In Possessing the Secret of Joy, Alice Walker displays her evolving inventiveness in telling a story. The novel is a series of interior monologues interspersed with a few letters that describe the story’s major events and the major character’s interpretations of and reactions to those events.
Tashi Evelyn Johnson, as the novel’s central focus, has the first interior monologue, which begins “I did not realize for a long time that I was dead.” Subsequent monologues by Tashi and others reveal what leads Tashi to this assessment of her life. Tashi’s opening line gives in miniature Tashi’s state of mind. Walker’s attention to the states of mind of characters provides the novel’s structure.
Shortly into the novel, as Tashi tells about her life, the final major events are revealed. Tashi is in prison awaiting her execution for murdering M’Lissa, a tsunga, the Olinkan woman who has become celebrated in her own country and in the rest of the Western world for her life’s work as a circumciser of females. The novel’s task is to show what led Tashi to kill and why M’Lissa is so celebrated.
As Tashi tells about key moments in her life, she emphasizes the fact that many people believe her to be psychotic. She then begins the process of talking about the vast amount of formal therapy she has received and how none of it has been effective in helping her. If she is insane, then her emotional and mental illness must be connected to why she is in prison awaiting execution for murdering M’Lissa. If so, what did M’Lissa do that could create so much damage in...
(The entire section is 664 words.)