Meridian Essay - Critical Context (Masterplots II: African American Literature)

Alice Walker

Critical Context (Masterplots II: African American Literature)

Meridian is considered by many literary critics to be one of Alice Walker’s finest novels, moving in its depiction of the people and events that made up the struggle for civil rights in the 1960’s. Important in establishing the social and political contexts of the 1960’s is her attention to presenting the story from the perspective of a black woman. The novel fills in the empty space where the black woman should be in many fictional and nonfictional representations of the Civil Rights and Black Power movements.

The novel is a seminal one in bringing critical attention to the black woman’s story, which figures prominently in the works of a group of black women writers whose careers were launched in the early and middle 1970’s. These writers define a significant part of the African American woman’s literary tradition. Walker joins such writers as Toni Morrison, Gayl Jones, Audre Lorde, Paule Marshall, Toni Cade Bambara, Mari Evans, and Sherley Anne Williams, whose works extend the African American story.

Walker’s novel of a young woman who struggles to define herself and to discover what role she will play for her people is significant in African American literature, for Walker ties Meridian’s development to her understanding of her past. In the novel, Walker describes black people’s culture and history in some detail. The novel comments on the Black Arts movement of the 1960’s and 1970’s, which insisted that black artists use their historical past in the creation of their works, by showing how this critical advice might be accomplished.