Possessing the Secret of Joy Characters

Alice Walker

The Characters

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

Tashi, who was only a sketch of a character in The Color Purple (1982) and The Temple of My Familiar (1989), is one of the more memorable characters to people Walker’s fiction. Because Walker chooses to present her characters’ traits from a subjective perspective, by using the device of the interior monologue, Tashi is able to say that which she has been unable to express to others, including her husband, Adam, and her sister-in-law, Olivia.

Moreover, through interior monologues, Walker shows how Tashi deals with a lifetime of pain and suffering that has its genesis in the female circumcision ritual of the Olinka. Tashi’s character is portrayed as “damaged goods,” and she tells the extent of the damage and how it has altered almost every aspect of her life.

A major problem for Tashi is that she thinks of herself as insane because no one is able to understand the horror of her childhood and how physical and emotional scarring has made her a shell of a woman. Tashi feels inadequate and unloved—even though she intellectually knows that Adam loves her—and less than whole.

As she revisits through memory what the tsunga did to her, her sister Dura, and other young girls, Tashi becomes obsessed with analyzing what the circumcision ritual means and why it continues. Her reflection becomes an examination of the impact of the ritual on herself and on her culture, and it is through examination, facing the horror directly, that she resolves to do something about it. When she decides to act, to return to Africa and kill M’Lissa, she gains the first semblance of an authentic self that can live and be a part of the world again. In Africa, when she confronts M’Lissa directly and asks her why she mutilated girls, Tashi comes to understand the power of the ritual in her culture and why it must be stopped. She believes that her own death is a small price to pay to save some young girls’...

(The entire section is 798 words.)

Possessing the Secret of Joy The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Tashi/Evelyn, the central character, is a woman caught between the world she knew as a child—tribal Africa—and the European and American cultures. As a woman who symbolically bridges these two worlds with her marriage to Adam, Tashi cannot cope with nor understand what has been asked of her as a woman of the Olinka tribe: to give up her sexual identity through the removal of her clitoris and labia, a ritual that was meant to bond her to her tribal sisters but that also separated her from her complete self through the erasure of her ability to respond sexually. Nor can Tashi fully transform herself into an American black woman, because she carries her Africanness with her in ways that her American-born husband cannot fathom. Her madness stems not only from her circumcision but also from her situation in an alien white culture that cannot understand who she is. In changing her name to Evelyn, Tashi attempts to become another woman, to cut the Africanness out of herself, thus denying herself full expression as a black African woman. Tashi’s strength comes when she sees what she and her two cultures have done to her; her solution is to choose to kill M’Lissa, the woman who circumcised her. The murder enables Tashi to recapture her femaleness by obliterating the person who destroyed its outward symbols.

Like his wife, Adam is a person caught between worlds. As an African American, he represents the legacy of slavery. His time in Africa as the child of missionaries introduces him explicitly to his blackness, and he seeks in the African Tashi a reconnection to that heritage. Ironically, Tashi has been circumcised so that she could be the wife a tribal African male would prefer. It is clear, however, that Adam is a split person, divided forever from his Africanness by his slave heritage and by his acculturation in a predominantly white society. Adam’s desire to become truly blended with the white culture that has oppressed him...

(The entire section is 796 words.)

Possessing the Secret of Joy Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Tashi Evelyn Johnson

Tashi Evelyn Johnson, the protagonist. She is born in Africa and reared until she is a young woman as a member of the Olinka tribe, then moves to America, where she lives for most of her adult years. She returns to Africa when she is middle-aged. She intends to murder M’Lissa, who performed a female circumcision on her. Tashi experiences a number of cultural shocks in her life, from the British takeover of her country to moving to America and trying to adjust to being an “African American.” In her moves, she marries, has a slightly retarded son, learns that her husband has had a longtime affair with a white woman, and remembers a series of Olinka rituals that left her scarred for life and killed her sister. These rituals, which included genital and facial mutilation, haunt her every waking hour. In the process of making adjustments, she loses her mind.

Adam

Adam, Tashi’s husband, who grew up in Olinka. He is, on the surface, a good husband and provider. Tashi’s childhood scars and her ever present responses to them create a rift in their marriage. He is the adopted son of missionaries who attempted to convince the Olinkans to give up ritual mutilation.

Olivia

Olivia, Adam’s sister. She has been Tashi’s best friend since they were prepubescent girls in Africa. She tried to convince Tashi not to allow herself to be circumcised. She understands some of the strange behavior that Tashi exhibits in her middle age and helps her deal with the medical problems that result from the...

(The entire section is 650 words.)

Possessing the Secret of Joy Characters

Walker's central character is patterned after the archetypal hero on a hero's journey. Tashi leaves civilization, tracks her tribe's warriors...

(The entire section is 723 words.)