Reading List: Corregidora by Gail Jones

[This post is a summary and evaluation, and definitely includes SPOILERS]

So the first book I read for my reading list was Corregidora by Gayl Jones which is the story of Ulsa, a black woman and club singer who finds herself in a number of dysfunctional relationships that cause her to reflect on her own sexuality.  This book explores the concept of body ownership, what it means to be female, the function and limitation of one’s language, and to what extent one’s life belongs to one’s self.

The book opens to Ulsa who is just getting out of very dysfunctional relationship with her first husband, Mutt. He is extremely controlling and over protective, accusing Ulsa of enjoying how the men sexualize and desire her when she is on stage. Yet, when she is with him, he is extremely withholding of affection. Mutt’s uncontrollable rage causes him to lash out and push Ulsa down a flight of stairs which causes her to have a miscarriage, as she later reveals she was pregnant, and she also has to have her uterus removed rendering her incapable of fulfilling the one task her mother, grandmother and great grandmother have told her for years: to “create generations.”

The concept of generations comes from her family’s history with a white man named Corregidora, a pimp who took Corregidora’s great gradmother as his whore. She bears him a daughter, Ulsa’s grandmother, who Corregidora than proceeds to sleep with resulting in Corregidora’s mother. Both Ulsa’s great grandmother and grandmother were forced to have sex with Corregidora and other men, resulting in a number of mental and emotional side effects, such as the language of “fucking” and that it does not mean pleasure, but instead a purpose, and also a sense of superiority or entitlement because of how Corregidora would not let his whores sleep with black men, making them believe they were superior. The idea of creating generations is instilled in Ulsa because passing on the stories of your family is how you provide evidence that it happened.

Ulsa soon marries Tadpole, the owner of the club she sings at. But it’s clear that he has feelings for her that she doesn’t necessarily return, no longer feeling the need to have sex because she cannot “create generations.” This weighs heavily on Tadpole and he ends up cheating on Ulsa with another singer.

A crucial event in the book is when Ulsa returns home to visit her mother where she learns the truth about her father, a man forced to marry her mother after he got her pregnant. She also hears a story that her mother recites a story about Corregidora as if it happened to her even though it did not—evidence of the passing on of stories and internalizing them.

The book ends with Mutt reappearing and Ulsa going back to him for sex, feeling something she never did with Tadpole—the thing she knew had always been missing. And yet, the end alludes to a sexual act not meant for reproduction, something originally repulsive to Ulsa, and then an act of sexual domination left ambiguous. In this moment, Ulsa distances herself from the stories of her family and rejects the idea that those stories should dictate her life.

If you are interested in feminist and African American literature, I highly recommend this book, especially if you are a fan of Toni Morrison.

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