Jazz Summary and Analysis of Chapters 7-8

Chapter Seven:


Chapter Seven continues along the narrative thread begun in the previous chapter. In his conversation with a boy named Honor, Golden Gray learns that his presumed father, Mr. Henry, will soon return to the cabin, having been gone for several days. Waiting to meet his father, Golden Gray considers the naked, pregnant woman who is semi-conscious in one of the bedrooms, her body covered by a green dress. After this brief recapitulation, the narrator moves to a description of the wild woman and her environs, thirteen years after Golden Gray's journey. The woman is a harmless terror for the town, spending most of her time in a nearby cane filed though her intermittent brushes with village civilization transform her into a phantom. She becomes a spirit of distraction and chaos: "harming" babies, confounding old men and frustrating field workers whenever they sense her presence. A man called Hunters Hunter is the one who first cared for her when she was pregnant. (The name "Hunters Hunter" should reveal that he is the man that Joe Trace referred to in Chapter Five; if he cared for the woman then we know that she survives and that he is also Mr. Henry). Thirteen years later, Hunters Hunter, is moving through a field and he feels a tap on his shoulder, immediately knowing that it is the phantom woman. Even as her presence sparks the usual, mild controversy, Hunters Hunter becomes nostalgic. He remembers tending for her and naming her Wild after she bit him. Despite her capacity for rehabilitation, Hunters Hunter cared for her and he also remembers her "babygirl laugh." He remembers her as the source of "the chief unmothering" and he becomes extremely sad when he considers the brush on his shoulder, concluding that "instead of resting she was hungry still."

The chapter's second section returns to the scene, thirteen years before, when Henry Lestory (Hunters Hunter, Mr. Henry) is "instantly alarmed" by the presence of Golden Gray and his carriage. Henry views Golden Gray as "a whiteman" and equates his presence with trouble. The father and son do not immediately speak to one another as Henry interrogates the boy, Honor, who explains that the white man has brought the bleeding and pregnant black woman into the cabin. Henry leaves the room and after surveying the cabin and discovering the empty jug of consumed liquor, he curtly asks Golden Gray "Do we know one another?" The impact of the young man's reply, "No. Daddy. We don't." is mitigated by Wild's screams. Honor and Henry assist in the delivery of the child and Honor is sent to inform his mother and the other women of the village, as it is clear that Wild has no intention of nursing her child. The conversation between the father and son is tense and emotionally unrewarding. Henry explains that Vera Louise never informed him of the pregnancy and that "A son ain't what a woman say. A son is what a man do." Essentially, Henry's ultimatum is that Golden Gray intends to live as his son, the young man will have to become less of a prince, accept the physical rigors of rural life and self-identify as a black person. Golden Gray's sober thoughts are mostly of anger and he considers shooting Henry. Of course, he neither vocalizes nor acts upon the idea.

Joe Trace is the subject of the chapter's final sections. The narrator confirms Joe's relationship with Victory and the exodus out of Vienna, after racist's burned the town down. Soon after the fires' onset (they burned for months), Joe returned to the cane field to search for Wild, hoping to communicate with her and confirm that she is his mother. Additionally, Joe is worried that fires may have confused Wild and she could have easily wandered herself into a doomed situation. During one of the childhood trips with Hunters Hunter, Joe and Victory joked about hunting the wild woman. Joe legitimately interprets Hunter's stoic response: "Šthat woman is somebody's mother and somebody ought to take care," as an intimation that Wild was his mother. Joe takes three journeys to find his mother, traveling into her favorite cane fields and much of the nearby forest. One of Joe's most visceral memories is when he pursued the singing voice coming out of a hibiscus bush. By the time he reaches the bush, the woman has only left her tracks as confirmation of her presence. Joe is never able to confirm that the woman is his mother and after a final, frustrated attempt to track Wild down, he finds an eager willingness to leave Virginia, moving to Harlem with his wife. The chapter ends with two final images. The first is an image of Joe Trace as he is tracking through the streets in search of Dorcas, riding a train and searching for the couple's favorite tree, hours before he shoots the teen. The final image blurs Joe's self-consoling search for Dorcas with an inventory-like description of the hunter's cabin where Golden Gray sought his father.


Relying upon several flashbacks, this chapter fills in almost all of the novel's narrative spaces. One interesting consequence is that several of the character's names become ironic. Golden Gray's name was an identifier of his auspicious beginnings and mythological radiance. In the course of the seventh chapter, his hopes are dashed and he is a dimmed and dull gray: the gray of indecision, of gloom and of course, the irresolute gray produced when black and white combine. While Golden Gray was named for his personal characteristics, the slaves have random names. True Belle has little significance in True Belle's life, Henry is a ubiquitous name and Rose Dear sounds more like "Rose, Dear" a patronizing name for a servant. Henry gives himself a last name after slavery, but this too is mangled as LesTory and Lestroy and the memory of others dictates that Henry will be largely remembered as "Hunters Hunter." The name is as familiar as it is inadequate, considering that all of Henry are paternal and harmless. When he instructs Joe, he warns him not to hunt "nothing tender and nothing female." Ironically, he only becomes a Hunter's Hunter when Joe remembers him during his own hunts, first, when he is hunting for his mother and again, when hunting for Dorcas.

Joe Trace intended "trace" as a reference to his parents immediate departure after his birth, but his mother's name, "Wild," serves as a stumbling block. He can only gather traces of his mother's identity because he thinks that he must hunt her like a wild animal. He is unable to relate with the mother called Wild and his own name becomes poignant when his mother becomes a literal "trace" of music and smoke. Joe says that he traces this trace in Dorcas' path, stalking her for five days in the same manner in which he hunted for his mother. The connection between the hunt for the mother and the young lover transforms the Eden imagery of the covert couple, recasting Joe as a forest hunter in the streets of Manhattan, looking for "trees" and "prey."

Virginia's imagery as an idyllic past is called into question by a more revealing account of the racist attack on Vienna. In contrast to Joe's fleeting mention of "red fires" and "white sheets," this scene is expanded into an allusion to the Biblical exodus of the "Chosen People" out of Egypt. The euphemistic tendency ("red fires" and "white sheets") is continued in the ironic phrase: "nine hundred Negroes, encouraged by guns and hemp, left Vienna," but the shootings and lynching (ropes are made out of hemp) are evaded by a migration through towns called "Bear," "Crossland," "Goshen" and "Palestine." The smoke and fire of the blighted town become the pillars of smoke and fire that guided the freed slaves out of Egypt and the despondent congregation seeks consolation in Divine vengeance, "reminding others about the wages sin paid out to its laborers." (A well-known Bible verse begins "the wages of sin is death.")

Most important, Virginia not only links Joe to Dorcas through the hunt, but through the image of fire. Dorcas swallows the embers of her burning house, to lodge the memory of her burnt mother in her gut. The description of Joe's encounters comes much later and we find Joe worried that his mother might have burned in the fire she pursued, not understanding that "it would swallow your breath away." The idea of fire as a symbol for memory is subverted again, when Joe erases Dorcas in a gust of smoke and when he reflects that Vienna's "little graveyardsŠpleading for remembrance in careful block letters, never stood a chance." That Joe shot Dorcas is especially significant because it continues the fire imagery and corresponds with his final image of his mother: "oil, ashes." The sites of memory are, alternately, empty wells, one-armed bodies and wraiths of smoke. After a litany of solitary and doomed journeys, Morrison establishes the idea that her characters will not overcome memory's foreboding pain if they journey independently, alone.

Chapter Eight:


This is the shortest chapter in the novel, describing the party where Dorcas is shot and killed by her lover, Joe Trace. It is an "adult party" with illegal liquor and entrance fees. The party is being held in an apartment building and the loudest sounds are the sounds of laughing and music. The partygoers sense that their instincts are inflamed; they are co-conspirators who nod and smile when they notice disappearances into closed rooms. Dorcas is dancing with her new boyfriend, a young man named Acton. She crosses her arms behind his neck while they dance and she notices that her younger boyfriend does not have white strands in his mustache. He has never given her a present but Dorcas prefers the company of youth to "a pair of silk stockings," or any other gift that Joe Trace would have given her.

The last part of the chapter is narrated in Dorcas' voice. She know that Joe is stalking her and she remembers the temper of his eyes after she told him not to follow her or visit her again. She had practiced in front of a mirror, rehearsed the lines that she was going to use, but Joe argued with her and Dorcas became exasperated. After telling Joe that he "made her sick," Dorcas spurned any future gifts: "You bring me another bottle of cologne I'll drink it and die." Reflecting, Dorcas admits that she did not mean for her words to sound as cruel as they did. Still, she finds that she is happier with Acton because he takes an interest in her appearance and personality and is more critical than Joe. Dorcas feels satisfied as she is dancing with Acton and she thinks to enjoy the close moments with Acton because in the back of her mind she knows that Joe is coming for her, though she does not know what that means. She hopes that he will see and understand that she is happy and that she is not his anymore.

Dorcas' mind casts a cursory glance across the room, noting the dancers, people kissing behind curtains, the music and a sudden popping noise. Dorcas sees Joe Trace and notices first, that he is crying and second, that she is falling. Puzzled, she asks herself "Why am I falling? Acton is holding me up but I am falling anyway." She notes that she is being carried into another room, she is sweating profusely and there is a substantial amount of blood. The hostess is upset because her party is ruined and Acton is "annoyed by the blood" on his shirt. Dorcas describes her present mood as "sleepy" and her friend Felice asks her to reveal Joe's name. Dorcas focuses her attention on the faint music of a woman singing in the background. She makes an effort to scream Joe's name to Felice, not so that he might be apprehended by the police, but because she has a message for Felice to relay. Her thoughts return to the woman who is singing and her final mental image focuses on a bowl of oranges, concluding: "I don't know who is that woman singing but I know the words by heart."


Dorcas' repeated words "He is coming for me," fulfill her role as the "prey" that Joe Trace is stalking. In her short narrative, Dorcas shares several similarities with Joe's mother and this chapter also concludes the Eden motif that has been extensively used in the novel. The "rush of foam" and "laughter" of the party resuscitate the images of Wild and Dorcas is like a phantom when her "spirit lifts to the ceiling" and when she brushes Acton's shoulders with "fingertips that stay." This alludes to Wild's previous encounter with Hunters Hunter. In the mixture of images that conclude the chapter, Dorcas is only able to detect traces of what happens around her and, like Joe, she focuses on a faint trace of a woman's singing voice.

Dorcas' prose does not prove her to be the street maven of Alice Manfred's fears and Violet Trace's nightmares. Dorcas is naïve and unsure in her commentary and her rebellious, selfish acts seem to come from her childishness and not from a desire to hurt the people around her. Dorcas is entranced by the party scene and she comes to the conclusion that "this is not the place for old men." One of the ironies of the novel is that Dorcas is a young woman, ferried into the youthful "nightlife" by an older man. It may not be the place for old men, but it is Joe Trace who survives to construct something positive out of his experiences. Dorcas' complacent attitude after she is shot, would suggest that she is comfortable playing a salvific role. Neither Joe nor Acton have significantly altered the "unbearable" nature of her life, and her blood is a "red wash flying from veinsŠfacial makeup patented for its glow. Inspiriting."

The Eden imagery is resolved in two significant developments. First, the apartment is the site of "purple plums" and a dark bowl containing "the pile of oranges" that Dorcas meditates on right before she dies. The fruit of the chapter are "split" and "thrownaway" in the same way that Dorcas' youth is exhausted in Joe's attempts to regain his own past. The second and most notable thematic development concerns the idea of "the Fall." The sin in Eden, the eating of the forbidden fruit, is regarded as the original sin that caused "the Fall of man." While there were previous puns on the word fall in earlier chapters, the puns in this chapter are more numerous and they resonate in the description of Dorcas' shooting. As she enjoys the music, Dorcas imagines herself as a spirit floating to the ceiling. After she is shot, Dorcas is disoriented and confused. She asks: "Why am I falling?" She is falling despite her imaginations and despite Acton's attempts to hold her up. Dorcas' fall provides the spilled blood necessary for the "red wash flying" and Dorcas remains protective of Joe, even as he has wounded her. The idea of required pain is affirmed here because Dorcas willingly takes on the role of the hunted prey, and even if Dorcas is unaware that Joe is simultaneously hunting for his mother and his lover, we can't help but note the irony in her borrowed verses: "They need me to say his name so they can go after himŠI know his name but Mama won't tell."