The Temple of My Familiar

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Alice Walker’s first work since her highly acclaimed THE COLOR PURPLE is a book about time and change. Though written from a “womanist” viewpoint, THE TEMPLE OF MY FAMILIAR follows both women and men through what becomes a history of the evolution of humankind. This evolutionary aspect is especially found in the chapters that tell the tales of Miss Lissie’s various incarnations, including a brief, horrifying stint as a white man in a black tribe. The intertwining of all the separate narratives takes place as people only mentioned in passing in one chapter become the focal character in another chapter. For example, the white woman (Mary Jane) who rescues Carlotta and her mother, Zede, from a prison camp in South America ends up in Africa married to Fanny and Nzingha’s black African father, Ola. Fanny is the granddaughter of Mama Shug and Mama Celie, both characters from THE COLOR PURPLE.

Though Shug and Celie play a background role in the narrative, they are two of the most likable and human characters in the book, palpably real in a way that the novel’s more prominent characters are not. Shug and Celie are warm, down-to-earth (especially in expounding “the gospel according to Shug”), and very human. For example, Celie is not very nice to her dog until Shug teaches him to bite the hand that beats him. They are fallible, but not in the strained way that other characters are. When, for example, Carlotta’s husband, Arveyda, leaves her for her mother, Zede, the reader is likely to feel cheated, for no credible motivation has been supplied--a recurring problem throughout the novel. It is hard to feel any deep connection with Walker’s characters, and the resolution of their conflicts is too pat to be satisfying.

Nevertheless, readers who are interested in the theories of University of California at Los Angeles archaeologist Marija Gimbutas, who posits an Edenic prehistoric era marked by worship of female deities, will find in THE TEMPLE OF MY FAMILIAR a kindred spirit.

Literary Techniques

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Walker's principal technique in The Temple of My Familiar is to revise the Western representation of reality, which depicts itself as...

(The entire section is 406 words.)

Ideas for Group Discussions

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Inasmuch as The Temple of My Familiar can be classified, it resembles a novel of ideas and perhaps it is best approached in that way....

(The entire section is 353 words.)

Social Concerns

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

In The Temple of My Familiar, Walker tries something almost destined to fail. She challenges the West's Eurocentric vision of the...

(The entire section is 535 words.)

Literary Precedents

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

The Temple of My Familiar is a unique novel, with few literary precedents. Much like Lissie's dream familiar, it is not recognizably...

(The entire section is 220 words.)

Related Titles

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Walker's last three novels share a number of characters. Shug, Celie, Nettie, Olivia, Adam, and Tashi from The Color Purple appear...

(The entire section is 131 words.)