Critical Essays on Alice Walker

By Ikenna Dieke | Go to book overview

Introduction: Alice Walker, A Woman
Walking into Peril

Ikenna Dieke

Few twentieth-century American writers have left their imprint on several generations of readers as Alice Walker has. From the time she emerged on the literary scene in 1968 with the publication of her first volume of poetry, Once, to the present, Walker appears to have been imbued with an insistent, almost dour and sacrificial determination to tell the truth, a truth that has insistently and consistently evoked contradictory feelings in her readers. To some readers, a growing circle of detractors and die-hard traditionalists, many of them black cultural nationalists and Black Muslim brotherhood, her writing is nothing but a witch's brew, ever troublesome and woeful, threatening the essential foundation of traditional lore. For these readers, Walker remains, at bottom, a writer set apart from the cloddish world by her heightened capacity for feeling a cloddish world, that is, all too willing to employ flatulent rhetoric, to utter imprecations and frenzied diatribes under its smouldering breath. To others, a coterie of encomiastic enthusiasts, friends, and admirers, her creative energy is nothing but a godsend, a sacramental vessel through which the redemption of women in general, and African American women in particular, is and will be forever consummated. And to still others, an old order of moral purists, Walker's writing, with its "decadent" thought and sensibility, is a brazen profaning of the old "sacred shrines" and the "gods" that dwell in them, and thus must be expunged from the public school curriculum. Let us examine in brief some of the grieved outcries of the first and third groups of readers.

For these readers, their anger and hostility toward Alice Walker rests largely on her third and most polemical novel, The Color Purple ( 1982), and its film adaptation by Hollywood filmmaking guru, Steven Spielberg ( 1985), a work they claim distorts black history, demeans black men, and leaves in its "savage" wake a most deleterious impression of blacks. From the irate Black Muslim brothers led by Louis Farrakhan's former national spokesperson, Dr. Khallid Muhammed, who filed past Walker at a 1987 Founders' Day ceremony at Spelman College, to the NAACP-supported protesters in Los Angeles picketing The Color Purple film's premiere, Walker appeared headed for calumny, even demonization of the worst kind. In print reviews of both novel and film, the same passionate intensity was

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