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Toni Morrison's Jazz: Historical Fiction in Relation to Nonfictional Accounts of the Harlem Renaissance

Hausarbeit 2009 17 Seiten

Amerikanistik - Literatur


List of Contents

1. Intro duction

2. Historical Reality

3. Morrison's Reconstruction
3.1. "The City"
3.2. All That Jazz

4. Conclusion

5. Bibliography

"...who in novels characterized by visionary force and poetic import, gives life to an essential aspect of American reality"1

1. Introduction

This statement by the Swedish Academy seems an appropriate description of Nobel Prize laureate Toni Morrison. Her novel Jazz, which was first published in 1992, is set in the Harlem of the 1920s and re-creates an "essential aspect" of African-American history - the Harlem Renaissance. Setting her novel against the backdrop of the Harlem Renaissance, the intellectual movement that was crucial to the emancipation of African-Americans at the beginning of the 20th century, she reimagines a black historical past, thus "giving life" to it.

In this project on the subject of 'African America in the Historical Novel', I want to examine Morrison's fictional representation of the afrorementioned era in relation to nonfictional depictions provided by significant writers of this epoch who explored the implications of jazz (and the development of African-American culture) during the actual historical period in which Morrison's novel is set. Therefore, her own narrative approach to history will be compared to the views Harlem Renaissance contemporaries such as Alain Locke and F. Scott Fitzgerald articulated in their assessments of this particular epoch of (African-) American experience. Selected parts of the Survey Graphic 's issue Harlem: Mecca of the New Negro edited by Alain Locke and foundation for his groundbreaking anthology The New Negro as well as Fitzgerald's notable essay Echoes of the Jazz Agee will be taken into consideration when evaluating Morrison's historical reconstruction of how the Harlem Renaissance, or how Fitzgerald calls it, the "Jazz Age"2 shaped and expressed African-American identity.

Morrison's Jazz, which looks back upon the Harlem Renaissance from a late twentieth-century perspective, revolves principally around the stories of its African-American characters Violet, Joe, and Dorcas. By placing them "within a monumental historical context", Morrison presents the reader with "alternative perspectives on a[n] [...] epoch-making moment."3 Therefore, the next chapter focuses on the historical realities and their representation in Morrison's novel. The third chapter further details her approach to history by giving specific examples in relation to the setting of the story in Harlem and the jazz music metaphor. Finally, the concluding chapter will give a brief summary about how these findings contribute to the evaluation of historical accuracy in her narrative exploration.

2. Historical Reality

As representatives of historical reality which Morrison renders into her fictional account of the Harlem Renaissance in Jazz, two essays from the highly influential Harlem issue of the Survey Graphic magazine as well as F. Scott Fitzgerald's retrospective essay Echoes of the Jazz Age were selected. With their accounts of jazz (but also with other observations about this era), these writers contributed greatly to our understanding of their time. Therefore, their writings will serve as the foil against which Toni Morrison's novel will be analysed and discussed.

The first two texts come from a special issue of the Survey Graphic titled Harlem: Mecca of the New Negro4 which was published in March 1925 and dedicated entirely to the Harlem Renaissance. It was edited by Alain Locke and later expanded by republishing the material in book form as the The New Negro anthology, in which a variety of elements (i.e. essays, fiction, poetry, music, black-and-white drawings, and reproductions of art) were used to represent African-American culture and experience of the 1920s.5 Because of his editorship, Locke is regarded by many as the "creative" leader and "chronicler" of the Harlem Renaissance or New Negro Movement6. The first essay that will be taken into consideration was composed by J.A. Rogers with the title Jazz at Home7.


1 http://nobelpri zes/literature/laureates/1993/index.html.

2 Fitzgerald, F. Scott. "Echoes of the Jazz Age." In: My Lost City: Personal Essays, 1920-1940. Ed. James W. West. Cambridge: University Press, 2005. 130-139.

3 Henson, 108.

4 Provided by the University of Virginia Library's Electronic Text Center at <>.

5 Carroll, 156.

6 Holmes, 60.

7 Rogers, "J.A. Jazz at Home."The Survey Graphic Harlem Number. March 1925. 25. Feb. 2009. < zzF.html>.


ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Buch)
439 KB
Institution / Hochschule
Friedrich-Schiller-Universität Jena
Toni Morrison Jazz Historical Fiction Relation Nonfictional Accounts Harlem Renaissance



Titel: Toni Morrison's Jazz:  Historical Fiction in Relation to Nonfictional Accounts of the Harlem Renaissance