A Flow of Meaning: The Symbolism of the Menstrual Cycle in ZZ Packer’s “Every Tongue Shall Confess”

Essay by reader101College, UndergraduateB-, December 2011

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Helena Baldwin

Ms. O'Neal

English 1102

10 October 2011

A 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 Although the practice of not going to church during the menstrual cycle is quite outdated, judging by Clareese's strict adherence to other parts of the Scripture it might strike Clareese as only slightly less than reasonable.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...