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Eva's crazy way of keeping silent for protection

Sasha De La Cruz's picture

            While reading Eva’s Man, I grew more and more frustrated when her writing became more complex. I became frustrated because I lost access to a transparent storyline; as I got more confused, I got to a point where I realized that I did not have to understand what was going on. I had an epiphany that Eva’s Man seemed to be the quintessence of Doris Sommer’s piece Advertencia/Warning. Doris Sommer claims that readers “feel entitled to know everything as they approach a text … with the conspiratorial intimacy of a potential partner” in this case I became the reader who was trying to know and understand everything that was going on. She then proceeds to write, “the slap of refused intimacy from uncooperative books can slow readers down, detain them at the boundary between contact and conquest”. At first I found myself slowing down and re-reading the passage, until I realized that no matter how many times I read it, the text was meant to make me confused and to get the sense of confusion and craziness.

            One of the reasons why I think readers might get frustrated with this text is because of the lack of space to empathize with Eva since the reader will be so focused on trying to make the stories match up. By writing in such a confusing manner, Eva is trying to get her point across and give the reader a sense of her message. By making it so complex she is choosing to be silent to a certain extent in her story and to keep a distance between her and the reader; she is trying to protect herself. Eva choses what story to tell because to her it seems like these are the only aspect of her life that she has complete control over. As sdane mentioned in her haiku, “Eva is asked to give a part of her self to others, usually sexually, and she often has no way of stopping them.  The people who ask Eva to speak and tell her story recall these past traumas … seem to trigger pain in Eva, which leads to her vulnerability and silence. At the same time, … being silent becomes a way for Eva to gain control by being able to make the decision not to share. Eva decided to keep silent and keep her stories private when she refuses to explain herself to the psychiatrist, the detective, her cellmate and overall to the reader.

            I think in some ways Eva is making a conscious decision when she refused to share too much because she understands that the information can be used against her, or that they will not believe her. On page 10 Eva says, “I tell my psychiatrist what I remember. He tells me I do not know how to separate the imagined memories from the real ones”. This goes to show how already the psychiatrist has some distrust of Eva’s stories. Wendy Brown explains the risk in sharing stories in her piece Freedom Silences when she writes, “breaking silences can metamorphose into new techniques of domination, how our truth becomes our ruler rather than our emancipation, how our confessions become the norms by which we are regulated.” (Brown 91). Throughout the book, not only did Eva say that she did not like talking about herself (73), but people who she would talk to would comment on the fact that she would not speak about herself like on page 67, “Eva, why won’t you talk about yourself?” Even the psychiatrist made the comment “they told me you wouldn’t talk. They said I wouldn’t get one word” (77).

            I think the way this is written is to give the reader a sense of the thoughts that were going through Eva’s mind. Throughout the book Eva keeps recalling/making connections with the people who kept asking her how she felt and to share her story. On page 77, it is pretty clear that Eva goes back and forth recalling times when people asked her the same questions, “How did it feel? Elvira asked/How did it feel? The psychiatrist asked/How did it feel Elvira asked.” Eva tries her best to make it clear that she does not want to speak about herself, “I don’t want to tell me story … why don’t you just go away”. Even when Eva explicitly says she does not want to speak, people still try to force her to do so. “Talk to me … you’re going to have to open up sometime, woman to somebody” (77) says the psychiatrist to Eva. I think that when Eva recalls people constantly trying to force her to speak she finds herself trying to protect herself more and more. By keeping silent and choosing to now share more than she wants to, Eva is making a conscious decision to not let anyone in. Because in the past Eva was not really able to prohibit men from invading her physically, mentally and emotionally, Eva is now in control of when to let people in and when to keep them distanced. 



Anne Dalke's picture

solace in silence?

what I really like here is your ability to use the ideas of a critic whom we read a while ago, to help you make sense of your frustration with a current text: Sommer warns us to be "respectful," not to think that we have the "right to know" what is going on w/ folks who choose not to tell us…and you are trying to adapt that message to your own confusions while reading Eva's Man. What I also like is that you drew on Wendy Brown's insights in this arena, as well as on the work of one of your classmates, to build your own case (you should create a bibliography, in which you cite her webpaper, as well as the texts by Jones, Sommer and Brown).

A few more aspects that we might talk about here. You say, early on, that "By writing in such a confusing manner, Eva is trying to get her point across and give the reader a sense of her message….By …choosing to be silent …she is trying to protect herself." Can you tease apart what Gayl Jones was trying to do in her writing, and what her character Eva was trying to do in her silence? Surely Jones drew on her own experience when creating Eva, but she is not her. She is the writer, and Eva's life is what she wrote.  Jones chose to create a character who choses not to tell her story. What difference might that extra layer make? Might acknowledging that difference make some kind of difference in the analysis you are doing here?

I have a similar sense of layering when you tell me that Eva says her psychiatrist "tells me I do not know how to separate the imagined memories from the real ones.” What is Eva thinking, do you think, when she gives that report? Does she have a sense of being able to separate the imagined from the real? Or is her point (or Jones' point? again, these are separable) that such separations are not possible--or that they don't matter, if the aim of the novel is, as you say, "to give the reader a sense of the thoughts that were going through Eva’s mind"?

But the real question I have for you arises from Sister Linda-Susan's visit to our class last week. You were the first one to ask her a question about what to do w/ all the voices that arise when we go silent: how to manage all these troubling stories that we can't help but hear, when we are quiet? This adds another layer to the claim you use to end this paper: that "by keeping silent …Eva is… in control." She may be controlling other people's access to her story. But what is happening to her, inside, when she is silent? How troubled is she by what arises there? How much solace does she find in her silence?