(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

Eva’s Man tells the life story of Eva Medina Canada as she remembers it during her incarceration in a psychiatric prison in upstate New York for the brutal killing of her lover, Davis Carter. The murder was simple enough—Eva poisoned his drink with arsenic. Immediately after Davis’s death, however, Eva bit off his penis and wrapped it in a silk handkerchief. It is for this molestation that she is under psychiatric care.

Eva’s Man is divided into four parts. The first, which makes up more than half the novel, begins with Eva’s arrest. In the first person, Eva takes readers back to incidents throughout her life that formed her view and led up to this moment. Eva is the only child of John and Marie Canada; her story begins at the age of five, after the family has moved to New York City. The events of her childhood make up most of this first part of the book. Some center around her mother: She remembers listening in on conversations between her mother and her mother’s friend Miss Billie, particularly those about “The Queen Bee,” a fabled woman whose men all die; she relives her mother’s affair with the musician Tyrone and his advances toward Eva herself. She recalls her nights out with her married cousin Alfonso, who thinks she is too old to stay at home. Alfonso himself wants her, as do the men whom she meets with him—the man with no thumb who frequently eats with them, and Moses Tripp, whom she stabs outside the restaurant to ward off his...

(The entire section is 608 words.)

Eva's Man Summary

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

The plot and action in Eva’s Man unfold solely from the viewpoint of Eva Medina Canada, a forty-three-year-old black woman incarcerated in an institution for the criminally insane. Eva, without obvious cause or reason, has murdered and then sexually mutilated Davis Carter, her lover. Certainly the murder is the central act in the novel, yet the attempt to comprehend the complexity of motives surrounding the ferocity of the murder and its aftermath is the base from which the novel builds.

For five years after the death of Davis, Eva has maintained a stoic silence, neither justifying nor explaining the ritualized violence of her deed. Finally, because of the persistent prodding of prison psychiatrists, who appear only as disembodied voices, and the constant badgering of Elvira Moody, a fellow inmate also incarcerated for murder, Eva begins to respond to their insistent questions: “How did it feel?” “How do you feel?” “How did it feel?” Her attempts to answer those questions, to place “how it felt” into perspective, lead Eva to recall and reflect upon selected episodes of her personal history. She calls up fragmented segments of her past life to illustrate supposed facts having a bearing on the woman she became. Yet Eva is an unreliable narrator. Her perspective, while startling and unsettling for what it suggests about the effects of traumatic sexual experiences, sexual abuse or exploitation, and sexual promiscuity, cannot be...

(The entire section is 523 words.)

Eva's Man Summary

(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

Eva’s Man, Gayl Jones’s provocative second novel, is a psychological tale of repression, manipulation, and suffering. It is a gothic story of madness—Eva’s madness—and the psychological effects of violence on black women. From her prison asylum room, where she has been incarcerated for five years for poisoning, then castrating, her lover, Eva Medina Canada, the psychotic title character, narrates the events which led up to her bizarre and violent act. Although she has maintained a steadfast and defiant silence in response to the grinding interrogation of the male judicial authorities—the police and psychiatrists—Eva readily tells her story to the reader. Through time and space intrusions, many flashbacks and a combination of dreams, fantasies, memories, interrogation, and exchanges between herself and her cellmate, Elvira, Eva tells everything except her motive.

In the unsequential narrative, Eva’s story delineates unequivocally men’s malevolence and women’s natural acceptance of a destiny inevitably circumscribed by this malevolence. Eva’s appropriating of and identification with the story of Queen Bee, the femme fatale whose love, like a deadly sting, kills off every man with whom she falls in love, suggests that women resign themselves to a female destiny. This horrid fatalism blames and punishes women for their sexuality. Paradoxically, since the drone is always at the service of the queen bee, it is women who have power...

(The entire section is 450 words.)

Eva's Man Bibliography

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

Barksdale, Richard K. “Castration Symbolism in Recent Black American Fiction.” College Language Association Journal 29, no. 4 (1986): 400-413. Considers Eva’s Man an example of fiction depicting men whose sexual insensitivity and violence merit their castration. Eva’s crime is not against Davis Carter specifically but against all black men who have helped to create the sexual world in which women such as Eva and her predecessors have had to live.

Basu, Biman. “Public and Private Discourses and the Black Female Subject: Gayl Jones’s Eva’s Man.” Callaloo 19 (Winter, 1996): 193-208. Basu notes that Jones has been criticized for reinforcing sexual and class stereotypes in her novel, and that her female protagonist is too passive in the face of abuse. Yet Jones has reiterated that her goal was to present a female character whose subjectivity in the story is indeterminate.

Byerman, Keith. “Black Vortex: The Gothic Structure of Eva’s Man.” MELUS 7, no. 4 (1980): 93-101. Suggests that Eva’s Man uses the structure of Gothic literature, specifically the downward spiral of the whirlpool, to express the violence and sexuality of the novel. As an insane woman obsessed with sex and certain that men are by nature brutal, Eva gets herself into ever-worse situations. At the same time, her narration gives the reader her experiences in the same intensifying, spiral fashion, providing an appropriate form for Eva’s madness and dark vision.

Byerman, Keith. “Intense Behaviors: The Use of the Grotesque in The Bluest Eye and Eva’s Man.” College Language Association Journal 25, no. 4 (1982): 447-457. Suggests that Eva is a “grotesque” character used by Jones to reproach...

(The entire section is 776 words.)