Critical Context (Masterplots II: American Fiction Series)
The purpose of Possessing the Secret of Joy is not only to indict the practice of female circumcision but also to make the physical removal of the clitoris a metaphor for many other forms of oppression and diminishment. Walker’s novel is a powerful feminist expression as well as a forceful consideration of tyranny, no matter what shape it takes, and is equally applicable to both genders. As such, it deserves to be read from both perspectives.
Walker earlier explored the nature of being black and being female in such novels as The Color Purple (1982). Of equal importance in her fiction is the black struggle for identity in a white-dominated culture, a theme taken up not only in Possessing the Secret of Joy but also in her earlier novels Meridian (1976) and The Third Life of Grange Copeland (1970). In The Temple of My Familiar (1989), Walker examines African American spirituality, a theme that in part also informs Possessing the Secret of Joy. Throughout Walker’s distinguished career as a writer, women and women’s roles, ambitions, psyches, and sorrows have occupied a central place in her vision. In her nonfiction analysis of the African American female literary tradition, In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens: Womanist Prose (1983), Walker seeks to identify the many women whose voices inform hers and those of other contemporary African American women writers.