Study Guide

Meridian in Meridian

By Alice Walker


"Your ambivalence will always be deplored by people who consider themselves revolutionists, and your unorthodox behavior will cause traditionalists to gnash their teeth." (3.34.3)

We couldn't have said it any better ourselves. Meridian's story is one of balance: balance between revolution and tradition, between atheism and spirituality, and between non-violence and militancy. People talk a lot of trash to Meridian because she is unwilling to pick sides, but in truth that's what makes her so special. While other characters think that they have to stand on one side of the fence or the other, Meridian decides to sit right on top of that sucker, legs dangling on both sides.

The Working-Class Intellectual

Although the Movement is originally filled with college students, these idealistic young folks have a tendency to cut and run when things get tough. Remember when Truman says he wants to quit activism because "what [he believes] cannot be placed on a placard" like the most pretentious art student of all time (1.14.83)? And then there's people like Anne-Marion, who really just wants the "opportunity to make as much money as the richest white person" (1.15.7). This dynamic is embodied in the destruction of the Sojourner, an act of twisted self-hatred by Saxon College students.

Meridian couldn't be more different. Unlike Anne-Marion, Meridian wishes for "the destruction of the rich as a class," end of story (1.15.7). That's why Meridian is the only student devastated by the destruction of the Sojourner, prompting her to move to the ghetto that surrounds campus to get even closer to her working-class roots. Ultimately, however, this approach is reflected most prominently by her desire to "live among [the people] like Civil Rights workers used to do" (1.1.162). The fact that this sincere and empathetic approach is greeted by guffaws should tell you everything you need to know.

The Churchgoing Atheist

Meridian strikes a similar balance when it comes to religion. Like Anne-Marion, Meridian rejected her traditional Christian upbringing at an early age. Unlike Anne-Marion, however, Meridian doesn't resent her past. For example, Anne-Marion would act rude to any "distracted old marcher" who tried to talk to her about God, while Meridian "would stand patiently and listen" (1.3.4). Basically, Anne-Marion is too upset about her own baggage to see how religion could help other people overcome their burdens.

As usual, Meridian bypasses her ego and looks at the truth of the situation. Maybe it's because of her experiences at the Sacred Serpent—who knows? No matter the reason, Meridian is able to maintain a balance between her personal disbelief in God and the religious values of many within the Movement, which is quite the thin line to walk. Later in life, she realizes that the church is an important place because "the problems of life were not discussed fraudulently and the approach to the future was considered communally" (3.28.22). What's more, her church-going experiences actually help her decide that she could kill for a revolution. Talk about ironic, huh? Alanis Morissette would be proud.

The Peaceful Militant

This is Meridian's final hurdle. Earlier in the book, we see a group of activists demanding that Meridian say that she could kill for the revolution, but she refuses. Meridian is a genuinely peaceful person, so it shouldn't be too surprising that she's hesitant. But what happened to those other revolutionaries? Did they end up like Anne-Marion, who quits the Movement and dedicates her life to writing "poems [about] her two children, and the quality of the light that fell across a lake she owned" (3.28.27)? Oddly, the one person who wouldn't commit to killing for the revolution is the only one still fighting for justice. What gives?

Ironically, it's only by going to church that Meridian is able to discover her killer instinct. Weird, huh? Basically, Meridian sees how much the church has transformed over the course of the Movement—the sermons are more politically charged, the music and symbolism more hip, and—most importantly—the "young people in church nowadays did not fall asleep" (3.28.22).

Although the process is slow-moving—like Meridian herself—it will always eventually right itself to whatever path is best for the community's future. It's only by seeing how much value they place on life that Meridian is able to commit to killing to protect it—in theory, at least.

The New Sojourner

In a way, Meridian has become the new Sojourner. It's only fitting, then, that the novel closes with a letter from Anne-Marion with a picture of a "tiny branch [...] growing out of one side" of the once-mighty tree (3.33.9). It's even implied that Anne-Marion could end up joining Meridian someday, just as Truman did. But that's the beautiful thing about Meridian—by doing so much good for her community, she instills hope in others that they can make a difference too. And that's why she's our hero. You go, girl.