Serendip is an independent site partnering with faculty at multiple colleges and universities around the world. Happy exploring!

Does Eva have a mode of address?

Sharaai's picture

Mode of address is a concept based out of film and media studies, it is a way for filmmakers to think about who their audience is going to be, a form of analysis on the power relations between the audience and the subject of the film (Ellsworth, 1997, p. 1). It allows for the filmmaker to think about ideas of class, gender sexuality, race and much more while working on their product. This process allows for them to frame their stories so that the viewer can relate or interpret it in a way that plays off of the filmmaker’s assumptions. As analytical readers, we contemplate what the author is trying to tell us and what they want us to take out of their stories. As readers, we can take this concept of mode of address and analyze why we think characters make their decisions and what the author would like us to take out of it. We can interpret their choices, the relationships they are part of or the neighborhood they live in to figure them out. Through this process we, as readers, would be exploring Gayle Jones’ mode of address in context to Eva. We would be thinking about Eva’s choices, what they mean to her and what Jones could also mean by them.

Taking this idea of mode of address and that fact that the filmmaker or storyteller can make a conscious decision about what they would like a story to mean to their audience, Eva’s silence through her life can be interpreted as a conscious decision. By looking at Eva’s possible mode of address, one can begin to attempt to figure out what her silence meant for her and for those who were part of her story. She chose to be silent about many of her life stories because she knew that those listening would simply take her story and make her into what they already thought she was. Throughout her life, Eva has dealt with inappropriate relationships with men, she has witnessed unhealthy relationships and been in them herself. But through all of these endeavors, it seems are though she finds a way to be silent about her life troubles.

As Eva’s stream of consciousness progresses, the reader gets small snippets into the story of the Queen Bee. The Queen Bee’s story is one that the members of the community took into their own hands to tell, such as Eva’s mother and her friend Miss Billie. Eva heard about the Queen Bee from her mother and Miss Billie and the first thing they said is that they call her that because “every man she had end up dying.” (Jones, 1976, p. 17) This is to say that Queen Bee has a power over the men that fall in love with her. From this initial introduction to the character, the reader can begin to make assumptions about her. But the idea behind the Queen Bee can vary depending on who is reading Eva’s Man. From an academic lens, one can look at the Queen Bee as a symbol for a powerful woman who takes control of her own sexual desires. A figure where Eva could have pulled her intentions from for her murder of Davis. Since the men associated with the Queen Bee all seemed to pass away after falling for her, could Eva have felt like she was embodying the Queen Be? That her sense of a mutual relationship with Davis should lead to his death like the men who loved the Queen Bee?

With the Queen Bee story being one that Eva remembers and goes back to throughout the novel, her own silence is symbolic in similar ways. One of her most prominent acts of silence is her refusal to speak to any authority after she murders Davis. Eva doesn’t speak to the officers who have arrested her or the psychiatrist she sees multiple times while incarcerated. Looking for reason in her actions, I feel that Eva is refusing to speak because her audience will not perceive her story how she wants them to. She does not tell anyone, including her cell mate, why she chose to kill Davis. Eva may have proceeded with the murder because she felt like she was taking control of her sexual desires and giving herself agency in the relationship. While she engaged with Davis for several days and there seemed to be some sort of mutuality in their relationship, it seemed that there was something Eva didn’t like in it.

But what triggered Eva is never clearly stated by Jones. Eva’s silence can symbolize the fact that no one she has not found it necessary to voice her story prior to her murder and she sees no reason to voice it now. That her story has never been asked for so what is so different know? Does Eva feel like her story will not be heard as she would like, even with a conscious decision of who her audience is? And yes, it does feel like Eva’s silence is due to the lack of a listener through her life.

From the very beginning of Eva’s life, she has had to deal with a number of situations that many would speak up about. But I fear stating  that because Eva’s story is not one that can be looked at on it’s own. Her story is interrelated to the stories of her mother, father, Queen Bee and the men in her life. And this is where my search for a mode of address feels like a dead end. With Eva’s story being so incredibly complicated, do I have any right to figure out her mode of address? As a student, I feel that I do have this right. I feel that Jones’ would not write the story of Eva without a clear intention in mind. But simply as a reader, I feel more at ease with taking the story for what it is. I feel more comfortable applying modes of address to the story because it is not my own story, but one that Jones’ has decided to share. For me, Eva’s silence can easily symbolize a power of silence in the frame of academia, but as a reader, her silence feels like the result of a series of societal influences that she had no control over. As an academic, I can find the mode of address, as a reader, I feel that it doesn’t quite exist.  



Anne Dalke's picture

On being surprised

What I like here is your reaching back to a central text from earlier in the semester, to try and explain one we are reading now. You draw on Ellsworth's concept of "mode of address"--how artists "speak to" their audience, what presumptions they make about who they are speaking to--to try and understand what is going on in a novel where the central character refuses to speak, where she keeps silent about her life story because she doesn't trust her listeners: "she knew that those listening would simply make her into what they already thought she was," you say; "Eva is refusing to speak because her audience will not perceive her story how she wants them to"; "it does feel like Eva’s silence is due to the lack of a listener through her life," "the result of a series of societal influences that she had no control over."

You end your analysis by expressing a sense of defeat: "my search for a mode of address feels like a dead end." I do think, though, that there's a way out here. Ellsworth's theory begins w/ the claim that artists assume certain deliberate "modes of address" w/ their audiences; but her further caution--the real heart of her argument--is that we cannot know who we are speaking to; we cannot know the fullness of their unconscious, their motivations or desires; we cannot access all that they are or know (nor can they access this about themselves!). Eva's story could be read as an enactment of the truth of that claim: not trusting others w/ her story, because no one has ever gotten it before; not telling her story to others, because she doesn't believe that will actually be able to take it in; not telling her story, because she herself can't access/doesn't understand it.

But there's another way to go w/ this, which is where Ellsworth goes. Not knowing your audience means that they aren't dependable in their responses. So they can let you down, not perceive what you are trying to say. But, not being dependable, they might also surprise you, reveal something to you that you didn't know about yourself. That's one possible take (my take) on what happens @ the very end of Eva's Man: having been interrogated so unremittingly by Elvira, and having resisted all her requests for a story, Eva finally lets her into her bed (really? imaginatively? resistingly? all these are possibilities). She finally lets her in, and is surprised by the sweetness she finds there. She learns something about the possibilities of pleasure in her own life, which she had no idea existed.

So the bottom of line of using "mode of address" to think about a text, as Ellsworth offers us the term, is not to pin down the audience, but to recognize that we cannot do so--that there will always be some "play" in the uptake, some "give and take" in the transfer of information. And it's in that gap that new (and often surprising) meanings can be  made.