Ursa Corregidora’s life is presented as almost a battleground of the destructive and controlling aspects of sexual relationships between men and women. The lives of her ancestors are distant mirrors for her own life, and she has to learn from those lives without being overwhelmed.
At times, Ursa is a maddeningly passive character. While she is in the hospital after her miscarriage and hysterectomy, she finds herself suspecting that she will probably end up with Tadpole when she regains her health. Cat warns her not to rush into any relationship while she is feeling so needy, but when Ursa overhears Cat comforting a female teenager in a clearly sexual way, she more or less blocks Cat and Cat’s advice out of her mind. Ursa then very passively falls into a mutually dissatisfying relationship with Tadpole.
To a large extent, however, Ursa’s passivity is the novel’s point. She has been overwhelmed by the sexual forces that lead men and women to try to control one another, forces that to her are embodied by the relationship between Corregidora and Great Gram. Ursa is portrayed in terms of Great Gram’s life: She is controlled by a sex role, but she also relies on that role to offer her some sense of control over her life.
Behind Ursa’s life, looming larger than life in her memories, are Corregidora and Great Gram. Corregidora, who came from Portugal to Brazil and established a brothel using slave women as prostitutes, represents embodied evil to Ursa. Great Gram was his slave and concubine, but she was not completely powerless. As Ursa begins to sort through the flood of stories she knows about these two people, she realizes that Great Gram must have had a strong sexual power over Corregidora and that she used it to hurt him.
At the end of the novel, Mutt three times says to Ursa, “I don’t want a kind of a woman that hurt you”; she replies three times, “Then you don’t want me.” She thus acknowledges that for her, as it was for Great Gram, sexuality has been a battle-ground where people try to exert power over one another. When Ursa tells Mutt, “I don’t want a kind of man that’ll hurt me neither,” she...
(The entire section is 887 words.)