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Inherited Silences in Eva's Man

sara.gladwin's picture

Eva is a character whose life seems filled with silences, particularly her own. Often she will refuse to answer, refuse to explain. While I do not intend to take away her agency or voice through my interpretation of Eva’s Man, I wanted to focus particularly on what I see as inherited silences; silences that seem to have been passed down from Eva’s mother, Marie, to Eva. This mother-daughter transition represents a circle of life. This also emphasizes other circles that are present within the book and the relationships portrayed. The style of writing also works to emphasize “cycles.”

Throughout the novel Gayl Jones continually makes use of fragmented story telling, sometimes leaving little or no transition between each story. It becomes impossible to untangle each fragment and the reader is forced to see the way in which nothing is unrelated. Jones refusal to write cohesively is both inviting and uninviting. She mirrors Eva’s own contradictory emotions of desire and refusal. She gives the reader the pieces of the story but refuses to order them or explain them. Readers have to choose how to negotiate reading Eva’s Man. They either have to book at arms length or they can choose to seek clarity; choose intimacy with Eva. In a way, Eva treats the reader like she treats the men and women in her life. We are both a refused and desired audience.

            One of the many instances of fragmentation occurs when Eva’s story is interwoven with a story about her mother. Eva is being bombarded with the question of “how did it feel?” (77). Simultaneously, she tells a story of her mother picking up the phone to a man who kept asking her how it felt when her husband fucked her. Her mother slams down the phone, and therefore refuses to answer the question. Similarly, Eva stays silent when asked, “How does it feel?” By telling her experiences along with her mother’s experiences, Eva links both their stories and their silence together. Consistently throughout Eva’s story both she and her mother will remain silent. Eva inherits her own silence from those around her, particularly from her mother. “Mama said nothing” and “I said nothing” are common phrases used to describe many of the responses of Eva and her mother.

Jones also makes use of an egg metaphor. “’Egg’s the same thing a woman’s got up inside her,’ he said. ‘That’s why it smells that way. It smells like fuck.’” (18). In a literal sense, the egg has a fragile shell with a gooey middle, and can be interpreted as a representation of Eva’s own mental state. However, Davis’s use of egg can be interpreted as a symbol of a woman’s reproductive organs as well. The egg becomes a possibility, either representing the continuation of life or the discontinuation of life. It also reflects the circle of life, the way in which something is inherited. In addition, by associating an egg to the smell “inside her” and the smell of “fuck,” the egg is automatically tied to sexuality. Davis reinforces the fact that human reproduction is literally tied to sex intercourse.

The egg metaphor is continued in another fragment in which Eva and Davis are talking in the hotel.

 “’Do you like oysters?’ I asked.

He nodded.

‘At Easter we used to put a hold in eggs and suck them hollow.’

‘What does that have to do with oysters?’

I feel like an egg sucked hollow and then filled with raw oysters, I was thinking.” (66).

On one level, Eva seems to be implying that she has been “sucked hollow.” However, she continues to say that she has been filled with raw oysters. By allowing herself to be sucked hollow by Davis, she opens herself to being filled. The relationship becomes reciprocal because she is giving something away while simultaneously receiving something back. Furthermore, what she receives are raw oysters, the cliché of all aphrodisiac foods.  Davis has not just sucked her and left her feeling hollow, but filled her with sexual desire. In addition, Eva answers his question in her head, but does not speak it aloud. Instead, she continues on to ask Davis if he likes oysters, and which kind he prefers; raw or cooked. By not speaking this aloud, Eva is testing his response when she asks what kind of Oysters he likes better. When he responds that he likes raw oysters better, the kind that Eva has been filled with, she responds with “lets have a party… the two of us” (66). By asking Davis to choose between cooked and raw oysters, Eva seems to be indirectly asking whether or not he likes her. When he answers “correctly,” Eva responses with the desire to have a party, the desire to celebrate. The egg-oyster relationship implies a relationship between the continuation of life and sexual desire. Being filled again seems crucial as well. When retelling the story of the Queen Bee to Davis, Eva says  “…It must’ve been hard, though. She must’ve been sucked hollow. She must’ve had nothing left” (73).

The connection between sexuality and reproduction is continued when Eva talks about her belly. The last lines in the same scene that she questions Davis’ about his oyster preference are “I said nothing. He laid me down and sucked on my belly” (67). Often she will refer to Davis’ placement of his hands on her stomach; “But his hands made rhythms in my belly” (20), “…and put his whole hand on my belly” (49), “He patted my belly” (61), “He put his thigh across my belly to feel me, nothing more, then he felt my thighs and my belly” (62), ”I thought he’d been looking at me, but he hadn’t. He was watching my belly, stroking it again” (118), “I punched my belly swollen with too much eating in” (122), “he held me around the belly,” and “He rubbed my belly, patted my belly, thumped my belly, drank. I drank” (127). While there is a sensuality attached to the way Davis handles her belly, the fascination with her belly is also tied to the act of being “sucked” and therefore implicitly tied back to the metaphor of the Egg. The consistent focus on Eva’s belly throughout the book is confusing. I am making the argument that the belly, like the egg, stands as a marker of possibility. If a woman where to be pregnant, the belly/uterus is literally the place where the fetus will grow. This fetus/belly represents multiple possibilities for both the continuation and discontinuation of life.

I thought that writing this essay would help to clarify Eva’s story because I would be taking a closer look at the circles within the story and putting the pieces together. However, I am more confused than when I started. By looking at the Egg/Oyster metaphor and the references to Eva’s belly, I began to see other connections not previously apparent. One question that I keep coming back to is the possibility that Eva is actually pregnant with either Davis’ or Hunn’s child. There are several brief interchanges that occur over the usage of rubbers. It is not always clear whether she is talking to Davis or Hunn, but it is apparent that the two people involved did not end up using condoms. There are also several passages where someone is questioning Eva as to whether or not she has taken their rubbers. There are also several scenes that focus around Eva’s constant going to the bathroom while in Prison. While it is implied that she is using this time for masturbation, frequent urination is a symptom of pregnancy. One of the times in which she describes being on the toilet, she also refers to herself several times as a “flower” or “rose” and says “he stings me between my breasts” (151). She also calls herself the “queen bee.” A connection is created between the act of sex and reproduction through flower/bee imagery. While none of these passages and phrases provide clarity; they complicate the relationship between sex and reproduction. When I looked up Eva’s name, I discovered her name commonly means life, living one or mother of life. Furthermore, her mother’s name is Marie, which is the French version of Mary, meaning bitter. While the meaning behind the name Mary is unclear, the connection to motherhood and the Virgin Mary is a well-known and retold story. The connections between Eva, sex and reproduction are undeniable, but making sense of those connections seems to be a speculative and impossible endeavor.



Anne Dalke's picture

the wandering mind...

Like Eva's Man, which is fragmented and--as it goes on--increasingly incoherent, your paper touches down on a number of themes without tying them neatly together. You begin w/ the notion of "inherited silences," of Eva learning/mirroring her mother's "saying nothing." And you end with the images of being sucked, of eggs and oysters; you note, too, the focus on bellies. You could have linked these images of pregnancy and reproduction back to Eva's mother, to her being the child of that mother, whose life mirrors her own…

but you don't.

So I would say, that in the same way that "Jones's refusal to write cohesively is both inviting and uninviting," so too is your scattered, fragmented paper--inviting me into the gaps, to fill and explicate them. Being "hollow," you say, opens us "to being filled." "The belly, like the egg" (like the gap-filled text?) "stands as a marker of possibility." But how to negotiate these gaps? How am I to get, for instance, from "“Mama said nothing” to "Jones also makes use of an egg metaphor"? I'm not sure (though it does occur to me that Eva was once an egg in her mother….hmmm….)

Where I go w/ these questions is into a space between the two alternatives you offer readers of Eva's Man, who, you say, "are both a refused and desired audience. We  "either have to book at arms length," or we "can choose to seek clarity; choose intimacy with Eva." We have other alternatives, though, offered by other critics we have read this semester. There's Doris Sommer's advice on reading I, Rigoberta, for instance: show respect by not working too hard to understand someone who insists on keeping her secrets. Perhaps what Jones is showing us in this text--with your "search for connections" leaving you "more confused than when you started"--is that "making sense of those connections" is indeed a "speculative and impossible endeavor." Perhaps what you've really discovered--in discovering that such connections don't make sense, is that…

they don't make sense. That the human brain wanders…(as you yourself have written so wonderfully elsewhere, in your reflections on divergent thinking!)