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Eva's Man


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Gayl Jones (b. 1949)

 

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Like her first novel, Corregidora (1975), Gayl Jones's Eva's Man (1976) continues to explore African American women's sexual victimization. The novel's pivotal scene is Eva Medina Canada's murder and mutilation of her lover. Eva spends a number of days in Davis Carter's apartment, waiting for her menstrual period to end so that they can make love. Jones creates a vaguely repellent, ambivalent feeling of imprisonment and passivity: although he leaves the door open, Davis wants Eva to remain in the apartment, and although Eva seems to feel trapped, she never steps outside the door. With neither remorse nor explanation, Eva murders Davis, bites off his penis, and then calls the police. The book begins with this violent act, moves back to Eva's childhood and adolescence, and ends with her obstinate silence in a prison's psychiatric ward.

Eva's increasingly erratic, first-person narrative shifts from one scene to another, repeating lines of dialogue in different contexts, mingling memory, dream, and fantasy in a story that explores an African American woman's formation of her identity in a culture that devalues her race and her sex. Unlike Ursa Corregidora, Eva has both a father and mother present throughout her childhood. But she, too, experiences a good deal of sexual abuse, both actual and threatened, in her encounters with men who assume that she is sexually willing. Brought up to believe that women cannot control their own bodies, Eva continually alternates her silent passivity with unexpected moments of violence. When a man follows her into an alley, trying to pay her for sex, she says nothing to dissuade him but then suddenly stabs him with a pocketknife. The older man she marries is psychotically jealous, yet she stays with him for two years. When Davis tries to dominate her, refusing even to let her comb her hair, Eva seems undisturbed by his behavior, even as she secrets away the rat poison that will kill him. She offers no motive for her action, and at one point warns an interrogator not to explain her. While Corregidora's depiction of lesbianism is uneasy at best, Eva's Man closes with Eva's being brought to orgasm by her cellmate Elvira—a moment whose simple immediacy might constitute the novel's sole note of redemptive possibility.

Discussions of this book generally focus on Eva's coping with the stereotypical objectifications of black women, especially those that characterize them as faithless or as sexually insatiable. While several critics see Eva's behavior as a rebellion against the racist, sexist structures that posit black women as whores, others argue that Jones refuses to let Eva be so easily explained, even as the character alternately submits to and defies the social system that defines her so rigidly. Also important is the novel's adaptation of African American folklore, especially the communal voice that Eva hears while growing up (that of her mother's friend, Miss Billie), which teaches her about ancestral duties and the fatal power of women's sexuality. Finally, although unreliable, Eva's narrative is truly hers, unlike the rote memorizations of incest and abuse that nearly imprison the protagonist of Jones's first novel.

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Subjects: Literature.


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