Jazz : Novel Summary:chapter 8-10
At the crowded party, where there is plenty of illegal liquor, Dorcas is happy, as happy as she has ever been. She is enjoying her partner, a young man named Acton.
The narrative, now told directly by Dorcas in the first-person, goes back to Dorcas’s last conversation with Joe at their meeting-place, when she told him she no longer wanted him. She wanted to be with Acton instead, although she did not tell Joe that. She knows he is coming for her. She thinks she sees him everywhere. She knows that if he comes to the dance he will see how closely she and Acton dance together. She prefers Acton to Joe even though Joe was nicer to her, buying her presents, while Acton buys her nothing. She knows that if Joe sees her with Action, he will know that she belongs to Acton, not to Joe anymore.
She sees Joe. Then all she knows is that she is falling, and Acton is holding her. Then she is lying on a bed. She can see people talking but cannot hear what they are saying. Acton has blood on his jacket, and she knows it is her blood. Someone asks her who did this to her. Felice, her friend, leans in close, holding Dorcas’s hand. Felice asks if it was Joe, and Dorcas thinks that she screams out his name.
In chapter 5, Joe narrated his own story, and in this short chapter Dorcas does the same, although she only speaks about the last week or so of her life. She is happy because she has a young man who is desired by other women. The close dancing they enjoy together is a contrast to the party Dorcas went to when she was sixteen (described in chapter 3), when she was rejected by the best dancer at the party. Now she has what she wants, and it does not matter to her that Acton can be “a little cruel” (p. 188) or that he does not buy her gifts. What matters is that he desires her, he affirms her sexiness and desirability: “What could a pair of silk stockings be compared to him? No contest” (p. 188).
When Dorcas is shot, Acton is annoyed that his jacket has been stained with blood, recalls Golden Gray’s dismay that his nice clothes may be spoiled by the muddy wild woman. Both men are inconvenienced by women suddenly appearing in ways they are not supposed to.
The narrative returns to Violet. It is a warm day in Harlem, several months after Dorcas’s death. By now she has returned the photograph of Dorcas to Alice, but Dorcas is still on her mind. She sees a young woman on the street who reminds her of Dorcas. It is Felice, Dorcas’s friend, who now takes up the narration.
She says she lived with her grandmother and did not see much of her parents who worked most of the time in Tuxedo, a town in New York. Felice calculates that she sees them for a total of only thirty-four days each year. She is seventeen now. Dorcas told her she was lucky because at least she had parents.
Felice’s grandmother did not like her being friends with Dorcas, but Felice and Dorcas had good times together. But that stopped when she started seeing “that old man” (p. 201). Felice thinks Dorcas enjoyed the secrecy of the affair, and the fact that Joe was married. But then when she met Dorcas she wanted to impress him, so Felice lent her a ring that had been stolen from Tiffany’s by Felice’s mother, who did it to get back at the salesperson for showing a racist attitude.
After Dorcas met Acton, she was different, according to Felice. She was always giving Acton gifts, scheming to get the money for them from Joe or Alice Manfred. The gifts were wasted on Action, however, who never liked them, and also took them for granted.
Felice has been to see Violet to see if she can get her ring back. Her mother has been asking for it. Felice is also curious because she has heard that Joe is still broken up about Dorcas’s death. Felice wants to explain to him what Dorcas was like, that she was always pushing men, for the excitement of doing it, and the attention it got her.
Felice liked Violet, finding her honest in the way she spoke. Violet tells her Dorcas was ugly, but Felice thinks she was jealous.
When Felice meets Joe she finds him handsome and thinks that he genuinely likes women. He shows affection and consideration to his wife. Felice returns to see them both several times. Violet invites her to supper, during which Violet confesses that she has messed up her life. She was changed by living in the city.
Felice tells Violet and Joe that Dorcas allowed herself to die. She was shot only in the shoulder and could have been saved. She told people not to call an ambulance; she would go to the hospital the following morning. But Felice called anyway, but the ambulance was slow in coming. Dorcas bled to death.
At another supper with the Traces, Felice finds out that the ring was buried with Dorcas. Violet has to take care of a customer who urgently needs her hair worked on, and Felice and Joe talk alone about Dorcas. Felice says Dorcas used people, but Joe replies that she only did that if they wanted to be used. He says he saw the soft part of her that others did not. He shot her because he was scared, he says. He did not know how to love anyone. Felice tells him that the last thing Dorcas said was a remark “There’s only one apple” (p. 213), and that she told Felice to tell Joe. This was a reference to Joe’s remark about biting the apple in Eden. So now Joe knows that Dorcas’s last thoughts were of him.
After Violet returns from her customer, she and Joe dance to some music that floats in from a neighbor’s house through an open window.
Felice decides to tell her mother the truth about what happened to the ring. She also thinks again of Dorcas, how she like to fight to win a man and make the other girls jealous. Felice says all the girls are like that, but that she does not want to be.
In this chapter, a character who has so far played only a minor part in the story is brought center-stage and allowed to tell her own story in a first-person narrative. The family background of Dorcas’s friend Felice shares certain characteristics with many other characters in the novel. She is not orphaned but she might as well be for all the attention she gets from her parents, who work away from the home and rarely spend much time with their daughter, who is raised by her grandmother.
Felice’s role in this chapter is not only to supply more insight into Dorcas and why she acted as she did, as well as telling of Dorcas’s last moments, but also to act as a healing force in the lives of Joe and Violet. Violet invites her into her home and the three of them talk about the tragedy and come to a deeper understanding of it and of themselves. Joe and Violet seem to be able to talk about their feelings to Felice. Joe reminds her that her name, Felice, from felicity, means “happiness.” He seems to recognize that Felice is bringing something into their lives that they both badly need.
The narrator offers his or her reflections. She thinks she should stop trying to observe other lives and acquire one of her own. She thinks she was observing everyone without them knowing about her, but the truth was otherwise: they were also observing her. And she got the story wrong. She was certain that Joe would kill Violet or Violet would kill Joe. She was so certain it would happen she was waiting for it, but they did not do as she expected. She thinks she was too isolated, thinking her view of things was the only one that mattered. She looked on Joe, Violet, and Felice as a mirror image of Joe, Violet, and Dorcas. She saw them as “dangerous children” (p. 221), but their lives were more complex than that.
The narrator then reviews what happened to some of the characters. Alice Manfred moved back to Springfield. Joe took a night job at Paydirt, a club. He and Violet have repaired their relationship. They spend much of the day just talking together at home, telling each other their personal stories. Sometimes at night they play poker together. Then they lie under the covers whispering to each other. The narrator envies them their love. She too has been waiting for love, and still longs for it.
Quite unexpectedly, the narrator steps forward in this final chapter to remind the reader that this story is about her also. The one who tells the tale is also a part of it, and she is in confessional mood. Earlier, she has been very sharp in her judgments of others, but now she admits that she made many misjudgments about who they were and what they would end up doing. There is a voice of regret here, that the narrator has spent too much time observing and not enough time living. She longs for a place of security and love, and still holds out the hope that it may be possible. In that, her inspiration is the mature love of Joe and Violet, who show an unexpected ability to restore their love and carry on growing together in love. Their story ends up in happiness; while the narrator joins those whose lives are in some way stunted by their experiences of various kinds of deprivation and loss.