Little Gold Piece: The Production of Fetish Value in Corregidora

Dr. Alia Pan, Center for Race & Gender

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The novel Corregidora, by Gayl Jones published in 1975, presents us with four generations of women who, although spatially and temporally far removed from the plantation, continue to live with the horrific slave past. Narrated by a blues singer named Ursa and set in Kentucky, the novel tells how Corregidora, a Brazilian plantation owner, removed Ursa’s great grandmother Dorita from the coffee fields so that he could rape and prostitute her. Corregidora transforms Dorita from a body whose value is determined by the labor she performs into an object of desire whose value is no longer related to her labor power

In buying a slave, plantation owners purchased the slave’s potential to perform labor, or what Marx refers to as “labor-power.” Whereas male slaves were sought primarily for the work they could perform in the fields, the fertile, female body offered owners three registers from which they could extract value: manual labor, reproductive labor, and sex labor (prostitution). The novel Corregidora, by Gayl Jones published in 1975, presents us with four generations of women who, although spatially and temporally far removed from the plantation, continue to live with the horrific slave past. Narrated by a blues singer named Ursa and set in Kentucky, the novel tells how Corregidora, a Brazilian plantation owner, removed Ursa’s great grandmother Dorita from the coffee fields so that he could rape and prostitute her. Corregidora transforms Dorita from a body whose value is determined by the labor she performs into an object of desire whose value is no longer related to her labor power. My reading demonstrates how the plantation confers value and privilege and I argue that Dorita’s passionate attachment to her elevated status of fetish causes her to participate in the maintenance of this fetish value. Thus, Dorita binds her daughters to the plantation past by compelling them to stand as witnesses to slavery and reaffirm the value that she once held and refuses to relinquish.