The protagonist and narrator of Gayl Jones's 1975 novel, Corregidora, Ursa is a blues singer and songwriter who descends from a long line of slavery and incest. Her earliest memories revolve around her being told the terrible history of her great-grandmother and grandmother who were enslaved, repeatedly raped, and forced into prostitution by the Brazilian plantation owner Old Corregidora; both Ursa's grandmother and her mother are his daughters. In order that Corregidora's atrocities are never forgotten, Ursa, like her mother, has been charged to “make generations” who will bear witness to this familial narrative of victimization and abuse. But she loses the baby she is carrying and is rendered sterile when Mutt Thomas, her jealous husband, pushes her down a flight of stairs.
Ursa's role as an artist is pivotal to her finding a way to bear witness and simultaneously break free of her foremother's history; she must learn to identify herself through her voice and her creativity, rather than through her womb. Eventually, by recognizing her own (as well as her foremothers') potential for violence, Ursa also discovers her own capacity for pleasure and desire. Her uneasy acknowledgment of sexual desire alongside her history of racial and sexual abuse entails her understanding and working against the rigid self-identification imposed on her by her fore-mothers. Through Ursa, Gayl Jones grapples with pernicious stereotypes of black women's sexuality as well as issues of speech, silence, art, history, and self-empowerment, all predominant themes in late-twentieth-century African American women's writing.
Claudia C. Tate, “ Corregidora: Ursa's Blues Medley,” Black American Literature Forum 13 (Fall 1979): 139–141.Missy Dehn Kubitschek, Claiming the Heritage: African-American Women Novelists and History, 1991.
Amy S. Gottfried