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Visual narration: Cinematic Projection in Alice Walker’s Possessing the Secret of Joy

Updated on May 23, 2012

Discovering appropriate strategies to communicate covert messages aesthetically constitutes one of the crucial concerns of the present day literary artist because the mounting complexities of life demand a technique capable of projecting the inner and outer hues of human existence adequately. The simple traditional method of narration has become ineffectual. This exigency has led to a search for evocative and visual and cinematic metaphors for a narrative strategy that would raise new meanings from the ashes of old presuppositions. Fortunately for the literary artists of today, the cinematic technique has extended the horizon for portraying the composite and heterogeneous feelings and experience of life visualised from various angles. The newly established system through expansion, repetition and compression unveils the simultaneity, contrast and equivalency of events. In fiction the difference between telling and showing had been felt by various writers. The significance of the ‘camera eye’ and ‘focus’ is enhanced and implemented by the modern literary artist.

Alice Walker in her different novels has employed the cinematic technique to project the integration and disintegration of individuals. One of the significant benefits of the technique is that it reveals and yet conceals facts as per the convenience of the expert writer\director. The complex means of interrogation and utterance in the novel also chart the subtle patterns for re-assessing the major ethical commitments founded on the drive to secure justice for women.

Alice Walker’s Possessing the Secret of Joy can be superficially labelled as a revenge novel, but it rises above the humdrum genre because of the permanent psychological and physical maiming f the female protagonist Tashi through the cruel ad debasing Afrcan ritual of ‘circumcision’ or ‘initiation’. The fabric of Tashi’s tragic tale is patterned by other motifs created by Adam her husband, Olivia her sister-in-law, Benny her retarded son Pierre. Adam’s other son from Lisette amd M’Lissa, the tsunga or the tribal midwife and a witch doctor. Varied integrated forces are specified through a fictional account that is visual. The novel consists of twenty chapters and each chapter presents the view-point of a single character expressed through a varying length of either five crisp lines or five long pages. The positioning and the movements of the camera pans the “thought picture” of a single character through his/her camera-eye to focus on a distinct field of vision that evokes specific emotional responses in the reader/viewer. Varied shots of the same event projected from the angle of either Tashi or Adam or Olivia, monitor the point of view of the reader. Repeated reference to Tashi’s crying by Tashi, Olivia and Adam and the village elders creates a multidimensional picture, meanderingly retold in the tradition of black folk culture. The repetition, commonly used in cinematic technique, not only reinforces the emotive significance of the incident but also transforms it into a metaphor. The linear narrative, disrupted by different speakers, varies the version either to communicate the feeling of a series of pictures or to fill up the blanks in the story and offer conceptual wholeness.

The narration in the novel is generally monologic, but divergent voices interrupt and re-inscribe the story through cinematic-cuts and transitions that are introduced in separate chapters and sections of the novel. Walker in Possessing seldom uses straight-cuts that propel the action smoothly in a linear direction to further the plot; her preference is either for cross-cuts that frame antithetical situations. The focus on the peaceful environment of Mizee’s home is specially shifted to the violent death of Dura, Tashi’s sister, which according to Tashi, was murder; Olinkans rejoice and welcome the missionaries but Tashi remains overwhelmed by sorrow. The strategy plays a significant role in stationing the reader at a vantage point and enabling him to witness the scene, similar to cinema viewing.

In movies, the opening scene is normally presented through the establishing shot, a long range view that allows the viewer a territorial framework in which they come to understand subsequent action. The first shot in Possessing focuses on the image of death. It is followed by a metaphorical framework that narrates the story of Baba and his co-wife Lala. Despised and ignored by her husband , Lala learns to love herself. Her self-confidence makes her beautiful; she regains her husband’s affection. This becomes the cause of conflict between Baba and his co-wife Lala. Unable to stand the friction, Lara happily dies by drowning herself. The triangle of love in the myth enables the reader to understand the subsequent action and the theme. In the novel, Tashi, Adam and Lissette from the three points of triangle M’Lissa, the evil factor is peripheral to the central theme and yet the extraneous evil vitiates Tashi’s life which in turn eclipses the happiness of every character closely connected with Tashi. Thus the story is about Tashi’s metaphorical death, metaphorical regeneration and physical death through the firing squad. She dies a martyr’s death. The initiatory myth establishes the dominant motif and it is not only the one that walker employs, but like Tony Morrison she creates many myths associated with love-making, circumcision, amking of a Tsunga and death of tsunga. Through the formation of myths, Walker relates and establishes new images of the inner and the outer world.

In this way,Walker through mirroring images that make ‘seeing’ possible. The community of readers re-discover the meaning of ‘possessing the secret of joy’ by looking into their own lives via Tashi’s. The cinematic representations in the novel translate abstract experiences into concrete and the narrated events into visible facts.


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      IntegrityYes 5 years ago

      Have a good week, Anupma.

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      IntegrityYes 5 years ago

      You are very welcome,beautiful lady.

    • anupma profile image

      Dr Anupma Srivastava 5 years ago from India

      Thanks Integrity Yes

    • profile image

      IntegrityYes 5 years ago

      She writes so well.

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      archana srivastav 5 years ago

      great hub, I like it.