By abandoning chronological order, what is Alice Walker saying about fiction and reality, life and death, ordinary life and a life in struggle in her novel Meridian?

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durbanville | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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Meridian Hill is the title character of Alice Walker's novel Meridian. The novel begins after Meridian's experiences have challenged her and almost destroyed her. She says, "If a person is hit hard enough, even if she stands, she falls." The reader often wonders what motivates her, and it is the flashbacks and the order in which they appear that clarify the reasons for any particular behavior or standpoint and that show that Meridian is not the perfect role model (though she is a person to be admired).

As a mother and daughter she is a disappointment. In politics, she comes to realize that, while she is deeply committed to the Civil Rights' Movement, she is motivated by personal issues rather than a particular political standpoint, something she learns when confronted by an opportunity to prove her worth in the revolution. The novel moves about so as to reveal the real-life effect of choices and how they become the catalyst for other choices. Some experiences hold more influence than others. 

Because the novel blends fiction with reality, the reader is drawn into what could be a typical drama: one woman's struggle against the world. There is a danger of it becoming a stereotypical story with Meridian as a composite person, representing women and especially black women. However, it is the structure and the lack of cohesion between instances that ensure that the reader does not miss the point or see Meridian as a mere symbol and can actually relate to Meridian's situation. Life happens and the flashbacks allow the reader to take each occurrence, learn from it, apply it or avoid it and move on.

In exploring life and death, Meridian draws the line and is not prepared to kill for the revolutionary cause. The reader knows, however, that she does have an abortion, which reveals her conflict and helps understand a little more about extremes of behavior and different perspectives. Meridian does not sit on a pedestal. She has made decisions which will make some people admire her and others despise her. There might have been no apparent connection between such decisions if the novel proceeded chronologically. Instances can be isolated and used for the next chapter in her, or anyone's, life.  

Meridian's life is almost like a jigsaw puzzle. In completing them, some people use all the straight edges and have a frame, working from the outside in; others use the colors and finish sections such as blue sky or green grass before moving on while others work on specific images such as a building, an animal, etc. Then there are those who take the overall picture and look at the pieces for their inspiration, relying on what they see in front of them to help them make a decision as to which section will be attempted (not always successfully) first. This describes Meridian's life and the "conflict in her own soul" and helps the reader understand the link between an ordinary existence and one fraught with struggle--an existence with real-life problems, tragedy, marginal success and controversial issues but one that can only become something of value because of this personal struggle, which is the very reason why ordinary people can relate to Meridian. The individual events become far more relevant and appropriate through Walker's approach. Now that Meridian has "lived through it," others can take inspiration in their own daily lives. 

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