According to the dictionary, motherhood is the state or experience of having and raising a child (“Motherhood”). During slavery the children were not born to their mother they were born to the capital; each child that was born meant more wealth to the slave owners. White slave owners were not charged with rape when it regarded a Black female slave because they had no agency over their own body. For a while immigrant women were penalized for having children with black men resulting in the women and children becoming slaves.
A child is dependent on his or her mother in order to survive and make bonds with his r her mother; and in both novels the mother was not given the chance to fully do so. Motherhood was challenged in the novels Corregidora by Gayl Jones and Beloved by Toni Morrison. For Ursa, the main character, in Corregidora it was words that changed her view on motherhood and led her into situations that deleted her options to be a mother.
Ursa is reminded of a sentence she will never forget and it impacts her life and her actions through generational impact, black patriarchy, sexual violence. In Beloved Sethe, the main character, did not want her children to experience what she went through, so she decided o remove herself as a mother. The experiences Sethe faced lead her to make actions that challenged her motherhood and what it meant to be a mother. The novels Corregidora by Gayl Jones and Beloved by Toni Morrison focuses on past experiences and how these events shape a character’s life and actions.
Corregidora tells a story about a young woman named Ursa who has her past directly impact and be involved in her present life. We are introduced to Ursa who is married to a man named Mutt but they get divorced after she has a miscarriage he caused. Ursa moves in with Tadpole; who she eventually gets n a relationship with. Ursa has frequent flashbacks of conversations with her mother, grandmother, and her great grandmother reminding her that her job is to “make generations” (Jones 22).
We follow Ursa’s life through many relationships with other characters in the novel. Generational impact in Ursa’s life is the words that she was told that she needed to have children especially a daughter to constantly have evidence of the pain and more the Corregidora women went through. In a conversation with Tadpole Ursa is asking him how her scar looks and he says it looks good and proceeds to ask Ursa what she wants. Ursa responds, “What all us Corregidora women want. Have been taught to want. To make generations” (Jones 22).
The purpose of this response lets readers know that these words that were ingrained in Ursa completely shaped her life. Jones word choice when writing “taught to want” is a foreshadow of showing us what Ursa’s life has to consist of. Her life had to guide her to have children because the documents were erased during slavery, but if there is repeated living proof of what the Corregidora women went through it will go a long way. In addition, black patriarchy is a result that Ursa had to endure ecause of what her job was to do, which was known from her young age.
Black patriarchy is shown in this novel when we are introduced to Mutt because he wanted to have complete of Ursa and his words took complete control of the tragic event where Ursa was not able to have kids. In the first chapter we are introduced to a black couple, Mutt and Ursa, arguing outside of Happy’s Cafe. Jones writes, “He didn’t like for me to sing after we were married because he said that’s why he married me so he could support me. ” Mutt later responds, “I’m your husband. You listen to me, not to them” (Jones 3).
As a reader we see Mutt is a epresentation of black men wanting to have ownership over the women he is supposed to love. In the black community, black men are expected to have control over his wife and be the dominant one. Mutts repeated reminder to Ursa that he should have power over her; causes Ursa to fall into accepting abuse from Mutt. Mutt also took away the words Ursa lived by that was passed down from many generations to continue to “make generations” Mutt pushed Ursa down a set of stairs, which led her to have a miscarriage and to have a hysterectomy.
The damage of this event in Ursa’s life impacted her negatively ecause she felt her job was to continue her lineage, and now she is not able to do that she does not know what to do for a while. We see how Ursa is supposed to be obedient in the eyes of Mutt and in a patriarchal system Black women are forced to follow the rules given and that should not be the case. In Ephesians 5:22 it states, “Wives, be subordinate to their husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is head of his wife just as Christ is head of the church, he himself the savior of the body… (5:22).
From early times it has been said that a woman is supposed to be submissive to a man. Men hold the power, nd women are limited due to discrimination. Ursa is an example of black patriarchy because the male gender trumps the female gender, and Mutt says this to Ursa when he states that he is her husband, so what he says goes. Gayl Jones discusses the issue of sexual violence through Ursa’s relationships and Ursa’s mother’s relationship with a man named Martin. Ursa’s mother states, “He kept asking if he could touch me certain places, and I kept saying yes.
And all of a sudden it was like I felt the whole man in me, just felt the whole man in there. I pushed him out.. t was like a surprise. I didn’t go ee him anymore” (Jones 117-118). Martin raped Ursa’s mother, and the reason she kept Ursa was because she had to continue her lineage and make generations and Ursa was her chance. Jones intentionally let us into Ursa’s mother’s memory letting us know she had to accept the sexual abuse because each girl was living evidence of what her ancestors went through. When fast forwarding to Ursa’s life we she just like her mother, she is taken advantage of and reminded that her vagina is her value.
A moment in the novel where we see Ursa be sexual violated is when she is having sex with Tadpole and she is not pleased. Tadpole says to Ursa, “I want to help you, Ursa… Let me get up in your pussy… As long as a woman got a hole, she can fuck” (Jones 82). Jones has the readers visualize sexual abuse from the words of a man who had a sense of power over a woman. Jones also wants us to focus that in no way did she silence the men in Ursa’s life because from her young age she was told inexplicitly that she was born to have children and the men in her life reminded her of that when they remind her that she is only good for sex.
The power of words is also shown to us in a novel Kindred by Octavia Butler where Rufus, a slave owner, ells Alice, a slave, and Edana, the main character who repeatedly saves him, that they are one person because all he needs is for them to create children. Raping a black woman was common during this time and it strips her of agency through sexual violence. Butler writes, “I was beginning to realize that he loved the woman – to her misfortune. There was no shame in raping a black woman, but there could be shame in loving one” (124).
The power Rufus held as a slave master made his words even more powerful because he was able to get what he wanted. In the novel Beloved by Toni Morrison we are introduced to he family who lives in 124 Bluestone Road. This novel takes place in Cincinnati, Ohio during 1873. Sethe is a former slave who has been living with her daughter Denver. Sethe lived with her mother in law Baby Suggs who later dies. Sethes two sons, Howard and Buglar run away after Sethe kills her baby known as Beloved. In the house 124 there is a baby ghost that disrupts the home.
Later on in the novel Sethe and Denver are introduced to a grown woman sitting on a stoop who is assumed to be the adult version of Beloved. The past that Sethe endured during slavery caused her to kill her daughter Beloved, nd her relationship with her daughter Denver to have a foundation of fear, and it caused her daughter to yearn for her mother’s love in anyway she can. The traumatization from slavery made it hard for woman to create this bond with their child because it is possible that their child could be taken from them and sold in the matter of a blink of their eye.
In reading The History of Mary Prince, a West Indian Slave by Mary Prince it states, “The idea of being sold away from my mother and Miss Betsey was so frightful, that I dared not trust myself to think about it. Our mother, weeping as she went, alled me away with the children Hannah and Dinah, and we took the road that led to Hamble Town, which we reached about four o’clock in the afternoon. We followed my mother to the market-place, where she placed us in a row against a large house, with our backs to the wall and our arms folded across our breasts.
I, as the eldest, stood first, Hannah next to me, then Dinah; and our mother stood beside, crying over us” (Prince 3-4). We are given a scene where Mary Prince’s mother has to take her own children to the auction block; where she watches her children be bid on and sold just like property. A mother has no ay over her children and if she tried to she would be punished. As a mother one would not want to wake up and say this is the day I will probably never see my children again and want to live.
As a Black woman during slavery you were open to sexual, physical, and emotional abuse from her slave owner and the mistress. Sethe was in a shed behind 124 Bluestone Road, where she was in the act of killing all her children. The school teacher, his nephew, the sheriff, and the slave catcher walked towards the shed to see, “Inside, two boys bled in the sawdust and dirt at the feet of a nigger woman holding a blood- soaked hild to her chest with one hand and an infant by the heels in the other” (Morrison 149).
This scene is when Paul D finds out what Sethe did years ago. As a reader one would want to say how can a mother do such a thing, but we are also told how Baby Suggs, Sethe’s mother in law, through aboard every baby that was conceived through rape by a white man. This was common during slavery times to get rid of or kill their children because they know what slavery consists of and a mother never wants to see her child in pain or hurting and not be able to do anything about it.
As a result, of Sethe’s actions based on the past she took away her fulfillment she would have received being a mother. Sethe’s two boys ran away once they were healthy and she was left with Denver who knew what happened and hoped it did not happen again. A mother is supposed to be there to nurture, support, and direct her children onto the right path. Sethe’s experience did not give her that option making motherhood invisible in many cases.