A Rich Reading of Eva And Her Men (Web Event #4)

jo's picture

Reading Gayl Jones’ Eva’s Man, it was clear to me that Eva was oppressed, silenced. I saw her as a victim, and felt really bad for her and sad to think how many other women have had similar experiences. Through our class discussion, however, I began to consider that maybe it wasn’t as simple as that. It was couldntthinkofanoriginalname who first brought this to our collective attention in her post, Reflections on Eva’s Man: “all characters… are apart of a cycle of abuse…there is a larger conversation to be had about this book. One that touches upon male's oppression… and internalized sexism…” It was so easy for me at first to write off the men in Eva’s Man as oppressors, representations of the patriarchy at work. I then realized that everyone in this book, just like everyone in the world, is a victim of the patriarchy, and as such is silenced. Throughout the book, Eva chooses silence, as do some many other characters, and I began to wonder how much agency they actually had, if those silences were only chosen due to the way in which society represses and restricts. Thinking about Adrienne Rich’s analysis of silence as lying what role did Eva’s silences play in her abuse and mistreatment and is this something that she or anyone else ever has control over?

“Lying is done with words, and also with silence…the liar lives in fear of losing control…to be vulnerable to another person means…the loss of control.” (Rich 186-187) Here, Rich is specifically talking about women, about what it means for women to be silent, and about why women tell lies through silences. It offers some illumination of Eva’s silences:

In the struggle for survival we tell lies. To bosses, to prison guards, the police, men who have power over us, who legally own us and our children, lovers who need us as proof of their manhood. There is a danger run by all powerless people: that we forget we are lying, or that lying becomes a weapon we carry over into relationships with people who do not have power over us. (Rich, 189)

 

One example where I clearly see this behavior in Eva is during her interrogation by the psychiatrist: "'Why did you kill the man, Eva?’ I didn’t answer. ‘Did Davis know why you killed him?’ I still didn’t answer… ’I want to help you, Eva.’ I said nothing. ‘Talk to me.’ I wouldn’t.” (Jones 76-77) This is not the first time she’s been arrested and refused to talk. When she was 17 she was assaulted by a man and stabbed him with a knife, but the man claimed he hadn’t done anything but offer to buy her a drink, and since Eva refused to say anything to defend herself, she was convicted. It appears that her silence betrays her, though she uses it as protection it cannot protect her. Through silence she allows a lie. Is it her fault? Feeling so powerless in the world, how could she be expected to defend herself? In all of her relationships, she often chooses silence, and though Rich might say this makes her a liar, it seems to me that she didn’t have much other choice.

If Eva is not responsible for bringing/keeping herself down, who is? At first look it is the many men in her life, but it is important to remember, as couldntthinkofanoriginalname pointed out, that these men are trapped in the same “cycle of abuse” and oppression, that the oppressor is always themself oppressed. Though of course most of these men were in the wrong, how much agency did they have? And are they to blame for Eva’s silence/lies? Here again I turn to Rich:

The liar…is afraid that her own truths are not good enough. She is afraid, not so much of the prison guards or bosses, but of something unnamed within her. The liar fears the void. The void is not something created by patriarchy, or racism, or capitalism. It will not fade away with any of them. It is part of every woman…The dark core. It is beyond personality, beyond who loves us or hates us. The void…is not mere hollowness and anarchy. But in women it has been identified with lovelessness, barrenness, sterility…The liar in her terror wants to fill up the void, with anything. Her lies are a denial of her fear; a way of maintaining control. (Rich 191)

 

According to Rich, Eva has this void, as do all women, and it really has nothing to do with the men in her life. By this analysis it would almost appear that these men, and particularly Davis, are Eva’s victims. This reminds me of the continuous narrative of the queen bee, a woman who, through no apparent fault of her own, caused the death of several men simply because they slept with her. About the queen bee Eva says, “she must have been sucked hollow. She must have had nothing left.” (Jones 73) Both the queen bee and her men are portrayed as victims, just as Eva and her men are victims. Are they victims of “the void”? And if “the void is not something created by patriarchy,” then where does it come from? I can’t exactly explain why, but to me this seems to relate to the confusing owl theme that we were unable to figure out in class: “The owl corners me, lays me on the floor, begins to dig and peck.” (Jones 138) “An owl sucks my blood. I am bleeding underneath my nails. An owl sucks my blood. He gives me fruit in my palms. We enter the river again…together.”(Jones 176) Perhaps this unknown owl that won’t leave Eva alone comes from the void within her, or creates that void.

Works Cited:

Jones, Gayl. Eva's Man. Boston: Beacon, 1987. Print.

Rich, Adrienne. "Women and Honor: Some Notes on Lying (1975)." On Lies, Secrets, and Silence: Selected Prose, 1966-1978. New York: Norton, 1979. N. pag. Print.

couldntthinkofanoriginalname. Reflections on Eva’s Man. 2012. Serendip.brynmawr.edu, http://serendip.brynmawr.edu/exchange/reflections-evas-man

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Anne Dalke's picture

"the void"

Jo--
You start here w/ the silence that is the result of social oppression--"everyone in the world is a victim of the patriarchy, and as such is silenced...The oppressor is always themself oppressed." Given that dynamic, you argue that, although Eva ""uses her silence as protection, it cannot protect her," that her silences actually played a role "in her abuse and mistreatment"--and yet "she didn’t have much other choice."

This is all pretty bleak.

Where the paper gets more interesting, though--and I think more hopeful?--is when you turn to an analysis of silence that is not imposed from without, but located within. You draw on Rich to say that Eva "is afraid, not so much of the prison guards or bosses, but of something unnamed within her," that she "fears the void." This puts me in mind of that passage from one of the interviews with Joan Chittister, which I read aloud in today's class:

"Silence frightens us because it is silence that brings us face to face with ourselves. Silence is a very perilous part of life. It tells us what we’re obsessing about. Silence reminds us of what we have not resolved within ourselves. Silence shows to us the underside of ourselves, from which there is no escape, which no amount of cosmetics can hide, that no amount of money or titles or power can possibly cure. Silence leaves us with only ourselves for company. Silence is, in other words, life’s greatest teacher. It shows us what we have yet to become, and how much we still lack to become it."

What does such an understanding of silence add your your naming it as a source of social oppression? Your intuition that this has something to do w/ that mysterious owl--“The owl corners me,We enter the river again…together" reminds me of another text I often teach/am fond of, Rudolfo Anaya's Bless Me, Ultima, where the owl is not only the totem, but acts for the witch, Ultima, who is the source of great spiritual power in the book.

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