Possessing the Secret of Joy advances two major ideas simultaneously: African girls and women are victimized by traditions that do not value the life of girls and women, and Africa should not always be viewed as a panacea of cultural “goodness.” Walker, through Tashi’s story, looks at African traditions and rituals and says that not everything in one’s cultural past should be honored or kept alive.
The novel carefully details how pervasive and destructive the ritual of female circumcision is in several African ethnic groups. In showing one woman’s experience with the effects of the ritual and how Tashi resolves to symbolically end it when she murders M’Lissa, Walker suggests that no cultural tradition is so monolithic that it cannot be defeated.
To indicate how terrible the ritual is, Walker devotes significant amounts of narrative space to graphic renderings of how the ritual is performed, the instruments used, the physical consequences on the subjects of the ritual, and the gynecological problems subjects bear for the remainder of their lives. Walker, in providing such graphic details, insists that readers know and understand the severity of the ritual and its toll on human lives. The novel begins with Tashi saying that she is dead.
As if the rendering of the physical aspects of the ritual is not enough, the novel also charts the heavy psychological toll it has on women. The novel becomes a record of the...
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