Slow Steps to Safety

Hunger By Roxane Gay Chapter 53

Warning: mentions sexual assault

Hunger by Roxane Gay and Cereus Blooms at Night by Shani Mootoo both deal with sexual assault and the coping tactics employed to deal with that trauma. Hunger is a memoir about Roxane Gay’s body, the body that was sexually assaulted as a child, the body that grew fat as armor, and the body that is undisciplined within society. Cereus Blooms at Night is a novel and the character, Mala also experienced sexual trauma starting at a young age.

One way Roxane coped was marking her body with tattoos. “It was about me doing something I wanted, that I chose, to my body” (Gay, 183). The marks on her body are her choice this time and she gets to choose some part of how she is seen. Mala chooses to communicate through actions, not words. When Mala uses the English vocabulary, it is her choice to speak. Understanding part of the reason why Roxane gets her tattoos helps us gain a better understanding of why Mala stopped using verbal language to communicate. Both are looking for small ways to regain control.

Roxane paradoxically gets tattoos to lose control as well. She plays with submission in a controlled and safe environment, because she is handing power over to the tattoo artist. “There is a certain amount of submission in receiving a tattoo, so of course I’m very much into that controlled surrender” (Gay, 185). Roxane can experience what it feels like to choose submission. I think Mala plays with the idea of giving up control through her actions on page 127 where she follows her body’s wants and needs. I don’t think Mala was comfortable giving up control to anyone else. However, I don’t think Mala decides to give up control. She is forced into it, repeatedly by her father but also by the court. Mala is sent to the facility where she is strapped down to a gurney and where she is forced to live and be watched over. I think during those circumstances she is able to gain comfort in her loss of control because of Tyler but she was not seeking to give control over to someone else.

Roxane gets her tattoos for multiple reasons to help her cope with the trauma she has experienced over the years. Part of getting the tattoos is to feel pain, just like Mala decides to eat the hot peppers. This pain seems to be a technique to ground them in reality, remind them of how strong they are. “But every tingling blister and eruption in her mouth and lips was a welcome sign that she had survived. She was alive” (Mootoo, 134). The physical pain is easier to deal with and focus on rather than their mental anguish. Sometimes creating a different pain is easier to deal with. Both have to work through their experiences with sexual abuse and continued trauma. They want to forget the pain, they seek control, choice, safety, and acceptance. Roxane is a real person and Mala is fictional, but her coping mechanisms are realistic when seen through the eyes of Hunger.




One thought on “Slow Steps to Safety”

  1. I love the connection you make here with tattoos and Mala’s hot peppers. As someone who volunteers with the crisis text line, it reminds me of the way we are encouraged to offer healthier alternatives to self harm. It is a reminder that we are alive, like Mala says of the peppers. As someone who also loves getting tattoos, I can relate to Roxanne Gay’s desire to have control over her body and its markings, and the simultaneous desire to give control (consensually) to the tattoo artist. I think this illustrates well the different ways people can claim their identities, and cope with or heal from trauma.

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