Eva's Man Critical Context (Masterplots II: American Fiction Series) - Essay

Gayl Jones

Critical Context (Masterplots II: American Fiction Series)

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Eva’s Man established Jones as a powerful writer, an intense novelist with an acutely perceptive angle of vision. Jones is among that group of black female novelists (beginning with Zora Neale Hurston and including Alice Walker, Toni Morrison, and Paule Marshall) who probe deeply the psyches of black women. Yet Jones not only investigates the dilemmas of artists with no form, a motif articulated in the works of Walker and Morrison among others, but also explores more explicitly than the others the sexual impulse of her characters, their “erotic imagination” and their blues sensibility.

In this novel, Jones mutes her authorial voice, permitting Eva to speak for herself, to define herself. Eva’s voice is so dominant, however (as with her earlier novel, Jones’s debt to black urban oral tradition is apparent in the text), that careless readers have seen her as a mouthpiece, as Jones’s symbolic attack on all black men. Eva’s insanity is established at the novel’s outset; therefore, readers must be particularly conscious of the tendency to equate a character’s actions and beliefs with those of the novelist. Author and character are not synonymous, and Eva’s blues are her own. In Eva’s Man, Jones manifests what might be termed a speculative sensibility to frame her story. She asks “what if” a psychotic woman were to tell her story—how could the story be told? How believable would it be?

In interviews, Jones has recognized the politicized response that often confronts Afro-American literature or literature deemed to have a feminist perspective. Overzealous, oversensitive critics see “negative” images of Jones’s male characters as supporting pervasive cultural stereotypes. The individual story that one character tells is misinterpreted as a political statement. This kind of misreading denies the deeper levels of the novel. Eva’s story is neither one of triumph nor one of hibernation or rebellion; it is not a story of heroic self-sacrifice or heroic endurance. What Jones has depicted in Eva’s Man is one woman’s tale of the struggle to return from madness, a madness fostered by insensitivity and silence.