Meridian is one of the most fully drawn and emotionally complex characters of contemporary American fiction. Autobiographical to a certain degree (Meridian and Walker share approximate ages, a deep love for the South, education at a women’s college in Atlanta, and civil rights involvement), this novel is artfully crafted. To direct her readers’ interpretation of “meridian,” Walker lists definitions at the novel’s beginning. All pertain specifically to qualities inherent in the title character: “prime,” “southern,” “the highest point.” Yet Walker wants her readers to see her character as representative of the 1960’s, which she sees as the meridian of black awareness, when black Americans were able to see themselves clearly and to struggle for their identity. Another of “meridian’s” meanings is “distinctive character”; it is Meridian’s battle for her individuality that is the novel’s focus.
Perhaps most distinctive is her spirituality. Meridian is something of a mystic, retreating from time to time into trancelike states from which she emerges stronger than ever. Her rejection of materialism is another sign of her spirituality. Whenever Truman visits Meridian, he discovers that she has fewer and fewer possessions, until she is left with only the clothes on her back. Like many mystics, Meridian leads an ascetic life, denying the needs of her own body. All of these indicate her separation from the ordinary restraints of life. Supporting her spirituality is her affinity to the past, her literal kinship with Feather Mae, her great-grandmother, and her figurative one with Louvinie, a Saxon slave. Following Feather Mae’s example, Meridian invites ecstasy, and discovers “that it was a way the living sought to expand the consciousness of being alive. . . .” She gains a larger understanding of her world, one not bound by trifling concerns. Louvinie’s example is equally important, for from her...
(The entire section is 793 words.)