Jazz Study Guide (Choose to Continue)


Jazz : Top Ten Quotes

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  1. “It was like watching an old street pigeon pecking the crust of a sardine sandwich the cats left behind.” 

    p. 6 When Violet tries to find out everything about Dorcas, following the young woman’s death, she tries to imitate the way Dorcas danced, but the result produces only disgust in those who witness it.
  2. “Hospitality is gold in this City; you have to be clever to figure out how

    to be welcoming and defensive at the same time. When to love

    something and when to quit. If you don’t know how, you can end up

    out of control or controlled by some outside thing like that hard case

    last winter. Word was that underneath the good times and the easy

    money something evil ran the streets and nothing was safe—not

    even the dead. Proof of this being Violet’s outright attack on the very

    subject of a funeral ceremony.”

    p. 9This is one of many descriptions of the City (Harlem) given by the narrator, who loves the city, has lived there many years, and knows it well. The quotation suggests also the power of the city to lead people astray. It has much to offer, but it is also a dangerous place. 
  3. ;“The cane field where Wild hid, or watched, or laughed out loud, or stayed quiet burned for months. The sugar smell lingered in the smoke—weighting it. Would she know? He wondered. Would she understand that fire was not light or flowers moving toward her, or flying golden hair? That if you tried to touch it or kiss it, it would swallow your breath away?” 

    p. 174 These are Joe’s thoughts. He is a young man recently displaced from his home by a fire in Vienna, and he is thinking of the woman he believes is his mother. She hides outside, and he has never seen her, but he has sensed her presence. He hopes she understands enough to survive.  
  4. “Only now . . . now that I know I have a father, do I feel his absence: the place where he should have been and was not. Before, I thought everyone was one-armed, like me. Now I feel the surgery. The crunch of bone when it is sundered, the sliced flesh and the tubes of blood cut through, shocking the blood run and disturbing the nerves. The dangle and writhe. Singing pain.”

    p. 158 These are the thoughts of Golden Gray as he journeys to meet his father for the first time. Like many of the characters in the novel, he has grown up without a father, and in this vivid passage he becomes conscious of the pain of his loss and deprivation. p. 228  The narrator expresses her views at the end of the novel. She is referring to the mature love of Joe and Violet, that has survived the storm of Joe’s affair with Dorcas. 
  5. "Don't ever think I fell for you, or fell over you. I didn't fall in love, I rose in it."

    p. 135 Joe Trace addresses Dorcas directly in his imagination. Dorcas is already dead, but he is explaining how he felt and still feels about her. He does not regret the relationship because he freely chose it.
  6. “He had struggled a long time with that loss, believed he had resigned himself to it, had come to terms with the fact that old age would be not remembering what things felt like.” 

    p. 29 These words are about Joe Trace. At the age of fifty, he can no longer remember what it felt like to be young. He can remember the events in his life with Violet, but not what they felt like. In fact, he has not come to terms with this loss, because his affair with Dorcas is an attempt to recover that feeling of being fully alive that he has lost. 
  7. “It’s nice when grown people whisper to each other under the covers. Their ecstasy is more leaf-sigh than bray and the body is the vehicle, not the point. They reach, grown people, for something beyond, way beyond and way, way down underneath tissue.”

    p. 228 The narrator expresses her views at the end of the novel. She is referring to the mature love of Joe and Violet, that has survived the storm of Joe’s affair with Dorcas.
  8.  “Every day and every night for seven months, she, Alice Manfred, was starving for blood. Not his. Oh, no. For him she planned sugar in his motor, scissors to his ties, burned suits, slashed shoes, ripped socks. Vicious, childish acts of violence to inconvenience him, remind him. But no blood. Her craving settled on the red liquid coursing through the other woman’s veins. An ice pick stuck in and pulled up would get it. Would a clothesline rope circling her neck and yanked with all Alice’s strength make her spit it up?”

    p. 86 After Violet has jogged her memory, Alice suddenly recalls the violent thoughts she had toward the woman who, long ago, had an affair with her husband. Up to this point, Alice felt she was very different from Violet, nicknamed Violent, but now it is clear that they have more in common than Alice was prepared to admit. 
  9. “It wasn’t the War and the disgruntled veterans; it wasn’t the droves and droves of colored people flocking to paychecks and streets full of themselves. It was the music. The dirty, get-on-down music the women sang and the men played and both danced to, close and shameless or apart and wild. . . . It made you do unwise disorderly things. Just hearing it was like violating the law.”

    p. 58 These are the thoughts attributed by the narrator to Alice Manfred. The context is the riots in St. Louis and elsewhere, in which many black people are killed. Alice blames the popularity of jazz, which is so powerful it affects people’s behavior for the worse.  
  10. “Like the others, they were country people, but how soon country people forget. When they fall in love with a city, it is forever, and it is like forever. As though there never was a time when they didn't love it. The minute they arrive at the train station or get off the ferry and glimpse the wide streets and the wasteful lamps lighting them, they know they are born for it. There, in a city, they are not so much new as themselves: their stronger, riskier selves.”

    p. 33 The context here is the arrival of Joe and Violet in Harlem in 1906, when they arrived as part of the great migration north of black people, who were escaping the racism of the South. They all fell in love with Harlem as a place where the possibilities for them seemed endless. 



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