novel Jazz, which tells the story of a triangular love. This chapter highlights civil rights movements which impact on black people and future generations. It is the story about the three parentless children who suffer because of the lack of parent's guidance. Morrison tries to instill the importance of mothers by depicting the lives of the three orphaned protagonists and how they meet with a fatal end.
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Morrison’s Jazz is one of this author’s favourite novels which portray the lives of black people who migrate from their villages to cities. In the first chapters of Jazz, the major characters are drawn from their village background and depict their struggle for survival. The female characters of the novels, despite their predicaments, play key roles of caring for others, striving for their family, scarifying their pleasures for their children. The important characters of the novel, namely Joe Trace, Violet and Dorcas lost their parents at their early age. There is no much description about their parents, but there is a missing feeling for them especially for their mothers. In line with this, Alwes (1996) sustained:

Parenting is an issue addressed in Jazz as well, but, like so much else in that novel, it is represented as an issue of individual choice, another relationship that helps to define one's identity. When Violet discovers, late in life, that she wishes she had a child, there is no mention of the public dimension of child-rearing, no sense of contributing to a larger community; there is only an expression of a private need--” . . . moth-er-hunger had hit her like a hammer” (108). Because Joe and Violet are generationally isolated, there is “mother-hunger” in both directions, but it is always intimately tied up in the question of identity (p. 353).

The story is about the triangular love of Joe Trace, Violet, and an eighteen-year-old girl, Dorcas. Considering her age, Dorcas could be a daughter of Joe Trace and Violet, but she desires to be Joe Trace’s beloved. Joe is unhappy with his married life and finds Violet as a mismatched partner. He spends his life with Violet with no attachment; his days are loaded with works and nights filled with loneliness. Their emotional part is left untouched. Joe is an admirable character, and he is known for his disciplined behaviour, but for his wife, he is a companion just to feed her and lie next to her on the bed. Apart from this, there is no mutual exchange between them. On the other hand Violet, known as “Violent” woman after her brutal behaviour at Dorcas’s funeral, is a silent wife for Joe, she doesn’t speak to him, but she spends some time with her caged birds, and talks to the parrot which tells her “I Love You”. The unfulfilled gap and non-exchangeable feelings are preserved in Joe’s mind. The incidental meeting with Dorcas, when he visited her house for a business purpose, opens the windows of his secret room in which his feelings remain stagnant, so he finds Dorcas as his best companion. The frequent meeting with Dorcas gives a new pleasure to him, but, s strange feeling to Dorcas. Also, while Joe wants to extend this pleasure throughout his life, Dorcas wants to put an end to this relationship.

Their relationship lasts for just three months; afterwards, Dorcas’s interest is diverted by a young and charming character, Acton. Dorcas’s age feelings and the city environment play a crucial role in shaping her as very weak character. Joe is very much infuriated by Dorcas’s new acquaintance with Acton. Indeed, he brings back his hunting character which he acquired when he was young, he rushes to the spot where Dorcas and Acton are dancing together, and Dorcas falls victim to Joe’s anger: He shoots her down and disappears unnoticed. Dorcas falls down fainted; the crowd surrounds her and asks who shot her and pesters her to tell murderer’s name.

Violet, on hearing the stories of Joe’s love affair and the incident of Dorcas’s murder, rushes to the funeral with a knife and cuts her face near the earlobe. On seeing her violent behaviour, some men who are attending the funeral chase Violet away from the spot. In addition, the women who are attending the funeral condemn her action as she brought shame for Dorcas’s dead body. After the incident, Violet involves herself in strange behaviours; she releases the caged birds including the parrot which could not fly away as its feathers are crippled because of its long imprisonment in the cage, and it is unaware of its faculty of flying. She tries to revenge Joe by provoking a shameful feeling through her acquaintance with a new boyfriend who is younger than her. As Joe is not deterred by her new boyfriend, she gives up this idea.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Torment: Severe mental suffering

Predicament: Embarrassing situation

Retarded: Mentally disturbed

Earlobe: Rounded fleshy part hanging from the lower margin of the ear

Triangular Love: The love affair between three people

Mismatched: No mutual understanding

Miscarriages: Abortion of fetus

Psyche: The human soul or mind

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