Meridian explores a number of cultural legacies important to African Americans. The primary legacy is the meaning of the Civil Rights movement, both to those who were its major players and to future generations. In exploring these ideas, Walker uses characters filled with the spirit of the movement rather than its actual leaders. A novel ostensibly about the Civil Rights movement becomes one that uses the entire African American cultural and historical experience as both background and foreground. This idea becomes clear upon examination of the structural pattern of the novel. The novel begins after many of the major events of the 1960’s have occurred. President John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Senator Robert Kennedy are dead. Many of the major leaders and players of the Civil Rights and Black Power movements have opted for other agendas, some having little to do with improving black people’s lives.
Meridian Hill is still around, trying to do her part to help her people. The novel’s opening scene chronicles Meridian’s attempts to keep the spirit of the movement alive as she challenges a Jim Crow practice of allowing black people to see a carnival sideshow only on one particular day. Thrust into this scene is Truman Held’s return to the South to seek Meridian.
After establishing in a brief scene what is left of the Civil Rights movement, which is no longer in vogue, Walker begins a process of weaving bits and pieces of information together to account for why Meridian is the way she is and why Truman and other characters are the way they are. This is not an easy story to tell, requiring the piecing together of many parts of recent and distant African American cultural history to create the “crazy quilt” that is the novel’s major structure.
The story moves around in time, allowing readers to see what Meridian was like as a girl, how her family helped to make her the kind of person she is, how as a child she saw herself as an outsider in her own family, and how she observed a number of actions of black people in her community that were not always helpful to black children. Meridian’s childhood was problematic for a number of reasons. She always believed that her mother did not love or want her. She remarks that it seemed as if her mother showed affection only in ironing her children’s clothes. Meridian also thought that her mother and other adults in the community did not give children, especially girls, information that might ensure passage through the teen years without getting pregnant. Because real...
(The entire section is 1051 words.)