Form and Content

(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

Corregidora tells the story of the far-reaching, destructive effects of nineteenth century bondage on the generations of African Americans whose ancestors were slaves in North and South America. Set in the American South in the middle of the twentieth century, the novel demonstrates that slavery was a system that not only confined blacks physically and economically but also led to their psychological and sexual demise. Written in a lyrical blues style, Corregidora expresses both the misery and the emotional release that African Americans continued to experience long after the Emancipation Proclamation was issued in the United States.

Ursa’s story covers the twenty-year period during which she struggles to come to terms with her complex feelings for her first husband, Mutt. The story begins with an act of violence: Mutt pushes Ursa down a flight of stairs outside the bar where she works as a blues singer, causing her to lose their unborn child and be subjected to a hysterectomy. This act initiates the grieving period during which Ursa and Mutt are divorced and Ursa is sexually approached by both men and women, marries her longtime employer, and returns home to confront her mother about her matrilineage.

Ursa’s grieving process begins in the hospital. Although she still loves her husband, she divorces him. While in the hospital, she expresses herself violently by cursing Mutt and the entire hospital staff. Upon realizing that she had miscarried a child and lost her womb, Ursa goes into a deep depression because she can no longer “make generations” to bear witness to the devastation of slavery; she can no longer fulfill her “duty” as a Corregidora woman.

The other Corregidora women, her maternal ancestors, taught Ursa as a child to “make generations” of slave descendants to ensure that slavery would be remembered. These women told Ursa that when slavery ended in the 1800’s, all written proof of its existence and all written accounts of the inhuman atrocities perpetrated against slaves were destroyed. Without “the papers” to prove the existence of slavery and slave crimes, the Corregidora women warned, the memory of slavery could fade and the institution could be reenacted. Thus, after her hysterectomy, Ursa despairs not only over her lost child but also over her lost opportunity to bear others to...

(The entire section is 970 words.)

Corregidora Context

(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

Corregidora is one of the first works written by a woman descended from slaves to declare that the legacy of slavery for African Americans, specifically women, includes the historical perpetration and perpetuation of sexual violence and a lost capacity for stable familial and romantic relationships. Ursa’s intricate matrilineage reveals that slave women’s bodies were violated as property and sexual chattel.

Corregidora was published more than one hundred years after the abolition of slavery, yet it strives to show that this institution, long after emancipation, continued to keep African American women powerless and debased. Written before the works of other black women authors, such as Alice Walker and Toni Morrison, Corregidora exposes not only the abuse and exploitation of African American women but also their perseverance and courage.

Corregidora Bibliography

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

Evans, Mari, ed. Black Women Writers, 1950-1980: A Critical Evaluation. Garden City, N.Y.: Anchor Press/Doubleday, 1983. Collection of essays by and about some of the most prominent black women writers of the late twentieth century. The section on Jones features a brief essay by her on how she works, essays by Jerry Ward and Melvin Dixon about her work, and a brief bio-bibliography.

Fulton, DoVeanna S. Speaking Power: Black Feminist Orality in Women’s Narratives of Slavery. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2006. Includes a chapter on the relationship between love and the legacy of slavery in Corregidora, comparing the novel to Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937), by Zora Neale Hurston.

Jones, Gayl. “Gayl Jones Takes a Look at Corregidora: An Interview.” Interview by Roseann Pope Bell. In Sturdy Black Bridges: Visions of Black Women in Literature, edited by Roseann P. Bell, Bettye J. Parker, and Beverly Guy-Sheftall. Garden City, N.Y.: Anchor Press, 1979. Jones talks about the influences of Brazilian history and folklore on Corregidora.

Jones, Gayl. Liberating Voices: Oral Tradition in African American Literature. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1991. Of general interest to those investigating Jones’s place in African American...

(The entire section is 456 words.)