New Directions for the Migration Narrative: Thoughts on Jazz
Instead of pretending to sum up everything in a neat and tidy manner, I want to initiate a more sustained reading of one migration narrative-- Toni Morrison Jazz. Because Morrison's novel challenges the framework presented within these pages, it serves to open rather than close any further discussion of the migration narrative.
Toni Morrison's oeuvre attests to the dispossession, displacement, and mobility that characterize black life in the Americas. The Bluest Eye ( 1970) and Sula ( 1974) are both situated around the migration of significant characters. Tar Baby ( 1981) explores the lives of "cultural exiles" 1 who live on a Caribbean island. Beloved ( 1987) documents the life of a runaway slave, Sethe, as well as the forced and volunteer wanderings of African-Americans following the Civil War and during the Nadir. As I have demonstrated, Song of Solomon ( 1977) is an especially important migration narrative, but Jazz ( 1992) is Morrison's most explicit migration narrative to date. It revisits the theme of black mobility and modernity. In so doing, it explicitly revises some of the most important tropes of the migration narrative--tropes that Morrison helped to define through her creative and critical writings.
In Jazz, Morrison still considers the major moments of the migration narrative: the catalyst to migration, the initial confrontation with the urban landscape, the navigation of that landscape, and the construction of the urban subject. Nevertheless, she challenges her own notions of the possibility of the city for the migrant and she introduces a new notion of the ancestor.
Jazz was published in 1992. It spent eleven weeks on the New York Times bestsellers list and even longer on the Blackboard African-American bestsellers list.
Jazz is the story of Joe and Violet Trace and Joe's dead teenage lover, Dorcas. All three are migrants to the city. At the novel's opening, Joe has murdered Dorcas and Violet attends Dorcas's funeral in order to stab the corpse. The novel's primary narrator is a quirky, often unreliable, omniscient presence. As with a jazz performance, the characters are given their solos, moments to flourish--but they