(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

Ursa Corregidora is the main character and first-person narrator of Gayl Jones’s Corregidora, a novel that focuses on Ursa’s own psychologically hollowed self. After a miscarriage and hysterectomy, Ursa has to accept not only her personal sense of loss but also the weight of family stories regarding her grandmother’s and great-grandmother’s lives as enslaved prostitutes in Brazil. Having been told since she was five that she would have to reproduce to create living evidence of this slavery (most of the written records were burned), she faces the burden of having to live her life without being able to fulfill the demand that had been placed on her.

Corregidora begins with the event that ends Ursa’s first marriage. Her husband, Mutt Thomas, not knowing she is pregnant, knocks her down a stairway in a fit of jealous rage, causing her miscarriage and forcing her to have a hysterectomy. Tadpole McCormick, her employer, and Cat Lawson, her friend, help to nurse Ursa back to health, but neither fully understands how devastating a blow it has been for Ursa to lose the ability to bear a child. The narrative is frequently interrupted by Ursa’s memories of being told about her grandmother and great-grandmother, whom Ursa calls Gram and Great Gram, respectively. Gram and Great Gram endured lives of sexual bondage to Corregidora, a Brazilian slave owner who thus became both Ursa’s grandfather and great-grandfather. It is clear that without the power to fulfill their wish that she reproduce, Ursa now feels unable to avoid dwelling on these painful stories. Further, she focuses her own angers and resentments toward her husband on these stories, and they seem to intensify, so that she feels these memories as strongly as if they were her own.

After being released from the hospital, Ursa stays with Tadpole for a few days, and...

(The entire section is 761 words.)


(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

The most immediate story in Corregidora is that of blues singer Ursa Corregidora. For years, the central factor of Ursa’s upbringing had been the injunction to “make generations.” Yet shortly after her marriage to Mutt Thomas, an event occurs that causes her to lose her reproductive ability, the source of her sexual being. Mutt, in a jealous, drunken rage, accidentally causes Ursa to fall down a flight of stairs. The effects of the fall are threefold: Ursa loses the child she was carrying; her womb must be removed; she is left emotionally crippled. The forced hysterectomy severely damages Ursa’s sense of her own sexuality and her self-esteem. What disturbs her is that she can no longer bear children and thus, in her eyes, fails in her commitment to her matrilineal line, fails to adhere to the commandment of her maternal forebears to make generations in order that the children may bear witness to and be the conscious reminder of slavery’s legacy: “The important thing is making generations. They can burn the papers but they can’t burn conscious, Ursa. And that what makes the evidence. And that’s what makes the verdict.”

The psychic damage caused by Ursa’s fall seriously affects her relationships with men. Filled with anger, hatred, and guilt, Ursa divorces Mutt as soon as she recovers. Yet even their separation and alienation from each other remains charged by sexual tension and ambiguity. Mutt’s voice echoes constantly in her...

(The entire section is 498 words.)