I assess Walker latest novel, Possessing the Secret of Joy, as a problematic
representation of infibulation, one of three different forms of the so-called female
circumcision. Briefly, some of my questions and concerns include: (1) The life and mental
health of the African protagonist, Tashi, are entirely determined by the absence of her clitoris.
Does that mean that "circumcised" women/African women are mental wrecks? Tashi is, in fact,
reduced to her clitoris, that is, in my view, to nothing. (2) The African woman has no
(positive) identity--she is stripped of her name and renamed in the United States. (3) Though
appropriated, she seems to be a burden to everybody, including herself. (4) Walker does not
cast the subject in a thoroughly credible, investigative social and cultural context; her main
source is a dead, white European anthropologist, rather than African women and men. (5) Tashi's "case" demonstrates the benefits, perhaps primacy, of "civilized" society (the Western
world) over a backward, even barbaric setting (dark Africa). For an excellent discussion of Walker's vision of Africa and African women, see Omofolabo Ajayi article, "Transcending
the Boundaries of Power and Imperialism: Writing Gender, Constructing Knowledge" in
Ronke Oyewumi, eds., African Women and Imperialism ( Trenton, N.J.: Africa
World Press, forthcoming).
For Walker's definition of womanism. see In Search of Our Mothers' Gardens, xi-xii.
This book is the short story with the same title included in Walker's collection In Love and Trouble: Stories of Black Women.
The people Suwelo calls Kalahari Bushmen call themselves Basarwa.
Some reviews by women not previously mentioned include: Carol Anshaw, "The
Practice of Cruelty," rev. of Possessing the Secret of Joy, by
Alice Walker ( Chicago Tribune, 21 June 1992: sec. 14.3); Karen Grigsby Bates, "Possessing the Secrets of $uccess: Toni
Morrison is the Senior Member of a Triumphant Trio of Best-selling Writers" ( Emerge: Black
America's Newsmagazine 4.1 October 1992): 47-9.
Pearl Cleage, "A Stunning Journey for
'Joy,'" rev. of Possessing the Secret of Joy, by
Alice Walker Atlanta Journal June 14, 1992:
N8); Diedre Donahue, "Walker's Disturbing 'Secret': Novelist explores trauma of the
mutilation of women"," rev. of Possessing the Secret of Joy, by
Alice Walker, ( USA Today 18 June 1992): D1; Janette Turner Hospital, "What They Did to Tashi"," rev. of Possessing the
Secret of Joy, by
Alice Walker ( New York Times Book Review 28 June 1992: 11-12); Susan McHenry
, "A Dialogue with Alice Walker"," Emerge: Black America's Newsmagazine 3.10, September 1992: 9-10); Patricia A. Smith, "'Secret of Joy': Walker's Tender, Terrifying
Tour de Force," rev. of Possessing the Secret of Joy, by
Alice Walker, Boston Globe ( 6 July 1992): 38. Some reviews by men not previously mentioned include: Charles R. Larson, "Against the Tyranny of Tradition"," rev. Possessing the Secret of Joy, by
( Washington Post 5 July 1992: WBK1, 14); Mel Watkins, "A Woman in Search of Her Past
and Herself"," rev. of Possessing the Secret of Joy, by
Alice Walker ( New York Times 24 July