Reading Gayl Jones Corregidora: The Body Text

[By Goyland Williams]

Corregidora women are haunted. The trauma is evident. Entrenched in a narrative
marred by the legacy of slavery, oppression, and the ghost of the past, Gayl
Jones explores what Susan Sontag calls “collective instruction” of traumatic
narratives that are inscribed upon the flesh of the Corregidora women. Lines
become blurred. The personal, familial, and collective remembrances of violent
histories collide. In her novel, Jones creates a family legacy of remembering
such trauma through passing down stories of terror and horror to future
generations. In this moment, remembering and witnessing are kept to make
visible both the scars and the blood.


the novel’s main protagonist is offered up as a model for dealing with and
bearing the existential burden that more often than not, scars and even damages
the faint of heart. Beginning at the young age of five, Ursa’s Great Gram and
Gram began sharing their experiences as enslaved prostitutes owned by the
Portuguese slave owner Corregidora. She vividly and unflinchingly recalls her
Grams advice to keep visible both the scars and the blood in order to “keep
what we need to bear witness” (Jones 72). Bodies remember. The repetition of
the family story of enslavement cannot be erased or burned out; it is deeply
marked into the seared, ripped-apart, and divided flesh. While histories may be
sanitized and purified, the Corregidora women brings forth their bodies as
witness to the trauma, and thus relives it through the repetition. 
it is Ursa who must contend with the past of her female matriarchs encounter
with sexual and physical slavery. It is she who must salvage their stories from
silence. The passing down of stories is a vow that the women take through
biological perpetuation and storytelling of the past. Afterall, “they can burn
the papers but they can’t burn conscious, Ursa” (22).  What Ursa knew and the Corregidora women by
extension, is that while Western culture privileges the written texts, there
exists a community of people (black) who didn’t have access to systematic
texts. Bodies are texts. They are deeply inscribed with narratives that are
marked up on the flesh. Bodies can be read. Ursa’s own flesh is indication that
even if texts are burned, the body exists as proof of those painful memories.