The Omniscient Narrator In Toni Morrison's Jazz

2347 words - 9 pages

  In her sixth novel Jazz, Toni Morrison "makes use of an unusual storytelling device: an unnamed, intrusive, and unreliable narrator" ("Toni Morrison" 13).  From the onset of the novel, many readers question the reliability of the narrator due to the fact that this "person" seems to know too many intimate personal details, inner thoughts, and the history of so many characters.  Although as readers we understand an omniscient narrator to be someone intimately close with the character(s), the narrator of Jazz is intrusive, moving in and out of far too many of the characters' lives to be reliable.  No one person could possibly know and give as much information as this narrator does.  But, as readers of Morrison novels, we must remember that Morrison is a gifted and talented writer whose style of writing, as Village Voice essayist Susan Lydon observes, "carries you like a river, sweeping doubt and disbelief away, and it is only gradually that one realizes her deadly serious intent" ("Toni Morrison" 6).  Therefore, when we consider the narration of the novel, we must examine every possibility of Morrison's intent.  One possibility appears with the novel's title-Jazz.  The title, which encompasses the pervasive sound, its musical timbre of the decade in which the story is set, resonates throughout the novel as a character in its own right.  Just as "New York is presented as the City throughout the novel to designate it as an active character" (Kubitschek 143), so is jazz.  Like the improvisation of jazz, the storytelling technique of the narrator "improvises" as it moves in and out of the characters' lives where it would be least expected.  Therefore, jazz must be considered an active participant, a character, who, because of its non-entity existence, would spiritually be able to surround and enter characters lives at will and, as a result, narrate the story. 

 

      The structure of the novel mirrors the characteristics of a jazz music piece.  Although exceptions occur, "most jazz is based on the principle that an infinite number of melodies can fit the chord progressions of any song.  The musician improvises new melodies that fit the chord progression [. . .]" ("Jazz"2).  With this characteristic in mind, we can see this kind of improvisation when looking at the different sections of the novel:

 

            The sections are often subdivided, with extra blank spaces providing a visual gap between parts of the text.  Completely blank pages separate the larger sections.  This typography accents the large number of sections and subsections to create a sense of disconnection between the novel's segments. (Kubitschek 142) 

 

Each blank space mirrors the improvisation technique of jazz music.  When a musician plays the same jazz piece over and over he improvises, changing the music's direction and creating a disconnection from the original piece.  Each of the ten sections of the novel...

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