The first character in Possessing the Secret of Joy, is Tashi. She is the main focus of the story. Tashi was raised in the Olinka tribe in Africa. As a young woman she decides to undergo the initiation of facial scarring and female circumcision. In the tribe it is a ceremony. In reality it is mutilation. She has a horrible time coming to grips with what has happened to her. She says it takes a quarter of an hour just to pee. Having her menstrual cycle is horrendous and going through childbirth nearly kills her. She slowly sneaks into madness. The horrific events that took place, lead her on a journey of vengeance. She is made to think that she has a choice in taking part of the ritual, but in reality she was never in control over what was going to happen to her. Her journey through the entire book, is a journey of all emotions. She feels that a social injustice is being done to these young girls. Physically she is scarred for life as well as emotionally. Her actions lead her to a place where she has to face her spiritual life, as well.
Adam is Tashi's husband. He is a devoted Christian missionary. He finds Tashi lying on a mat covered with flies and sores on her. He takes her home to America as his wife. Adam struggles with how to deal with the emotional and physical wounds his wife has. He finds it hard to have a satisfying sexual relationship with her. Sex for her is always painful. Adam struggles with his spiritual journey because he begins to have an affair. We see Adam struggle to be the man, Tashi needs, and the man he needs to be.
M'Lissa is probably one of the most misunderstood characters throughout the whole story. When we first meet her, we think we can see why Tashi does what she does. M'Lissa is a tyrant in the village about girls having this done to them. She is seen as a traitor. The more we get to know her story, we can see her journey is one of heartbreak. She is raised to believe that female sexuality is a sin and condemned. Her mother had the mutilation done to her when she was a young girl. Her experience was horrific and traumatic. Her mother taught her it was not only a tradition but a great honor to have this done. She has all of these feeling deep down inside about what happened to her, but on the outside she has to be hard and stoic. She is taught that it is normal and admirable what is being done. At the beginning we see her as evil. As her story and her own journey unfolds, we see she is just another victim of this horrible tradition.
Alice Walker writes a heart wrenching story of what is considered a tradition and an honor. She tells the true story of what this horrible mutilation is doing to young girls and what it has done to them for generations. The injustice done to these young girls is almost to hard to bear. The journey that these three characters go on is just the tip of what this tradition is doing to young girls everyday.