The Characters

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.)

Characters Discussed

Meridian Hill

Meridian Hill, a black civil rights worker. A thin woman with a dark thick braid and reddish-brown skin, she is neither pretty nor homely but is at her most beautiful when sad. Meridian comes from a poor but respectable family in the South. She becomes pregnant while still in high school and soon finds herself with a husband and a son she cannot love. Her only satisfaction comes from working with civil rights workers registering voters, a campaign she joins in 1960 after the workers’ headquarters is bombed. A college scholarship enables her to break away from her miserable life; she simply gives her baby away and leaves. An honors student in college, she works hard to earn the money to stay in school and struggles with her attempts to define herself. A passionate love for another civil rights worker, Truman Held, ends unhappily, and she does not form satisfying friendships. Meridian joins a militant revolutionary group but leaves it when she discovers that she cannot say with conviction that she would kill for the revolution. Instead, she returns to the South to work with and for her people, becoming a daring and eccentric civil rights worker as she moves from town to town, attempting to find her place within the Civil Rights movement and the world. By the end of the novel, a never-specified illness and her own self-neglect have left her with sallow skin, glassy yellow eyes, and a nearly bald head covered with a cap, yet she uses all of her energy to work for her people. She never finds a totally satisfying life for herself, but she serves as an anchoring point for the lives of those she touches.

Truman Held

Truman Held, an artist and civil rights worker. A handsome man with olive skin, black eyes, a neat beard and mustache, and the regal-looking nose of an Ethiopian warrior, Truman is vain about his looks and pretentious in his...

(The entire section is 775 words.)