Let the Great World Spin

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Jazzlyn Henderson Character Analysis

Tillie’s daughter, a beautiful young woman who seems to fascinate all who meet her. Like her mother, she becomes a prostitute at an early age. Jazzlyn also develops a serious heroin addiction, a habit that her mother dislikes but ultimately does not interfere with. Upon being released from jail after her mother takes the wrap for their joint robbery, Jazzlyn is killed as a passenger in Corrigan’s van when they are hit on the FDR Parkway. A mother herself, she leaves behind two little girls, Jaslyn and Janice.

Jazzlyn Henderson Quotes in Let the Great World Spin

The Let the Great World Spin quotes below are all either spoken by Jazzlyn Henderson or refer to Jazzlyn Henderson. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Political Unrest Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Random House edition of Let the Great World Spin published in 2009.
Book One, Chapter 1: All Respects to Heaven, I Like it Here Quotes

“It’s like dust. You walk about and don’t see it, don’t notice it, but it’s there and it’s all coming down, covering everything. You’re breathing it in. You touch it. You drink it. You eat it. But it’s so fine you don’t notice it. But you’re covered in it. It’s everywhere. What I mean is, we’re afraid. Just stand still for an instant and there it is, this fear, covering our faces and tongues. If we stopped to take account of it, we’d just fall into despair. But we can’t stop. We’ve got to keep going.”

Related Characters: John Andrew Corrigan (“Corrigan”) (speaker), Ciaran Corrigan, Jazzlyn Henderson
Page Number: 29-30
Explanation and Analysis:

In this moment, Corrigan explains to his brother that Jazzlyn and Tillie and the other prostitutes are not bad people, but rather individuals who have spent their entire lives in dire circumstances that are difficult to overcome. Corrigan outlines the trying aspects of life in the Bronx, ultimately attempting to show his brother that fear is an ever-present aspect of daily life, an inescapable and oppressive force that everybody chooses to deal with differently.

It is notable that Corrigan includes himself in his analysis of fear, tacitly admitting that he too is affected by it; he says that “we can’t stop,” that “we have to keep going.” As such, it is evident that, unlike his brother, Corrigan does not seem himself as so different from the prostitutes, ultimately speaking to a universal human experience rather than maintaining the prejudiced assumption that only the poor or “criminal” undergo such hardships.

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Book One, Chapter 3: A Fear of Love Quotes

The moment he turned to check the front of the car I recall thinking that we’d never survive it, not so much the crash, or even the death of the young girl—she was so obviously dead, in a bloodied heap on the road—or the man who was slapped against the steering wheel, almost certainly ruined, his chest jammed up against the dashboard, but the fact that Blaine went around to check on the damage that was done to our car, the smashed headlight, the crumpled fender, like our years together, something broken, while behind us we could hear the sirens already on their way, and he let out a little groan of despair, and I knew it was for the car, and our unsold canvases, and what would happen to us shortly, and I said to him: Come on, let’s go, quick, get in, Blaine, quick, get a move on.

Related Characters: Lara Liveman (speaker), John Andrew Corrigan (“Corrigan”), Jazzlyn Henderson, Blaine
Page Number: 118
Explanation and Analysis:

Lara reveals that, immediately after hitting Corrigan’s van, she knew her relationship with Blaine was doomed. Blaine’s concern about the car—“the smashed headlight, the crumpled fender”—is indicative of his obsession with all that is superficial. He is unable empathize with others, unable to look beyond the things that directly affect him. Lara recognizes this after the crash, and it is clear that this is perhaps the first time she is able to articulate to herself that she and Blaine are ill-suited for one another, as they clearly have opposing values. It is strange, then, that she ushers him along by telling him to get back in the car in order to flee the scene of the accident. This ultimately speaks to her own fear and guilt, but also her empathetic capacity, for in this moment she finds herself sympathizing with Blaine’s fear—his “little groan of despair” for “what would happen to [them] shortly”—while simultaneously disagreeing with him.

A few people were gathered outside the doorway, black women, mostly, in dark mourning clothes that looked as if they didn’t belong to them, as if they’d hired the clothes for the day. Their makeup was the thing that betrayed them, loud and gaudy and one with silver sparkles around her eyes, which looked so tired and worn-down. The cops had said something about hookers: it struck me that maybe the young girl had just been a prostitute. I felt a momentary sigh of gratitude, and then the awareness stopped me cold, the walls pulsed in on me. How cheap was I?

Related Characters: Lara Liveman (speaker), Jazzlyn Henderson
Page Number: 141
Explanation and Analysis:

Lara thinks this to herself upon arriving in the Bronx to deliver Corrigan’s belongings. Police officers outside the building had mentioned the presence of prostitutes in the government housing facilities, and Lara finds herself allowing this bit of information to frame her entire perception. This is a prejudiced impulse. Note the use of the word “just” in the sentence, “it struck me that maybe the young girl had just been a prostitute.” Before we even learn that Lara allows herself “a momentary sigh of gratitude” upon having this thought, we discover her implicit bias in her offhanded dismissal of Jazzlyn (as evidenced by “just”); it’s as if she believes she no longer has to feel bad about having played part in Jazzlyn’s death because she—Jazzlyn—was a prostitute. But the fact that she catches herself in this line of thinking, saying that an “awareness stopped [her] cold,” shows us that she is a self-reflexive person constantly working to transcend her own privileged perspective. Again, Lara emerges as an empathetic character even in the wake of her flaws.

Book Two, Chapter 7: This is the House That Horse Built Quotes

So I got clean. I got myself housing. I gave up the game. Those were good years. All it took to make me happy was finding a nickel in the bottom of my handbag. Things were going so good. It felt like I was standing at a window. I put Jazzlyn in school. I got a job putting stickers on supermarket cans. I came home, went to work, came home again. I stayed away from the stroll. Nothing was going to put me back there. And then one day, out of the blue, I don’t even remember why, I walked down to the Deegan, stuck out my thumb, and looked for a trick.

Related Characters: Tillie Henderson (speaker), Jazzlyn Henderson
Page Number: 216-7
Explanation and Analysis:

After her pimp L.A. Rex broke her arms, Tillie decided to stop working as a prostitute for the first time in her adult life. In this period, she found a simple form of happiness, the kind of almost trivial elation that comes from ordinary delights, like finding a nickel. It’s interesting that she says that “things were going so good,” since she so readily reverted back to her old lifestyle. Despite the fact that she was happy existing outside a life of prostitution, she gravitated back, and this is a sad illustration of the ways in which cycles—both those of an individual and those of society’s hierarchal structures—are difficult to break. Since prostitution was essentially all Tillie ever knew, establishing a completely separate life most likely felt unnatural. Thus, the pull back to her old life enacted itself on her, and we see the extent to which crime engenders and perpetuates itself (an observation later made by Judge Soderberg in a somewhat more callous way).

Oh, but what I shoulda done—I shoulda swallowed a pair of handcuffs when Jazzlyn was in my belly. That’s what I shoulda done. Gave her a heads-up about what was coming her way. Say, Here you is, already arrested, you’re your mother and her mother before her, a long line of mothers stretching way back to Eve, french and nigger and dutch and whatever else came before me.

Oh, God, I shoulda swallowed handcuffs. I shoulda swallowed them whole.

Related Characters: Tillie Henderson (speaker), Jazzlyn Henderson
Page Number: 219
Explanation and Analysis:

In this moment, Tillie considers the ways in which she failed Jazzlyn as a mother by setting a negative example. This thought process again brings to the forefront the idea that crime (or at least imprisonment) is cyclical and even institutionalized, as symbolized by the image of handcuffs as an oppressive mechanism used, in this case, to tell a young black woman that no matter what she does, she will be punished by those more powerful than her. This is a complicated moment in which we see two things at once: Tillie’s scorn for the system of oppression enacting itself on her and her daughter, and her own guilt at playing into this life of crime she is expected to lead.

Book Four, Chapter 12: Roaring Seaward, and I Go Quotes

A man high in the air while a plane disappears, it seems, into the edge of the building. One small scrap of history meeting a larger one. As if the walking man were somehow anticipating what would come later. The intrusion of time and history. The collision point of stories. We wait for the explosion but it never occurs. The plane passes, the tightrope walker gets to the end of the wire. Things don’t fall apart.

Related Characters: The Tightrope Walker (Phillipe Petit), Jazzlyn Henderson, Jaslyn
Related Symbols: The Tightrope Walk
Page Number: 325
Explanation and Analysis:

Jaslyn looks at a picture of the tightrope walker and knows that the walk took place on the same day her mother died. This is the only passage in the entire novel that addresses the destruction of the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001 (though even here it is a rather subtle allusion). The reference is embedded in the attention on the plane as it seems to disappear into the edge of one of the towers. An acknowledgement of the disaster is also evident in the sentence, “We wait for the explosion but it never occurs.” As Jaslyn studies the photograph of the man on the wire, we feel “one small scrap of history meeting a larger one,” and we are once again thrown into a contemplation of chronology—“the intrusion of time and history.” We also feel a convergence of multiple storylines: the tightrope walker’s, Jazzlyn’s, Jaslyn’s, and—for those of us alive when the Towers fell—our own.

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Jazzlyn Henderson Character Timeline in Let the Great World Spin

The timeline below shows where the character Jazzlyn Henderson appears in Let the Great World Spin. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Book One, Chapter 1: All Respects to Heaven, I Like it Here
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...the woman with the parasol, whose name is Tillie. Another clearly younger woman is named Jazzlyn. The third is named Angie. They flirt and joke with Corrigan, clearly displaying their affection... (full context)
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...he’s got a toothache and he wants God to cure it,” he says. One day Jazzlyn sits in the monk’s lap and flirts with him, an event that sends him into... (full context)
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...the two brothers have a tense conversation in which Ciaran finds out that Tillie is Jazzlyn’s mother. This appalls him, and he finally breaks down and yells at his brother, roundly... (full context)
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Continuing his story, Corrigan tells Ciaran that Tillie, Jazzlyn, and Angie threw a “not-dead” party for him, which he decided to take “as a... (full context)
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...stand on the curb. On his way inside, Corrigan picks up a key ring that Jazzlyn dropped. It bears pictures of her two daughters. Ciaran tries to tell his brother that... (full context)
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...the elderly patients from the nursing home while he goes downtown to the precinct where Jazzlyn and Tillie are being held because of an outstanding warrant for a robbery they committed... (full context)
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Tillie takes the blame for the robbery, and Jazzlyn is released. Corrigan is there to take her home. On the ride back to the... (full context)
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Unaware of the accident Corrigan and Jazzlyn have been in, Ciaran and Adelita finish their day at the beach. Ciaran drops everyone... (full context)
Book One, Chapter 3: A Fear of Love
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...is returning Corrigan’s belongings. When she finds out that Ciaran is about to leave for Jazzlyn’s funeral, she asks if she can accompany him. He shrugs, clearly confused, but does not... (full context)
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...next to Ciaran while the preacher speaks. Looking through the crowd, she identifies Tillie as Jazzlyn’s mother; she is handcuffed and weeping. Lara also notices a mean-looking man standing at the... (full context)
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...during the funeral, Tillie gets up to speak. She tells a story about how when Jazzlyn was ten she used to collect pictures of castles from magazines. One day, years later,... (full context)
Book Two, Chapter 7: This is the House That Horse Built
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...up for your rights” on the radio as the officers rounded up the prostitutes, and Jazzlyn yelled, “Who’s gonna look after my babies?” (full context)
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When Tillie gave birth to Jazzlyn, she left her with her mother so that she could go work as a prostitute.... (full context)
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Tillie remembers her first days in New York, when Jazzlyn was still living with her mother in Cleveland. Tillie remembers going straight to the seediest... (full context)
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Despite her great desire to see Jazzlyn’s children—her grandchildren—Tillie begins considering hanging herself in prison. “Any excuse is a good excuse,” she... (full context)
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Usually Tillie and Jazzlyn didn’t rob their clients, she explains, but one time a man took them far away—from... (full context)
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...York life. She explains that in the mid-sixties she returned to Cleveland to pick up Jazzlyn, who was eight or nine years old, and she brought her back to New York.... (full context)
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...injury, Tillie decided to clean up her life. She stopped working as a prostitute, put Jazzlyn in school, and got a job at a supermarket. She was, by her own account,... (full context)
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Soon enough, Jazzlyn started working as a prostitute alongside her mother in the Bronx. At the age of... (full context)
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...but doesn’t know why. She asks her if she is the one taking care of Jazzlyn’s children, and Lara replies that she is not. Confused and angry, Tillie asks who she... (full context)
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Tillie thinks about the last time she saw Jazzlyn and Corrigan in the Bronx. She thinks about how there is probably no Sherry-Netherlands hotel... (full context)
Book Three, Chapter 9: A Part of the Parts
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The first defendants on Judge Soderberg’s list are Jazzlyn and Tillie Henderson. He observes the two prostitutes as they come to the front of... (full context)
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...arguments, resulting in him asking her to refrain from speaking. He realizes with surprise that Jazzlyn is Tillie’s daughter. (full context)
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Because Tillie has decided to take full responsibility for the robbery that she and Jazzlyn committed, Judge Soderberg dismisses Jazzlyn’s case, and she is free to go. She kisses her... (full context)
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Judge Soderberg orders Jazzlyn to put the shirt back on. She refuses, and then Soderberg asks the white man... (full context)
Book Three, Chapter 10: Centavos
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...of beauty was something simpler than that, like a conversation he’d had with Tillie or Jazzlyn. Maybe, she thinks, he had decided that he didn’t need her, that he would stay... (full context)
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...spent the night in his van near the courthouse in Lower Manhattan that Tillie and Jazzlyn had been sent to. She thinks it is possible that he awoke in time to... (full context)
Book Four, Chapter 12: Roaring Seaward, and I Go
Unity & Human Connection Theme Icon
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...tightrope walker. It was taken, she knows, on the exact same day that her mother, Jazzlyn, died. It makes her think about life’s simultaneity, the strange wonder that something so beautiful... (full context)