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 and events 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).
Only four years after the men came for their house and True Bell rescued them, Violet's
mother, Rose Dear, threw herself into a well. Violet never knew why she killed herself,
she assumed that it could have been because of the numerous hangings in the region, the
embarrassment of losing her home or the fact that she knew her mother would take good
care of her daughters. At the age of seventeen, Violet and her two sisters were sent to
pick cotton for ten cents a day. This is where, in all her misery, she meets Joe who she is
sure will change her life: “Never again would she wake struggling against the pull of a
narrow well. Or watch first light with the sadness left over from finding Rose Dear in the
morning twisted into water much too small" (104). After this meeting she abandons her
family and "worked at anything to be with Joe whenever she could" (105). Eventually
they are married, moved to the city, and Joe fell out of love, at least that was how Violet
felt. She was always trying to please Joe in the ways he tried to please Dorcas. It is not
until the very end of the story that their relationship is rekindled and they fall back in
love with each other. After Violet's history is revealed, the reader sympathizes with her
and is more apt to feel shame at being initially