Critical Context (Masterplots II: African American Literature)
Corregidora was widely acclaimed when it was first published in 1975, and Gayl Jones was often compared to such other black female writers as Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, Toni Cade Bambara, and Gloria Naylor. Jones’s writing, like theirs, often focuses on the political aspects of private life, particularly of the sexual relationships between men and women. John Updike, reviewing Corregidora for The New Yorker, praised the novel’s historical scope, as well as its tight focus on how a history of brutality affects one woman in her relationships with men.
One aspect of both Corregidora and Jones’s second novel, Eva’s Man (1976), that has been particularly praised by many critics is the use of blues motifs. Her novels tend to be very spare in their use of physical descriptions and to contain a great deal of dialogue and repetition. Together with Jones’s persistent emphasis on unhappy relationships between men and women, this approach suggests a conscious and careful echo of blues music. The cumulative effect of the technique is to imply great feeling without using a great many words. In the book’s dialogue, readers are often forced to pay more attention to how the characters are speaking to one another than to what they are saying in order to understand all that is happening in the conversation. Moreover, the blues motif helps Jones to suggest the combination of antagonism and regret that marks the relationships between her male and female characters.
The critical consensus has been that Jones was able to repeat much of the success of Corregidora in her next novel, Eva’s Man, but much of her subsequent fiction and poetry has been of a lesser quality. As a result, although Corregidora deserves to be compared with novels such as Toni Morrison’s Sula (1973) and Alice Walker’s The Color Purple (1982), Jones’s inability to build on the artistic achievements of Corregidora and move in other artistic directions—as both Walker and Morrison did—prevents her from being ranked as their peer. Therefore, Corregidora, Jones’s flawed but powerful first novel, may remain her most important contribution to literature.