Critical Context (Masterplots II: African American Literature)

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

Reviewing Eva’s Man in The New Yorker in 1976, John Updike stated that “we never doubt the honorable motive behind [Jones’s] methods—the wish, that is, to represent the inner reality of individuals who belong to a disenfranchised and brutalized race.” Her reviewers did not agree on whether Jones has accomplished this task in a believable manner. The fact that her interior monologue is “structurally unsettled” and “remote,” as Darryl Pinckney suggests, has given rise to both praise and criticism. The question appears to be whether Jones has given readers a believable character in Eva Medina Canada. If she has, the implications are terrifying, for the world of people such as Eva is even more sinister than one might imagine. If Jones has not, her book may be an unfair indictment on a whole race. Coming after Corregidora (1975), Jones’s first novel (which Pinckney called “harsh and perfectly told”), Eva’s Man first met with a bit more skepticism.

Jones herself says that “Eva Canada stands for no one but Eva Canada,” and if anything, Jones has written, she wishes that she had presented Eva in a less realistic, more fragmented manner. Jones has stated that she is interested in “getting at the ’truth’” of a “particular character.” However, Eva also fits in a long line of American characters imprisoned by race and/or sex. Her double bind, made worse by the shackles of her madness and her own lack of identity, results in an extreme case of enslavement.

Jones has been praised for her ability to control language; those who praise her argue that the madness, the confusion, and the inability or unwillingness to articulate needs belong to Eva, not to Jones. Her work puts her in the African American tradition with writers such as Alice Walker and Toni Morrison. Her use of the interior monologue, her fusion of disparate moments from the past, and her interest in motives for violence put her in the tradition of William Faulkner as well.