Presenting the Problem in Alice Walker’s Possessing the Secret of Joy In 1992, Alice Walker published her novel Possessing the Secret of Joy. It tells the story of an African female named Tashi, who is from Olinka, a place where females commonly practice genital mutilation. Throughout the novel, Tashi is torn between her Olinkan culture and her American culture. She has married an American; however, she chooses to honor her heritage and undergo the “female circumcision” as a teenager.
The novel’s main conflict is centered upon how female genital mutilation physically and mentally degrades women. Alice Walker presents this traumatic issue by writing the novel in various characters’ voices: Tashi, Adam, Olivia, Evelyn, Pierre, Lisette, Benny, Mzee, and M’Lissa. The novel begins by presenting the horrifying risks and consequences that are associated with the practice of female genital mutilation. At the beginning of the novel, Walker allows her reader to understand that Tashi has witnessed the horrific death of her sister which occurred because of female cutting.
Olivia informs the reader that Tashi’s emotions were deeply affected by her favorite sister’s bleeding to death that “the sight of her own blood terrifies her” (Walker 9). The audience is also informed very early in the novel that Tashi is seeing a psychiatrist which allows us to understand her crumbling mental state. Another problem with FGM is that it allows the female to experience awful pain not only during the surgery, but also during sex with her husband. According to the Olinkans, this would hinder females in taking part in actions of infidelity.
This procedure would also establish a man’s hierarchy within the relationship giving them the opportunity to feel more manly by penetrating and forcing a hole in their wife’s sewn up genital area. Tashi is torn between the American way and the African way of life but ultimately chooses to have the procedure done following her culture’s belief. The audience also examines how everyone in the novel is affected by Tashi’s decision. After Tashi has the procedure and becomes mad, Adam takes part in an affair with Lisette and has a son named Pierre: a situation that may have never occurred before the mutilation.
Dividing the character’s thoughts and actions into chapters of the novel was Alice Walker’s elegiac attempt of playing down the horrible and down-right wrongness of female genital mutilation. Besides the changing the characters’ viewpoints, thoughts, and actions in the novel, Walker also includes many scenes that are flashbacks from the past. This stylistic idea of constantly referring to the past is parallel to the unchangeable, ageless, set beliefs of circumcising female genitals in the African nation.
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