A Flow Of Meaning: The Symbolism Of The Menstrual Cycle In Zz Packer’s “Every Tongue Shall Confess”

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Helena BaldwinMs. O'NealEnglish 110210 October 2011A Flow of Meaning:The Symbolism of the Menstrual Cycle in ZZ Packer's"Every Tongue Shall Confess"The menstrual cycle has long been considered a symbol of many different things in cultures around the world: in many African cultures, for example, it is recognized as the link to the passing on of life and as such is celebrated by many African women, and in many Judeo-Christian cultures it symbolizes uncleanliness to an unmentionable degree. In ZZ Packer's "Every Tongue Shall Confess," the protagonist, Clareese, is on her menstrual cycle for the duration of the story. Her menstrual cycle represents her impiety, ...view middle of the document...

The taboo of the menstrual cycle is very strongly associated with patriarchal culture and also with the perception of women as somehow inferior to men in Judeo Christian doctrine (Frederick). This idea is also evidenced in the bible verse 1 Corinthians 14:34: Let your women keep silent in the churches for they are not permitted to speak; but they are to be submissive as the law also. When Clareese makes her suggestion of a discussion group on the book of Micah to Deacon Jeffers, he jokingly says that they should make her a deacon and then tells her that he will get back to her about it, but he does not (Packer 33). This is one example of Clareese's low position in the hierarchy at Greater Christ Emmanuel Pentecostal Church of the Fire Baptized. Ironically enough, the book of Micah contains not only prophecies about judgment upon corrupt leadership and idolatry but also proclaims the transformation and exaltation of Israel and Jerusalem (gotquestions.org). Deacon McCreedy's role in the story is representative of corrupt leadership and idolatry can be seen in the fact that "[e]veryone want[s] flash and props, no one want[s] the Word itself, naked its fiery glory[.]" Clareese's resentment and impiety is illustrated by not only by the fact that she is in church during her menstrual cycle, but also by the fact that, as a woman, she is meant to keep her silence in church yet she does not.Packer's portrayal of Clareese's menstrual cycle also illustrates a patriarchal, archaic perception of the menstrual cycle as the cure for man's desire or "erotic melancholy" (Dawson 4). In "Menstruation, Misogyny, and the Cure for Love," Lesel Dawson states:[A man], who has clearly been conditioned by pastoral and Petrarchan conventions to view women as celestial, non-corporeal creatures, is horrified to discover that his mistress is an ordinary mortal with a fully functioning body [.…T]he menstrual cure has a very long history, appearing in texts from the first century BCE to the seventeenth century[…]In the menstrual cure for erotic melancholy, the lovesick man is shown the stained cloths of his mistress so that, rather than inciting desire, her body provokes revulsion.(1, 4)The word love in the context of "Menstruation, Misogyny, and the Cure for Love" denotes the presence of sexual attraction instead of what is understood to be the meaning of the word in present times. The meanings of the terms "lovesickness" and "erotic melancholy" in the article stem from this definition of love, both of which define a physical desire. During this time period, as stated above, women were viewed as celestial rather than mortal and were therefore presumed not to be plagued by bodily functions. In Jonathan Swift's "The Lady's Dressing Room," Strephon, the paramour of a woman named Celia, sneaks into her chambers only to find that they are not the pristine haven he expected. Instead, he finds the squalid mess brought about by the upkeep of her glamorous appearance,...

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