Study Guide

Meridian Quotes

  • Race

    The town of Chicokema did indeed own a tank. It had been bought [...] when the townspeople who were white felt under attack from "outside agitators"—those members of the black community who thought equal rights for all should extend to blacks. (1.1.12)

    In this small Southern town, you're considered an "outside agitator" if you hold the belief that people of all races are equal. That's insanity. In fact, this might not actually be as far-fetched as you might think. During the real-life Tulsa Race Riot of 1921, numerous eyewitness accounts claimed that white citizens used World War I weaponry to attack the city's black community. Not the brightest moment in US History, that's for sure.

    Along the line of bright stores stood a growing crowd of white people. Along the shabby stores where Truman and the sweeper stood was a still-as-death crowd of blacks. (1.1.35)

    This is a town divided. Although this scene takes place after the bulk of the Civil Rights Movement, it doesn't seem like the people of Chicokema have much to show for it—they're still much poorer than their white counterparts and denied equality because of it. Class is a lot more important to racial equality than it might seem at first glance.

    "You wait and see. He's scared of us causing a commotion that could get in the cracker papers, just when he's fooled 'em that Saxon Knee-grows are finally your ideal improved type." (1.3.17)

    Some people—like the dean of Saxon College—become almost ashamed of their race in an attempt to rise above it. This guy probably had the best of intentions at first, driven by an earnest desire to help his community get educated and rise up the social ladder. Ultimately, however, he ends up simply perpetuating white stereotypes about the black community.

    "Grown-up white men don't want to pretend to be anything else. Not even for a minute."

    "They'll become anything for as long as it takes to steal some land." (1.6.10-11)

    While Mr. Hill is much more politically and racially aware than his wife, she has a pretty good point with this one. True—Mr. Longknife actually ends up being honest guy (and a bonafide Native American), but the land ends up getting stolen anyway a few months later by government officials. Naturally, Mr. and Mrs. Hill will no longer be allowed on this public property because of their race.

    Why did they need a guard? Then, a question more to the point: How had they known they would need a guard? Did they know something she did not know? (1.8.15)

    This is the first time that Meridian realizes that there is a racial conflict happening that is much larger and much older than her. It's an eye-opener that shocks and horrifies Meridian, but it's the kick in the butt she needs to get involved in the burgeoning political movement and do her part for racial equality.

    Everyone thought him handsome because his nose was so keen and his skin was tan and not black; and Meridian [...] thought him handsome for exactly those reasons, too. (1.14.1)

    People think that Truman is handsome because he fits white standards of beauty. Although Meridian falls victim to this too, she at least has the self-awareness to feel weird about it. As referenced throughout the novel, this is due to the power of pop culture. When kids spend all day watching only white people in TV and movies, their standards of beauty are inevitably going to be influenced.

    "Everyone is proud to acknowledge a tiny bit of a 'bad' thing," said Meridian. "They know how fascinating it makes them." (1.14.48)

    Although Truman is proud of his heritage and vocal about civil rights, he ends up compromising his values for a very basic reason—girls. He knows that they objectify him because of his race (to a degree) but won't call them out on that for—well—obvious reasons.

    To Lynne, the black people of the South were Art. This she begged forgiveness for and tried to hide, but it was no use. (2.16.3)

    If Truman is wondering what his girlfriend really thinks about black people, then he'd better check this one out. Lynne doesn't see black folk as individuals with their own unique beliefs, struggles, strengths, and weaknesses, but as objects. This shows that even the most progressive and good-hearted among us can fall victim to unconscious racism.

    It was as if Tommy Odds had spoken the words that fit thoughts he had been too cowardly to entertain. On what other level might Lynne, his wife, be guilty? (2.17.16)

    Eventually, Truman and Lynne's relationship deteriorates—as does the relationship between white and black members of the Civil Rights Movement. Is Truman right to think about his own wife in that way? Is he wrong? Although race certainly plays a significant role in their relationship, we think it'd be hard to argue that there wasn't genuine love between these two.

    It was during this time that whenever she found herself among black women, she found some excuse for taking down and combing her hair. (2.22.76)

    Oddly, Lynne doesn't take out her anger on Tommy for his crime against her—she takes it out on black women. Uh… wrong target, homegirl. Here, hair is used as a symbol of how white standards of beauty are hoisted upon black women and used to make them feel inferior.

  • Poverty

    "But the Civil Rights Movement changed all that!"

    "I seen rights come and I seen 'em go [...] You're a stranger here or you'd know that this is for the folks that work in that guano plant outside town. Po' folks." (1.1.19-20)

    Although both issues are often ignored by the populace at large, race and class are deeply intertwined. Here's the brass tax—you can convince every single racist white person on the planet to stop disliking black people, but it won't matter one bit if most black people are still living in poverty. In other words, you can treat the symptoms until the cows come home, but that's not going to cure the illness.

    "That mummy lady's husband, he got on the good side of the upper crust real quick: When the plant workers' children come round [...] he called 'em dirty little bastards." (1.1.34)

    This is insane. This guy basically owns a freak show—not to mention the fact that he murdered his wife—yet he looks down on the poor citizens of Chicokema. Who does this guy think he is? Of course, race plays a big part here, but it's not the only reason. The sad truth is that you can do all the trash-talking you want as long as you have the dollar bills to back it up.

    At the time, there were two of them, Wild Child and a smaller boy. The boy soon disappeared. It was rumored that he was stolen by the local hospital for use in experiments. (1.2.1)

    We all know what ultimately happens to Wild Child—she gets killed after Meridian tries to save her. At first, we thought that Wild Child was probably just nervous and confused, but we forgot about this. She was probably just terrified that she might get kidnapped and turned into a guinea pig like her friend. The reality of poverty seems stranger than fiction.

    "It is against the rules and regulations of this institution to allow you to conduct your funeral inside this chapel, [...] donated to us by one of the finest robber baron families of New York." (1.3.46)

    Although Wild Child can't afford to donate any new buildings to the college, that shouldn't matter—everyone deserves to have a decent funeral. In fact, we'd argue that this would be the best use of that robber baron money. The thing that's really upsetting is the fact that the college seems so oblivious about all these things. You'd think that they'd be more interested in giving back to the community, rather than pushing against it.

    The people from the community [...] resplendent though they had felt themselves to be on entering Saxon's gate [...] now shrunk down inside their clothes and would not look the students in the eye. (1.3.50)

    This scene reflects the internal collapse Civil Rights Movement. At first, students and working-class folks fought on the same side, driven by a sincere desire to see justice. But while students were driven by idealism and anger, poor people simply wanted to be treated with some dignity. They were all too used to being turned away and denied—as they are here—and were much more sensitive to it.

    Anne-Marion wanted black to have the same opportunity to make as much money as the richest white people. But Meridian wanted the destruction of the rich as a class. (1.15.7)

    Anne-Marion wants everyone to be rich; Meridian wants no one to be rich. Whose side do you take? While Meridian's is a much more difficult goal to attain, her desire to build a community that truly supports itself is quite inspiring, even if it is ultimately impossible. Anne-Marion's desire for wealth and comfort, on the other hand, drives her away from the Movement.

    Although, to Truman, the rich were a cancer on the world, he would not mind being rich himself. (3.27.7)

    Like Anne-Marion, Truman wants to be rich. That's the difference between the two of them and Meridian—Meridian practices what she preaches. It should be no surprise that Meridian is much more dedicated to the cause as well.

    "I think that all of us who want the black and poor to have equal opportunities and goods in life will have to ask ourselves how we stand on killing, even if no one else ever does." (3.27.12)

    Everything culminates with this. Although we have serious doubts that Meridian could actually kill someone (she seems way too kind-hearted), she feels so passionate about her cause that she believes that she could. At the start of the novel, Meridian would never have said "yes" to this proposition, but seeing the reality of poverty in America has changed her. The question is: was she changed for better or for worse?

    The public white swimming pool, having been ordered, by the federal government, opened to blacks, was closed by city officials who were all rich and white. (3.27.31)

    Rich people aren't all that concerned with a public swimming pool—after all, they all have their own private pools in their backyards. For the city's poor black residents, however, this is nothing less than a slap in the face—and a life-threatening one at that.

    "They fired him 'cause he wouldn't let the glass in front of his table stay covered up. You know in the plant they don't want the working folks to look at nothing but what's right on the table in front of them." (3.29.19)

    From what we see of him, this guy is a hard-worker—his fire-log business requires a ton of work for little pay. So would it really have made a difference if he was allowed to look out his window at work? How would you feel if you got fired from your job for something like that? To the factory-owner, however, people like Johnny are replaceable—just another cog in a giant machine.

  • Women and Femininity

    All she had to do, wrote Henry, was "lay back and be pleasured." But she [...] had gone outside the home to seek her "pleasuring," while still expecting him to foot the bills. (1.1.29)

    Yeah, we're sure that it's all this simple, right? Doubtful. We're just saying that the kind of dude who murders his wife after learning of her affair and then turns her dead body into a freak-show act probably wasn't the best husband. We're not marriage counselors or anything, so let's just call it Shmooper's Intuition.

    Like Meridian, Anne-Marion was a deviate in the honors house: there because of her brilliance but only tolerated because it was clear she was one, too, on whom true Ladyhood would never be conferred. (1.3.9)

    There aren't many other girls like Meridian and Anne-Marion at Saxon College. Most of the female students are shooting to earn a degree in "Finding a Husband," not trying to better themselves through an education. After all, why would you need book-smarts when you can just marry a rich guy? It's difficult to blame the individual girls, though—they're part of a bigger system that they're unable to fully understand.

    She noticed that other girls were falling in love, getting married. It seemed to produce a state of euphoria in them. (1.4.3)

    During her early adulthood, Meridian's mom falls in love with the feeling of freedom. Despite this, she becomes intrigued by the lives of married women and ends up walking down that path herself. The result? She ends up resenting her kids a lot for taking that precious freedom away.

    They simply did not know they were living their own lives [...] but assumed they lived someone else's. They tried to live the lives of their movie idols; and those lives were fantasy. (1.9.3)

    Movies have a tendency to whitewash reality (and we mean that in more ways than one) and unrealistically portray the relationships between men and women. In other words, pop culture gives these young girls false expectations about reality that can't possibly be lived up to. Meridian went through the same thing when she was a kid and ended up paying for it dearly.

    Of course it was kept secret from everyone that Meridian had been married and divorced and had had a child. It was assumed that Saxon young ladies were, by definition, virgins. (1.13.4)

    Often, Saxon College seems less interested in educating its students and more interested in making them attractive potential wives. Meridian is an exception to this rule in many ways. Do you think that male students are treated the same way? Do you think that Truman ever had his moral character questioned because he wasn't a virgin? We doubt it.

    But Truman did not want a general beside him. He did not want a woman who tried [...] to claim her own life. (1.14.92)

    For a good portion of the novel, Truman holds misogynistic beliefs hidden beneath his political activism. If the guy practiced what he preached, he would be gung-ho about finding a woman as determined and strong as Meridian. But that simply doesn't happen.

    Getting rid of a bitch is simple, for bitches are dispensable. But getting rid of a wife? (2.17.29)

    Really, Truman? What exactly is the difference between a "bitch" and a "wife"? Yes, we understand the obvious, but both are living, breathing human beings with their own wants, dreams, and desires. No woman is dispensable.

    They did not even see her as a human being but as some kind of large, mysterious doll. A thing of movies and television, of billboards and car and soap commercial. (2.17.39)

    In Lynne's case, her womanhood is complicated and perhaps amplified by her whiteness. As we've seen above, it's common for women of all races to be objectified, but this effect is exponentially greater in Lynne's case. Again, we see the echoes of pop culture in the relationships between men and women—to Tommy, a white woman like Lynne seems straight out of the movies.

    Her shy, thin frame, her relative inarticulateness, [...] her brown strength that he imagined would not mind being a resource for someone else… (2.18.7)

    On the other side of the fence, black women like Meridian are objectified in a different way. Instead of being feared, Meridian is looked down upon by men and expected to sacrifice herself for their sake. The echoes of slavery in this quote make it all the more upsetting.

    On whom was such a man likely to take his revenge? Not on white men at large; certainly not. (2.22.50)

    Although Lynne turns this around into self-hatred, she's got a good point with this one. Because women are lower on the totem pole than men, they become an easy scapegoat.

  • Politics

    "They're grateful people," said Meridian. "They appreciate it when someone volunteers to suffer." (1.1.74)

    Unlike many of her activist friends, Meridian is more than willing to suffer alongside the country's poor and oppressed people. It's no wonder that the people love her no matter where she goes—she becomes one of them.

    It was after all a group of students, of intellectuals, converted to a belief in violence only after witnessing the extreme violence, against black dissidents, of the federal government and police. (1.1.118)

    Although our instinct might be to laugh this conversation off as a bunch of college students trying to act tough, you have to remember that this book takes place at a different time. During this era, formerly non-violent student groups were growing increasingly angry at the fact that their non-violent protests were met with nothing but bloodshed. Who can blame them for considering fighting fire with fire?

    "I'll go back to the people, live among them, like Civil Rights workers used to do."

    "You're not serious?" (1.1.162)

    At Saxon, Meridian hangs out with a bunch of super-smart, passionate intellectuals. But there's one problem with super-smart, passionate intellectuals—they often lose sight of the individual in the midst of their broad political views.

    That night [...] students, including Anne-Marion, rioted on Saxon campus for the first time in its long, placid, impeccable history, and the only thing they managed to destroy was The Sojourner. (1.3.55)

    This is a powerful—albeit disheartening—image. With the working-class folks having returned home, the students take the opportunity to Rage Against the Machine harder than Tom Morello. The irony is that they only succeed in destroying the Sojourner—a beautiful old tree that represents the struggles of black women throughout American history. The only thing they end up hurting is themselves.

    The officials said they could offer only token payment; that, and the warning to stay away from Sacred Serpent Park which, now that it belonged to the public, was of course not open to Colored. (1.6.25)

    Did we just take crazy pills? Let's get this straight—the government steals Mr. Hill's land (for no apparent reason), gives him little-to-no money, and then (as the pièce de résistance) forbids him and other black people from going to this now-public park. No wonder Meridian grew up to be so distrustful of the government and passionate about fighting the machine!

    Meridian grew up thinking voting days [...] were for celebration of some kind of weird festival especially for white people. (1.10.30)

    This might make you chuckle at first (especially because everyone knows that Renaissance Fairs are the one true "weird festival for white people"), but it shows just how politically uniformed Meridian's mom is. This creates a vicious cycle—it's near-impossible for the younger generation to become politically aware without the older generation leading the way.

    What she meant by it was that they were at a time and a place in History that forced the trivial to fall away—and they were absolutely together. (1.12.5)

    This feeling draws Meridian to the Civil Rights Movement. We're not saying that she isn't driven to support her community, because she is. But she especially loves the feeling of unity fostered by their protests. It's something she's never felt before in her life.

    She studied hard and made the dean's list, and during her second year she joined the Atlanta Movement. She found it impossible to study while other were being beaten and jailed. (1.13.5)

    Meridian tries to walk away from political activism and focus on herself, but it's just not in her nature. Not that it's a bad thing. Meridian has a much more sincere approach to politics than most, investing herself emotionally in everything she does. To be honest, we wouldn't mind if modern politicians and activists took after her example.

    Didn't our Constitution provide for just such emergencies as the present racial crisis? What did she think of the Constitution? The founding fathers? (1.14.69)

    Everything else aside, the founding fathers were just some dudes who happened to start a country—they weren't magical, all-knowing demi-gods. Most of these guys owned slaves, for goodness sake! This realization is a game-changer, opening Meridian's eyes to the reality behind her political overlords.

    She looked at him wondering if he had, as she had done, marched that day. As a rule, he said, he didn't march any more, "because what I believe cannot be placed on a placard." (1.14.83)

    Unlike Meridian, Truman is unwilling to get his hands dirty. He has an artiste's disposition, favoring the abstract over the real-life and ideas over action. This makes us appreciate Meridian's perfectly practical, no-nonsense approach even more. To her, a political action is only valuable if it helps alleviate suffering—end of story. If only our leaders felt the same way.

  • Mortality

    It was her father's voice that moved her, that voice that could come only from the life he lived. A life of withdrawal from the world, a life of constant awareness of death. (1.1.121)

    Mr. Hill is obsessed with death. Actually, it's probably more accurate that he's weighed down by it, having spent his life researching the long history of violence between various communities in the United States. Strangely, Meridian loves her father so much because of his sadness.

    Meridian's father said that Mr. Longknife had killed a lot of people [...] in the Second World War. The reasons he'd done this remained abstract. (1.6.22)

    Although Mr. Longknife was persecuted by his own government, he ends up fighting and killing on their behalf. What does that do to a man? As it turns out, it shakes him to his core, turning him into a wanderer with few hopes or plans for the future.

    She was a dot, a speck of creation, alone and hidden. She had contact with no other living thing; instead she was surrounded by the dead. (1.6.35)

    Meridian's first mystical experience shows her what it's like to not exist. Trippy. This becomes an important part of her identity—you can even connect it to the fainting spells she experiences later in life. In fact, those fainting spells are portrayed to be similar to dying, too.

    Her father said the Indian had constructed the coil in the Serpent's tail in order to give the living a sensation similar to that of dying. (1.6.37)

    Well, that explains it. Although she's not particularly religious, Meridian discovers that she's quite spiritual. This experience connects her to a past that is long dead and gone, just as her father does when he pores over maps of ancient Native American settlements.

    She dreamed she was a character in a novel and that her existence presented an insoluble problem, one that would be solved only by her death at the end. (1.15.1)

    This concept becomes a running theme in the novel. In Meridian's time, it felt like all of the greatest and most noble leaders ended up dead at the hands of evil men. Although Meridian wants to fight for her people, she isn't eager to follow them to such a bitter end. Can you blame her?

    "The only new thing now," she had said to herself [...] "would be the refusal of Christ to accept crucifixion. King [...] should have refused. Malcolm, too, should have refused." (2.19.73)

    Meridian isn't too fond of the idea of martyrdom. Here, she draws a connection between the political leaders of her day and Jesus himself, emphasizing the fact that all of these people could have done so much good had they been allowed to live. Meridian sees a similar fate for herself and isn't looking forward to it. But what if there were some way to break the cycle?

    They waited for the pain of Camara's death to lessen. They waited to ask forgiveness of each other. They waited until they could talk again. (2.24.16)

    Lynne and Truman's marriage was already on the rocks before this, but Camara's death settles things. Ironically, this event likely sets the stage for the later reconciliation between the two—it's not until Truman is humbled by the reality of death that he is able to make some sort of peace with his former wife.

    "It's a black characteristic, man [...] We don't go on over death the way whiteys do." (3.26.8)

    If you ask us, this a much healthier response to death. Sure, there's room to cry and be sad, but it's equally important to celebrate life. After all, it's only by living that we carry our loved ones' memories forward.

    When his son was killed he had gone temporarily insane. Meridian had read about it in the paper. (3.28.12)

    Meridian undergoes a transformation after seeing this man at church. She has never seen someone so profoundly shaken by the death of a loved one before, and he inspires her to commit more fully to protecting life.

    She made a promise to the red-eyed man herself: that yes, indeed she would kill, before she allowed anyone to murder his son again. (3.28.25)

    It's pretty darn ironic that Meridian decides that she could murder someone as an affirmation of life. It makes sense when you think about it, though. Meridian has seen a lot of unjust death and suffering throughout her life and there's no end in sight. Desperate times call for desperate measures.

  • Spirituality

    But for all that her father sang beautifully, heartbreakingly, of God, she sensed he did not believe in Him in quite the same way her mother did. (1.1.122)

    Meridian's mother has a straight-forward relationship with religion—she whole-heartedly believes in everything without giving it much thought. Meridian's father, on the other hand, has a spiritual relationship with the world that doesn't rely much on dogma. Can you guess who Meridian relates with more?

    They made her ashamed of that past, and yet all of them had shared it. The church, the music, the tolerance shown to different beliefs outside the community, the tolerance shown to strangers. (1.1.134)

    It's interesting that Meridian's fellow political activists all come from traditional religious backgrounds, but have rejected that upbringing in no uncertain terms. Despite this, it seems like their background influences them more than they realize—after all, there's nothing more Christ-like than helping the poor, right? Aside from, you know, the whole being born to a virgin thing.

    In this, she and Meridian were exactly alike, except if some pathetic, distracted old marcher wished to bend Meridian’s ear about his or her Jesus, Meridian would stand patiently and listen (1.3.4)

    Although she doesn't believe in Christianity anymore, Meridian doesn't hate religion like Anne-Marion does. On one hand, it's in Meridian's nature to be understanding of traditional values, even if she doesn't embrace them as her own. But her early spiritual experiences are worth mentioning too, as they likely softened her stance on religion.

    Later, Feather Mae renounced all religion that was not based on the experience of physical ecstasy—thereby shocking her Baptist church and its unsympathetic congregation. (1.6.33)

    Meridian isn't the only member of her family to have a spiritual experience at the Sacred Serpent. For Feather Mae—Meridian's great-great-grandmother—this experience is nothing less than mind-blowing, shattering all of her preconceived notions about religion in an instant. Feather Mae is proof that you don't have to be conservative and straight-laced to believe in a higher power.

    The Sojourner [...] filled her with the same sense of minuteness and hugeness, of past and present, of sorry and ecstasy that she had known at the Sacred Serpent. (1.13.2)

    At the Sacred Serpent, Meridian felt like she was dying, like she was completely disconnected from reality itself. At the Sojourner, she achieves a similar effect in a different way: instead of making her feel like she's dead, it connects her to the past. For Meridian, this connection to her ancestors is an important part of spirituality.

    "So God fixes the road in front of your house, does he?" she asked, using her Northern logic. (1.14.30)

    It's not like Lynne isn't correct here—if the old woman wants things to change, she needs to take action herself. The problem is that Lynne doesn't understand the emotional power of religion because religion never played a part in her own upbringing.

    What she meant was, she no longer believed in God and did not like to think about Jesus (for whom she still felt a bitter, grudging admiration). (1.15.19)

    Even Anne-Marion has to give it up for our boy J-Dawg. Like many religious kids turned political activists, Anne-Marion both defies and exemplifies her stringent religious upbringing. After all, she's currently sacrificing her own education to help the poor. If that's not straight-up Jesus stuff, then we don't know what is.

    She stood as the people began to sing a once quite familiar song, but now she could not remember the words; they seemed stuck in some pinched-over groove in her memory. (3.28.5)

    For reasons unknown to even her, Meridian starts attending church. It shocks her how different things are. This feeling is embodied in the music, which, as already established, was her favorite part about church growing up. The church still honors those old traditions (that's the job of churches, after all), but looks at them with a fresh perspective.

    He said he was thankful they could count on each other in times of trouble. He said he would not pray any longer because there was a lot of work for the community to do. (3.28.6)

    This man embodies a new movement within the church. Yes, of course, he wants them all to pray in honor of his son. But, more importantly, he wants them to act. Church-going folks seem like they're the most conservative people in the world, but sometimes they're the ones most willing to fight for what's right. Martin Luther King Jr., anyone?

    It struck Meridian that he was deliberately imitating King, that he and all his congregation knew he was consciously keeping that voice alive. It was like a play. (3.28.10)

    Meridian is witnessing the power of ritual. The church has integrated Martin Luther King Jr.—a famed preacher and brilliant speaker himself—into its tradition, keeping his memory alive and using it to instill hope for the future. This helps Meridian realize that the community aspect of religion can be powerful, regardless of personal belief.

  • Guilt and Blame

    Meridian was conscious always of a feeling of guilt, even as a child. Yet she did not know of what she might be guilty. (1.4.1)

    Nobody likes to feel like this. You could attribute to this to a few things—her mother's resentment of her children, the oppression she feels as a person of color, or her mistreatment at the hands of unsavory dudes. Meridian has had a crazy life—she should write a book about it—oh, wait…

    It was for stealing her mother's serenity, for shattering her mother's emerging self, that Meridian felt guilty [...] though she was unable to understand how this could possibly be her fault. (1.4.9)

    Well, that explains it. Mrs. Hill was originally a lot like her daughter, Meridian. She was a proudly independent woman eager to fulfill her dreams. Like Meridian, she only married and had children out of naivety and insecurity. Although Meridian doesn't entirely understand this yet, she'll come to understand these struggles all too well.

    "I never said either side was innocent or guilty, just ignorant. They've been a part of it, we've been a part of it, everybody's been a part of it for a long time." (1.6.20)

    While Mrs. Hill has a narrow view of history, Mr. Hill is obsessed with how the past affects the present. In his view, there are no good guys and no bad guys—everyone deserves a share of the blame. Mrs. Hill would do well to take this lesson and apply it to her life, if you ask us.

    "Do you forgive me?" [...]

    "Forgive you for what?" It had not occurred to her to blame him. (1.7.13)

    This makes less sense than the series finale of Lost! Did Meridian ever ask Eddie for sex? Did Meridian impregnate herself? Like many women—and her mother—Meridian has internalized the woman-shaming mentality so common in society.

    The thought of murdering her own child eventually frightened her. To suppress it she conceived, quite consciously, of methods of killing herself. (1.8.3)

    Meridian can finally understand where her mom was coming from. For Meridian, her son has become a symbol of her imprisonment within marriage. It doesn't take long for those emotions to shift into straight-up resentment, which isn't a good thing for anyone involved.

    She thought of her mother as being worthy of this maternal history, and of herself as belonging to an unworthy minority, for which there was no precedent. (1.12.59)

    Although Mrs. Hill hated being a mother as much as her daughter does, Meridian has somehow convinced herself that her mom was perfect. Sure, you have to give mom some credit—she worked really hard for her family. But we call 'em like we see 'em, and we don't see much difference between these two women.

    Meridian found [...] that her thoughts turned with regularity and intensity to her mother, on whose account she endured wave after wave of an almost primeval guilt. (1.13.10)

    At times, Meridian uses her political activism to escape from her life. This actually raises an interesting question—does Meridian ever see her parents again after leaving for Saxon? Does she feel ashamed for leaving them, as she left Eddie Jr.? Regardless, Meridian should take comfort in the fact that she's fighting for what's right.

    It never occurred to her that her mother's and her grandmother's extreme purity of life was compelled by necessity. They had not lived in an age of choice. (1.15.41)

    Meridian—and her generation as a whole—has been given more choices and opportunities than the previous generation. Some, like Anne-Marion, embrace these opportunities without giving them much thought. Meridian, on the other hand, is wracked with guilt that she might be squandering such a precious gift.

    She [...] sat down to write each letter as if some heavy object had been attached to her knees, forcing them under her desk, as she wrote with the most galling ferocity, out of guilt and denial and rage. (1.15.48)

    Meridian and Anne-Marion have an odd relationship. At first, they're the best of friends, confiding in each other and joining the Civil Rights Movement together. When Meridian gets sick, however, Anne-Marion abandons her friend out of fear. In an even stranger twist, Anne-Marion spends the rest of her life sending nasty letters to Meridian on a constant basis. It's not until this moment that we realize that Anne-Marion is ashamed of herself but doesn't know how to express it.

    i want to put an end to guilt
    i want to put an end to shame
    whatever you have done my sister
    (my brother) know i wish to forgive you (3.31.12)

    This poem, written by Meridian after visiting the women's prison, represents her letting go of her shame and guilt. She has just met a young girl who killed her child and sees her own reflection in the sad, angry inmate. After a lifetime of carrying a heavy burden of guilt, Meridian is finally packing light.

  • Sex

    And so, while not enjoying it at all, she had had sex as often as her lover wanted it, sometimes every single night. (1.7.4)

    Meridian has just become sexually active and she's already over it. So why doesn't she just stop? We can't say for sure, but, like Meridian, we'd blame her mother by not preparing her for her own sexuality. Gee, thanks mom.

    For she could only make male friends only when she was sexually involved with a lover who was always near—if only in the way the new male friends thought of her as "So-an-so's Girl." (1.7.10)

    Here we see sex linked with the idea of "possession." Meridian is constantly looked at by men as a sexual object, and the only way to escape that dynamic is by becoming someone else's sexual object. Weird, huh? Like many women, however, Meridian doesn't really have any other alternatives, except to shut off contact with men altogether, which might not be such a bad idea, now that we think about it.

    She did not see how he could feel she was less interested in sex, for she had felt she had never shown anything approaching interest. (1.7.33)

    Eddie and Meridian have very different understandings of their sexual relationship. Unsurprisingly, we're taking Meridian's side on this one—she shouldn't feel pressure to have sex with him unless she actually wants to. As we come to learn, however, Eddie is more interested in the act itself than he is in Meridian.

    She loved the warmth, the lying together, the peace. She endured the sex because it gave her those things. (1.7.33)

    Well, at least we found some part of sexuality that Meridian enjoys. This shows us that Meridian is interested in sex, on some level. Maybe she would be sexually active if there were men out there who felt a similar way. If there are, however, she hasn't met them.

    When the girl tried to bury her face in his chest and force his arms around her, he pushed her away. (1.7.42)

    The Voice is one creepy dude. He sees sex as a form of conquest—his rejection of the girl's plea for emotional closeness tells us everything we need to know. What a weird way to learn about the birds and the bees.

    Eddie's mother, now forty-nine, had undoubtedly misinterpreted one of her sexual facts: Meridian could never quite believe her when she said she'd planned such a late baby. (1.9.1)

    Sexual misinformation is seen throughout the book with disastrous consequences. It also leads to a vicious cycle—each generation is unprepared for the realities of sex by the previous generation, leaving them unable to prepare the next generation, and so on and so forth. How different would Meridian's life have been if her mom had given her "The Talk"?

    Therefore, she threw open the door for him with such passionate force it banged like a shot against the wall. Truman strode in like a conquering prince returning to his lands. (1.14.2)

    Even Truman, who's as politically progressive as they come, has some downright icky views on sexuality. What's even scarier is that he doesn't even realize it. Truman sees Meridian as a piece of property that he wants to conquer, yet he loses interest after he realizes she isn't a virgin. Why would he want to conquer something that's already been conquered?

    It seemed doubly unfair that after all her sexual "experience" and after one baby and one abortion she had not once been completely fulfilled by sex. (1.14.116)

    We wouldn't blame Meridian if this makes her want to be celibate for the rest of her life! The truly sad part is that Meridian is forced to bear the consequences of her sexuality alone—neither Truman nor Eddie has been hurt by their selfish actions. Meridian, on the other hand, is unable to escape the consequences.

    He had wanted to make love to her. Because she was white [...] which meant she would assume she was in control. (2.21.5)

    If you thought that these kids had trouble communicating about sex, then just wait until you throw race in the mix. Tommy Odds has had his expectations warped by a lifetime of TV, movies, and advertisements, and the result is that he can't see Lynne as the human being she is.

    But before he could stop her she had pushed the door open and stood halfway across the room staring into the eyes of a tiny blonde girl in a tiny, tiny slip. (2.23.28)

    Later in her life, Lynne becomes obsessed with the idea that Truman wants to be sexually fulfilled by black women. But what she finds shocks her—that Truman, in his heart, simply prefers blondes. We're not sure if that makes her feel better or worse, though.