We pursue love for ourselves. Love is not meant to be selfish and the fact that we pursue love based on our feelings doesn’t make it so. Love is an uncontrollable wave that either lets you along for the ride or drowns you instead; maybe even both. Regardless of how you interpret love is up to you, the pursuit is still for us. Some pursue love more vigorously than others, some have little control of love, our feelings, other’s feelings, we try to command it and force it to make up for our lack of control. In Toni Morrison’s Jazz, there is quite an odd love triangle: Violet and Joe are married, Violet loves Joe unconditionally, Joe loves Dorcas enough to kill her, and Dorcas loves Joe possessively. Each character’s pursuit of love supports the idea that we pursue love solely for ourselves. Although some parts of the book might seem extreme and suggests a sense of selfishness, it still resembles different types of love, but the same influence that decides if we pursue it which is ourselves.

Violet’s unconditional but yet problematic love for Joe is portrayed throughout Jazz, in flashbacks and present time. The very first paragraph of Jazz, Violet is mentioned. She is mentioned as the woman who shot and slashed the girl’s face who her husband was seeing. The rest of the story is centered around this statement. In a flashback Morrison has the narrator describe just how Violet felt the first time she encountered Joe. She writes, “His buttonless shirt open to a knot at the waist exposed a chest she claimed as her own smooth pillow. The shaft of his legs, the plane of his shoulders, jawline and long fingersshe claimed it all.” This is an example of one of the less callous pursuits of love described in Jazz. Here, it’s obvious she admired Joe in such a way that she wants him all to herself. She sees him in a way that is for herself. She claims him as her pillow and as everything she wants. This want for her feelings is what influenced Violet to pursue her love for Joe, which in turn led to their marriage and moving to the city. She couldn’t control her feelings but it was her desire and eagerness that helped persuade her into seeking out Joe’s love.

Joe Trace is a man in his late 50s who met Violet when he was very young. After getting married they moved to the city engulfed in their love. However, his issues with abandonment from his mother and his growing dissatisfaction with Violet led Joe to desire the young 18 year old, Dorcas. He tried to secure Dorcas’s affection by adoring her and giving her little gifts every time they met in secret. This satisfied Dorcas, and in turn Joe. In a journal piece about Jazz, specifically about Joe, written by Sahukar Protibha Mukherjee, she talks about Joe’s necessity to be with Dorcas to fulfill his own desires and reduce his own pain. She says, “In choosing Dorcas, Joe performs the gesture of recognition that he desired from his mother. Dorcas proves to be the end of change for Joe, and the beginning of new insight through which he struggles to establish and sustain a personal identity.” She goes on to talk about how Joe killed his teenage mistress in order to “preserve the feelings their affair has produced”. From the start, using the word ‘choosing’ automatically tells readers that Joe pursued Dorcas for a certain reason. This reason was personal to him, something he was struggling with, something he needed help with, something he chose Dorcas for. And in the end it worked; Dorcas proved to be the end and the start of something for Joe. So much so that when Dorcas left Joe thought the only option was to take her life to preserve the feelings she made him feel. This shows his pursuit for Dorcas’ love was for himself from start to finish. He did it for what he thought he could gain in the beginning and killed her in the end in hope of trying to control and command the feelings he couldn’t regulate which was Dorcas’ lust for a younger man.

Dorcas pursues her emotions mainly two times in Jazz; both are examples of how our own wants and desires influence our pursuit. Within Jazz Dorcas is portrayed as a rebelling 18 year old that rejects her aunt’s old-fashioned tastes and refashions herself as a sexually desirable woman. Morrison portrays Dorcas as just wanting to be looked at and admired. When Joe Trace visits her aunt’s house she successfully captures the the 50 year old’s gaze. This leads into a love affair where they often meet in secret and make love. Each encounter Joe adores and admires her and fills her desires. However, overtime Dorcas starts to see Joe as a father figure, not someone who is an authoritative figure. She realizes how malleable Joe is and moves on to a younger male named Acton who promises to shape Dorcas and control her. In Elizabeth Cannon’s, Following the Traces of Female Desire in Toni Morrison’s Jazz, she describes why actions, such as Dorcas’s, are done. She says, “Specifically, Morrison suggests that sexual desire becomes the only desire operative when the fulfillment of other desires is denied and that what African American women currently most desire, and what is currently most denied to them, is subjectivity, the consciousness needed to act as a subject.”  This is perfect in Dorcas’ case because she had the sexual desire when she was denied subjectivity; then she had the opportunity to obtain subjectivity with Acton, which she pursued. This can also be an example of how love can be defined differently for each person but the pursuit is still for ourselves.

Love should not be a selfish act. The pursuit of love shouldn’t be and in most cases isn’t solely for ourselves. However, along with added circumstances, it’s our own personal feelings and thoughts that influence our decision to pursue love. Jazz is a confusing stream of consciousness that tells an odd love story. The characters in Jazz love unconditionally but also tragically. Violet drowns in her love of Joe, Joe is possessed by his love for Dorcas, and Dorcas is the puppet of her own desired love. Each character has their own type of love like each person in the world does, yet each character, whether they’re from Jazz or from your own life, pursues their love for the same reason; themselves… which isn’t always a bad thing.


Works Cited

Burton, Zisca Isabel, and Harold Bloom. Bloom’s How to Write about Toni Morrison. E-book, New York, Chelsea House, 2008. This eBook offers a summary of the structure of Jazz. He points out Morison’s stream of consciousness and how her style of writing could compare the Jazz style of music. He continues to expand on topics and strategies to consider when writing our essay. Themes, characters. historical context, philosophical ideas and form/genre are included in his analysis. Under each of these, he proves sample topics and questions. His examples about the theme “Love” relate to my (in progress) “purpose of my essay/question”(Should you sacrifice yourself for love?) by relating to how love is expressed in Jazz and how the characters develop different kinds of love.

Lewis, Liz. “The ‘monstrous potential of love’. Moral ambiguity in Toni Morrison’s Beloved and Jazz.” Literature Study, Dec. 2001. This essay talks about both Beloved and Jazz and how love is incorporated into them. She describes the love in Beloved as a dangerous practice doomed to heartache. She takes a physiatric approach in analyzing the different scenes in Beloved. She talks about how Joe’s search and reach for love with Dorcas were fueled by his mother, Wild abandoning him. She talks about how actions that are fueled by love can be the right thing to do but you have no right to do it.

Wilson, Olivia. “The City and the Voice of Jazz: An Integration of Art Forms.” African American Studies Essay Competition. Wilson talks about how coming to the city changed Joe Trace, one of the characters in Toni Morrison’s Jazz. She mentions how some believe the city didn’t change him at all but brought out his true identity. It’s said Joe “changes” at least 7 times during the book, multiple changed include when he’s introduced to love, both with violet and Dorcas. She acknowledged that the structure of Jazz is both disjointed and confusing but how this relates to jazz music itself. The acknowledgment that the word ‘jazz’ is never said in the book is then related to the fact that jazz itself is the narrator.

Maslow, A.H. (1943). “A Theory of Human Motivation”. In Psychological Review, 50 (4),               430-437.  Washington, DC: American Psychological Association. Maslow stated that people are motivated to achieve certain needs and that some needs take precedence over others. Our most basic need is for physical survival, and this will be the first thing that motivates our behavior. Once that level is fulfilled the next level up is what motivates us, and so on. Maslow noted only one in a hundred people become fully self-actualized because our society rewards motivation primarily based on esteem, love and other social needs. Love is something that is needed and desired eventually for most and is the one most get stuck on. So what influences our decision to pursue love? If in most cases it’s never truly fulfilled.

Cannon, Elizabeth M. “Following the Traces of Female Desire in Toni Morrison’s Jazz.” African American Review, vol. 31, no. 2, pp. 235-47. Cannon talks about how Toni Morrison explores desire and specifically talks about sexual desire. Cannon pertains everything she is talking about to African American women. She uses Dorcas as an example of pursuing sexual desire or love because she is denied subjectivity. This makes a lot of sense because Dorcas leaves Joe because he let her be her own person and Acton, the younger male Dorcas leaves Joe for, commands her to do things and tells her how to dress and act and do and she enjoys that and sought that out.

Mukherjee, Sahukar Protibha. ““There she is”: Reconnoitering the Miasmatic Leanings of Joe Trace in Toni Morrison’s Jazz.” Journal of Literature, Culture and Media Studies, vol. 1, no. 2, Winter 2009. She talks about Joe’s necessary to be with Dorcas to fulfill his own desires and reduce his own pain. She says, “In choosing Dorcas, Joe performs the gesture of recognition that he desired from his mother. Dorcas proves to be the end of change for Joe, and the beginning of new insight through which he struggles to establish and sustain a personal identity.” She goes on to talk about how Joe killed his teenage mistress in order to “preserve the feelings their affair has produced”.  This is a good example of Joe pursuing love for his own wants and needs.

Morrison, Toni. Jazz. New York, Vintage Books, 2006.