Alice Walker - the Temple of My Familiar

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Pulitzer prize novelist Alice Walker is best know for her stories about the life of African American women, their struggle with society for survival, racial, sexual and economical equality and spiritual wholeness. She writes through her personal experiences. Most critics consider her works as feminist, but Walker describes herself as a „womanist“, showing appreciatiation of women and their abilities no matter what the colour of their skin is.

She was born in Eatonton, Georgia, a small town where most blacks worked as tenant farmers. In 1961 she moved to Atlanta where she started to participate in the civil rights movement while her studies there. This had a great influence on her later works as she experienced love, individualism and revolution in this period. She married Melvyn Leventhal, a Jewish civil rights lawyer, and soon had a child, Rebecca. They lived in Mississippi where she became a teacher and an activist. In 1976 Walker and Leventhal divorced and since then Walker had turned all her attention to writing and teaching.

In her novels she discusses questions of gender, races, violence, troubled relationships as well as isolation, environment, love, hate and suffering. She talkes about problems of African American women, who does not know the value of their selves because they have never been given a chance to improve what they are good at. Walker criticises men for being ignorant of women’s feelings and for taking away the power women once possessed back in the time when people were created by God.

She tries to provide a comprehensive picture of society and its development from prehistoric times until today. Walker describes mainly the differences of women’s way of life in the past in comparasion to what their conditions are nowadays. Walker is a very influential author among the black community but has also a lot of fans in the white society. Her narration is easy to folow and thanks to her ability to express her thoughts such well, one feels as he was right in the middle of events.

Walker’s fourth and longest novel is called The Tmeple of My Familiar. It is not really a pure novel as it is based on dialogues - each chapter represents one discussion. As J. M. Coetzee states in his review, the book „ a novel only in a loose sense. Rather, it is a mixture of mythic fantasy, revisionary history, exemplary biography and sermon. It is short on narrative tension, long on inspirational message.“ There is no real protagonist in the book; in the centre of the novel are two couples having trouble with their relationships. It is a collection of at least one hundred strories which are more or less connected and happening in America, Africa and Europe. We can witness the mental development of main characters from their early age to adulthood. The narration might seem to be slightly educational; Walker uses her characters to express her own thoughts and thus to influence readers’s attitudes. We can as well understand this book as a family saga. Walker’s interest in writing a family saga was already apperent in eg. The Colour Purple as it tells the story of a dysfunctional family across generations, this family is, however, reunified by enlightened individuals, just as it is in The Temple.

Spirituality plays an important role within the novel. This is reflected namely in the story of Lissie who experienced multiple reincarnations remembering all her previous lives. Due to this fact, Walker mannaged to cover a period of 500,000 years in her book. She makes spiritual connections between past and present and thus comments on the importance of African heritage which is nowadays highly underrated. The book provoked a strong wave of criticism and is generally disliked by the critics as they find it excessively conversational. However, The Temple of My Famliar has a lot of defenders too, mostly among women from various ethnic backgrounds.

The novel is devided into six parts; each one uses a different animal...
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