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Callaloo 25.1 (2002) 257-273

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The Role of the Blues in Gayl Jones's Corregidora

Donia Elizabeth Allen

I. Introduction

Much that has been written about Gayl Jones's first novel Corregidora has focused on content. Critics of Corregidora as well as of Jones's other work have reacted to what they perceive as the "negative" images she presents of black men and women, and of black life in general. In The New Republic, Darryl Pinckney calls Jones's novels "indictments against black men" (27) and in a review of Eva's Man for The New York Times Book Review June Jordan accuses Jones of presenting negative images of women, particularly black women:

In addition, there is the very real, upsetting accomplishment of Gayl Jones in this, her second novel: the sinister misinformation about women--about women, in general, about black women in particular, and especially about young black girls forced to deal with the sexual, molesting violations of their minds and bodies by their fathers, their mother's boyfriends, their cousins and uncles. (37)

In "The Truth that Never Hurts: Black Lesbians in Fiction in the 1980s" Barbara Smith remarks that Jones portrays lesbians negatively in her fiction:

In contrast, an author such as Gayle Jones, who has not been associated with or seemingly influenced by the feminist movement, has portrayed lesbians quite negatively. (103)

In the rush to react to the content of Jones's work critics have frequently overlooked her use of form. Jones adapts formal devices, among them repetition, call and response and the blues break to reveal crucial aspects of her character's lives and struggles, as well as important themes in her work in general. In this essay I will examine where and why Jones uses call and response and repetition in dialogues between characters. I will also examine her use of the blues break. By focusing on Jones's use of form in Corregidora in no way do I mean to suggest that form is more important than content. Rather, my intent is to show that in Corregidora form and content are inextricably linked and must be examined as such in order to fully understand the crucial aspects of the novel. [End Page 257]

II. Ritualized Dialogue in Corregidora

In an interview with Michael Harper in Chant of Saints, Jones describes what she calls "ritualized dialogue":

What I mean by "ritualized dialogue" is that either the language isn't the same that we would use ordinarily, or the movement between the people talking isn't the same. No, there are really three things: the language, the rhythm of the people talking, and the rhythm between the peope talking . . . So in ritualized dialogue, sometimes you create a rhythm that people wouldn't ordinarily use, that they probably wouldn't use in real talk, although they are saying the words they might ordinarily use. . . . you do something to the rhythm or you do something to the words . . . both things take the dialogue out of the naturalistic realm--change its quality. (359)

Jones uses call and response and repetition, both characteristics of but not exclusive to the traditional blues stanza, to create the ritualized dialogues she speaks of in which the language is intensified or, as she puts it, taken "out of the naturalistic realm." Ritualized dialogues occur during moments of intensity in Corregidora, where there is conflict and chemistry, sexual and otherwise, between characters. The themes of these dialogues recur, and are central to the novel.

Later in the Chant of Saints interview Jones talks about her interest in ambiguity:

Blues acknowledges all different kinds of feelings at once . . . That's what interests me. Ambiguity. (360)

Jones speaks about ambiguity as it relates to blues feelings and relationships but her interest in ambiguity manifests itself in her use of form as well. There are patterns but no formulas in terms of her use of call and response and repetition. In some instances a call is repeated twice and the response once. In others a call is repeated twice and the response is also repeated...


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