Study Guide

The Temple of My Familiar

by Alice Walker

The Temple of My Familiar Themes

Themes

A central theme in the novel is the challenge marginalized people face everywhere in creating an identity. Fanny, for example, faces two unacceptable roles — either as a victim of racism and sexism or as a possible perpetrator of retaliatory violence. She, like many characters in the novel, seeks a new role. The source of new ideas does not seem to be from traditional books. Witness Suwelo, the college history teacher, and Carlotta and Fanny, college literature teachers who are spiritually lost. The sources seem to come from other places, principally women's lives — specifically from women with past lives in the case of Lissie and Zede, or from dreams which hold archetypal memories as Franny's dreams do. These sources are better guides to achieving a viable identity. Walker puts the importance of these sources of knowledge this way: "a people's dreams, imaginings, rituals, legends . . . are known to contain the accumulated collective reality of the people themselves." In The Temple of My Familiar the wisdom that comes from these founts directs the characters to seek their identities in the connectedness of all things rather than in opposition to anything.

In Walker's novels, a new identity cannot be achieved without support. There are no lone heroes. Those who struggle up from oppression, those who are lost and find themselves, succeed within a community of support. The first place to look for support is the family. Fanny travels back to Africa to consult her father. She seeks out her mother for advice and makes alliances with her sister. She also tries reading books by little-known women writers, joins consciousness-raising groups, and enters therapy. Carlotta...

(The entire section is 689 words.)