Chloe Anthony Wofford was born in Ohio on February 18, 1931. Her parents schooled her in the joys of great literature and the richness of the African-American heritage. While in college, she decided to use the name Toni, the shortened version of her middle name. In 1953, she graduated from Howard University with a degree in English and later, she earned a master's degree. She taught for two years at Texas Southern University and then, she returned to Howard to teach English. There she met a Jamaican architect, Harold Morrison. They got married and had two sons. During her years in college she wrote a thesis on the theme of suicide in Virginia Woolf's and William Faulkner's novels. Her first book, The Bluest Eye, was published in 1970, but it failed to sell well. Then, in 1987 she won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction with her novel Beloved and in 1992, she published Jazz, a novel set in the 20's Harlem. Finally, in 1993, she won the Nobel Prize in Literature.

Jazz is recognised as "the story of a triangle of passion, jealousy, murder and redemption, of sex and spirituality, of slavery and liberation, of country and city, of being male and female, African American, and above all of being human. Like the music of its title, it is a dazzling lyric play on elemental themes…" (Back cover of the book).

The story takes place in 1926 Harlem, a new black world which then moves into a love story, with a love that could give life or take one. In that time, Harlem was a city that attracted thousands of black southerners hoping for better lives and better conditions. The human condition in all of its glory and pain is at the centre of the story. Through her characters, she speaks of love, friendship and family. She expresses views of race and culture and she illustrates the many facts of expectation, disappointment and resignation. "We are offered a decisive view of the vagaries of economic determinism and socio-political influence as they belong to the choices people are so often obligated to follow. Joe and Violet Trace are the primary characters, a married couple that by virtue of circumstances have imperceptibly fell into patterns that compel each of them to separate existence."(Web source)

A mysterious omnipresence serves as narrator, unveiling a tale that begins shortly after Joe murders his teenage lover and Violet, "lost in combat with self-imposed demons"(Web source), in a fit of rage has attempted to mutilate the corpse. Over the course of the narrative, each major character is viewed from many perspectives, including their own. Many themes have been explored through the book. Beauty is one of them. Feeling beautiful is an important thing for most women. When the brothers look at Dorcas, she feels very special. She used to be dismissed, so now that some guys are attracted to her, she can feel the "stomach-jump of possible love […] and the ice floes that block up in her veins now."(67) Many other themes such as abandonment (85), security(58) and of course, racism (199) have been exploited.

However, you can still compare the book to "an epic jazz poem that has you hearing the music as it mildly, painfully, poignantly and triumphantly ends." (Web source) The greatness weakness I found was that Toni attempted too many issues beyond the core story line.

Nécia Gourdes


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