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, femininity, and readiness for a relationship. This understanding of the symbolism of the menstrual cycle provides the reader with a foundation for understanding the biologically determined role of Clareese.Despite all of Clareese's literal interpretations of the Bible, such as her refusal to swear or gamble, she seems to either disregard or be ignorant of the sections of the Bible relating to her "womanly troubles" (Packer 35, 32). According to the Bible, "[o]nset of menstruation render[s] a woman unclean for seven days" (Sprinkle 2); during menstruation, the woman is considered to be unholy. Therefore, she cannot approach the sanctuary. If she does, the entire community faces a threat of divine retribution (Sprinkle 5). Although the practice of not going to church during the menstrual cycle is quite outdated, judging by Clareese's strict adherence to other parts of the Scripture it might strike Clareese as only slightly less than reasonable. In spite of the literal meaning of the verses regarding menstruation, the opening of the story finds Clareese in church complaining of the very thing that indicates she should not be in church. This could be interpreted as an act of subconscious resentment towards the patriarchal institution of the church. 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, which likely included her menstrual cloths. His experience is concluded with these lines:Thus finishing his grand Survey,Disgusted Strephon stole awayRepeating in his amorous Fits,Oh! Celia, Celia, Celia shits! (115-118)The poem goes on to explain that Strephon's perception of Celia is forever altered and that he can no longer look at a woman without thinking of "all her Stinks" (122). After the Deacon's sexual assault and subsequent discovery of Clareese's menstrual cycle, "he drew back in disgust-no, hatred-then rinsed his hand in the kitchen sink and left without saying a word," and then proceeds to completely ignore Clareese and by extension, her aunt, for the duration of the story (Packer 34). Thus, Clareese's menstrual cycle cures the Deacon's "lovesickness" for Clareese by evidencing the fact that she is as much mortal as woman and as such has bodily functions like any other woman.In ancient Greece, menstruation had a much more positive connotation. The beginning of menses, or menstruation, indicated readiness for marriage[…](Pence-Brown). Viewing the story through a Greek lens, the reader can deduce that, in the context of Every Tongue Shall Confess, Clareese's menstrual cycle symbolizes both her readiness and her need for a relationship. After Pastor Everett's announcement of Sister Nina's marriage, she ponders how much easier her life would be if she was married, including the fact that Deacon McCreedy would never have "done what he did" (Packer 35). Being unmarried, and therefore not having anyone else providing for her, makes Clareese vulnerable to men with less than honorable intentions and also to the disdain of her church members, most especially Pastor Everett, who perceives her as "something worse than a spinster, because she [is]n't yet old" (Packer 41). Because she is having her menstrual cycle at the time when she meets Cleophus, as well as when she was assaulted by the Deacon is representative of two turning points within the story. The first in which she needs a marriage or relationship, and then one in which she may soon have one. Although it is not Clareese's first menstrual cycle, this still supports the connotation of the menstrual cycle as indicative of readiness for a relationship because she is still at a pivotal point in her life. She may or may not have her job on Monday morning, and for the first time a man is actively pursuing her as a romantic interest.Menstruation remains a very meaningful aspect of being female. In "Every Tongue Shall Confess," Packer uses menstruation to increase the reader's understanding of what it means to be an unmarried woman in a religious environment. Clareese's menstrual cycle has a large and effective role in getting Packer's meaning across by conveying subtler themes such as such as vulnerability and misogyny in the actions and interactions between Clareese and the other characters in the story.Works CitedSprinkle, Joe M. "The Rationale of the Laws of Clean and Unclean in the Old Testament." Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 43.4 (2000): 637-657. ProQuest. Web. 6 Oct. 2011.Dawson, Lesel "Menstruation, Misogyny, and the Cure for Love." Women's Studies [serial online]. 34.6 (2005):461-484. Literary Reference Center. Ipswich, MA. 7 Oct. 2011.Pence-Brown, Amy "Dress, Gender and the Menstrual Culture of Ancient Greece." mum.org. Museum of Menstruation and Women's Health, 2003. Web. 10 October. 2011.Packer, ZZ. "Every Tongue Shall Confess." Drinking Coffee Elsewhere. New York, New York. Penguin Group, 2003. 32-53. Print.Swift, Jonathan. "The Lady's Dressing Room." N.p., 1732. http://andromeda.rutgers.edu/~jlynch/Texts/dressing.html#8 18 October 2011"Book of Micah." GotQuestions.org. GotQuestions, n.d. Web. 19 October 2011Frederick, Jenn. "The First Taboo: How Menstrual Taboos Reflect and Sustain Women's Internalized Oppression." N.p., n.d. Web. 17 October 2011 http://home.comcast.net/~theennead/bean/cultural.htmThe Holy Bible. "New King James Version." Arthur Farstad, Editor. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1982.x gIs ignorance really a form of defiance? YouI'm hoping impiety is what you're pointing toward…if it is, try fleshing it out a little more in the paragraph…are there any other examples in the story of her being impious (as it concerns her menstrual cycle)? If you can give more examples, your paragraph will be longer, and your paper will be longer ( Also, make sure you say something (interpretation, elaboration, etc.) after each paraphrase or quote relating it back to your paragraph's topic sentence. Once you have everything tied together between the topic sentence and the conclusion sentence of the paragraph, go back to your thesis and add something about this paragraph. For example, say something in the thesis about how her reaction to her menstrual cycle demonstrates her impiety, etc. etc. (your thesis will probably be a long sentence, since the preceding statement would only be describing this paragraph, but long theses just mean that you have well fleshed out points) (Awkwardly worded.Summarizing the text rather than explicating it.Again, either give more examples or flesh out this point a bit more. Also, add the topic of this paragraph (perhaps something like "The negative effect of menstruation on men symbolizes man's natural fear of the feminine) to your thesis. If you do add this statement, be sure to change the topic sentence of this paragraph and explain it in the rest of the paragraphAs suggested above, thias paragraph can be definitely fleshed out with textual evidence. Discuss the scene in which Clareese's actual molestation takes place, for example, to demonstrate the deacon?'s repulsion.Awkward phrasing in context.Colloquial.How would this disprove your argument…?With the words that I added, this would be an example of your "so what" statement that you need at the end (or right after) your thesis. It gives the relevance of your paper by stating that an understanding of the symbolism of menstruation increases understanding of a social situation.

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