Critical Context (Masterplots II: American Fiction Series)
As a first novel, Gayl Jones’s Corregidora made a dramatic entry into the literary world. It was highly praised for its daring approach to a sensitive subject and its innovative approach to narrative form and language. Corregidora asserts unequivocally that the past has a marked impact on both the present and the future. Corregidora is also avowedly a blues tale, adhering to a blues motif and illuminating a blues aesthetic. The novel’s complex adaptation of this black music form makes it all the more striking.
Corregidora is an important novel because it addresses large political issues— racism, sexism, sexual exploitation, and sexual ambivalence—not as issues but as human problems. The novel humanizes the impersonality of such large topics by showing their disruptive effects on intimate human relationships, human values, and traditions. In Corregidora, Jones confronts powerful subject matter, treats it with sensitivity, and does so gracefully and skillfully from the perspective of a black woman, the blues protagonist. No omniscient authorial voice intrudes in or interprets the story of the Corregidora women. Jones permits them to tell their multilayered story themselves, in their own voice. What emerges from this stance toward storytelling is less emphasis on fiction as conscious craft and more emphasis on storytelling, as distinct from fiction-making, or orality in a story. Clearly, the strongest models and influences informing Jones’s work come not from the strictly literary tradition but rather from the oral traditions of the Afro-American community.
While Corregidora does not purport to be a manifesto of any kind, there is present a strong affirmation of female experience, the female voice. The women in this novel speak with a collective voice about the violence and the passion in their lives. Yet each woman is clearly individualized and each guards protectively her own uniquely personal experience. Corregidora is a passionate novel examining sexual identity and sexual exploitation, the roles played by heritage, ambiguity, and the blues in human relationships.