(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 19)

Alice Walker’s latest novel, Meridian, is a fine, spiritual, insightful book. It is a book about social and individual change, and can rightfully be considered a book about revolution. For Walker presents the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s, a social and political revolution which sought to elevate the status of blacks in American society, and uses it as an effective metaphor for spiritual renewal. The voter rights drive is a symbolic act. It symbolizes the conscious, deliberate movement of blacks away from passivity, acquiescence, and indifference. It further represents a vital step beyond the boundaries of all that blacks had ever known in the past to a sense of worth and power and hope and ultimate freedom. While the emphasis in the novel is placed on blacks and the necessity for them to take decisive action, the universal significance of its message is clear enough.

Also presented in the novel is the theme of individual revolution. The characters are forced through their personal experiences to face honestly their own guilt, anger, frustration, and hatred. In so doing, they come to understand one another and to assess their own worth. Finally, there is a kind of revolution against the past in the sense that the author is urging that certain negative traditional myths and beliefs be examined, understood for what they are worth, and discarded.

It is obvious that Walker believes these kinds of transformations are called for if there is to be any real freedom for American people, black or white. She wants us to be aware, to live fully conscious of our lives. The alternative is to continue to walk as if dazed or half asleep in the same old tracks of the past. It is to continue to impose useless, negative, and even destructive beliefs on one another until all genuine feeling is gone, and life in its fullest sense has no hope of being.

Against a rich tapestry woven of threads of the past and social unrest, the personal struggles of the main characters are highlighted. Meridian is basically the story of Meridian Hill, a sensitive, spiritual black girl who quietly fights to free herself from the smothering weight of her own ignorance, intolerable guilt, and self-hatred. Her guilt grows out of her lack of understanding and a series of incidents primarily associated with her mother, a rigid, angry woman who feels she has been betrayed in some way by marriage and her children. Because of her mother’s attitude toward her, Meridian in her innocence believes she has stolen something of value from her mother simply by being born. When, in spite of her mother’s urgings, she cannot bring herself to join the Church, her sense of guilt about failing her mother again is intensified. Later, out of a desperate sense of inadequacy, Meridian gives her own infant son away. This act further adds to her almost intolerable burden of guilt, and, in addition, causes her to despise herself. She believes she is a traitor, not only to her mother, whom she sees as the epitome of black motherhood, but to her ancestral slave mothers who had endured unbelievable agonies in order to keep their children with them.

Her relationships with men, such as they are, bring her no pleasure or feeling that she is loved. The men Meridian has known, including her husband whom she does not love and Truman whom she does, want her body but give little or no thought to her as a person. Eventually, they all leave her. Feeling rejected by her mother, used by men, and, because she is black, unacceptable in white society, she sets out to free herself from the life that so cruelly imprisons her.

The dawn of Meridian’s awareness and subsequent freedom comes with her participation in the Civil Rights Movement. Prior to this time, Meridian had been a passive observer, much of the time caught up in fantasy in order to escape her pitiful existence. With the emergence of the Civil Rights effort and her ensuing wholehearted involvement in it, she begins to face reality for the first time. As a result, she begins to make choices for herself based on reality. She begins to change.

Meridian falls in love with Truman Held, a handsome, pretentious,...

(The entire section is 1712 words.)