Study Guide

Meridian Themes

  • Race

    With the bulk of the novel taking place during the Civil Rights Movement, it should come as no surprise that Meridian is deeply concerned with the complex question of race. If it does come as a surprise to you, well, you might be in for an uphill battle with this story.

    As with all complex questions, however, the issue of race can be viewed from several distinct perspectives. We look at it through the eyes of Mr. Hill, wracked with guilt over his country's treatment of Native Americans. We look at it through the eyes of activists like Truman and Anne-Marion, whose intellectual approach sometimes blinds them from the basic realities of racism. And we look at it through the eyes of Meridian, who somehow balances everyone's perspectives—and then some. Don't expect any answers, though—just more questions.

    Questions About Race

    1. What are some examples of institutionalized racism in Meridian?
    2. Is it wrong of Truman to date white girls simply because they are white? Explain.
    3. In what ways does pop culture instill white-centric values into the novel's black characters?
    4. Do you agree that violence is acceptable to achieve racial justice? Why or why not?

    Chew on This

    Although Truman has fought for his community, his actions indicate that he holds a great deal of inner turmoil about race.

    In the novel, we see how pop culture—at the time, a new phenomenon—promotes standards of beauty impossible for minorities to achieve.

  • Poverty

    Have you ever heard of the "Poor People's Campaign"? In the tail end of the Civil Rights movement, Martin Luther King Jr. shifted his focus from purely racial issues to the major concern of widespread poverty. To him, these two issues were far more connected than anyone realized. Although MLK was assassinated before he could achieve his goals, Meridian shows us what would happen if one woman tried to conquer poverty all by herself. In a world where the poor are treated like animals, where the rich live in the lap of luxury, and where minorities are forced into poverty, our humble heroine has got her work cut out for her. But you know what? That's exactly how she likes it.

    Questions About Poverty

    1. What does the story of Wild Child tell us about life in poverty?
    2. In what ways do college students and poor workers differ in their approaches to the Movement?
    3. Why does Meridian chose to live in poverty herself?

    Chew on This

    Meridian is unique among her radical intellectual peers—she sincerely believes that wealth is evil, while people like Anne-Marion simply wish that they were rich themselves.

    Ultimately, Meridian is able to win the trust of the communities she visits because she chooses to share their struggles by living in poverty herself.

  • Women and Femininity

    Hey ladies! Do you like having the right to choose your own path in life? Do you enjoy spending time with male friends without being objectified by them? Do you have big dreams that you are working harder than Hilary Clinton to obtain? Well, consider yourself lucky—the world portrayed in Meridian is one where women are constantly misled, mistreated, and denied the opportunities they rightly deserve. Even progressive political activists don't treat women with respect. Although it portrays a world you probably don't want to live in, Meridian is a valuable read because it reveals to us all of the subtle ways that misogyny influences our everyday lives.

    Questions About Women and Femininity

    1. In what ways does pop culture affect the women of the novel?
    2. Does Truman ever overcome his misogyny? Why or why not?
    3. How is sexuality used to oppress women?
    4. How do Meridian and Anne-Marion break the mold of the "Saxon girl"? Explain.

    Chew on This

    In the novel, pop culture is revealed to be a tool through which misogynistic values are transmitted to the youth.

    Meridian reveals an unfortunate truth—that even men who are intelligent, politically aware, and progressively minded can hold outdated opinions about the role of women in society.

  • Politics

    If we were president, you can be sure that we'd make a few changes—mandatory kitten ownership high among them. But that's nothing compared to what Meridian would do if she got elected. In Meridian, we follow our titular character as she struggles to do her part during the Civil Rights Movement. Sometimes her actions end up causing more harm than good. Sometimes she ends up just hurting herself. But, more often than not, Meridian is able to get regular folks involved with politics for one simple reasons—she treats everyone as equals. You say you want a revolution? Well, following Meridian's lead is as good a start as any.

    Questions About Politics

    1. What are the similarities/differences between Truman's and Meridian's political ideologies?
    2. How is Meridian able to be a successful activist even where others fail?
    3. Why does the Movement fall apart?
    4. Is voting a powerful political statement? Why or why not?

    Chew on This

    Unlike politicians, Meridian is able to earn the trust of poor and disadvantaged communities because she is willing to suffer alongside them.

    Truman falls into to the same political pitfall that many artists do—he is too busy focusing on his own uniqueness to sacrifice himself (as Meridian does) for the good of his community.

  • Mortality

    Death affects everyone differently. For some people, like Mr. Hill, death is a reminder of the horrors of the past. For others, like Anne-Marion, death is a form of suffering that one should run from. For Meridian, however, death is just another part of life. During her long career of political activism, our titular heroine faces suffering and hardship that would make most of us wish we were dead. Meridian feels that way sometimes, too. It's only by acknowledging that death is a part of life—and that life is something well-worth protecting—that she is able to break free from the ordinary world and become something extraordinary.

    Questions About Mortality

    1. Why is Meridian's dad obsessed with the fate of the Native American people? Explain.
    2. How do Meridian's death-like experiences shape her understanding of mortality?
    3. What does the book have to say about the concept of "martyrs"?
    4. How does Camara's death affect Truman and Lynne?

    Chew on This

    For Meridian, an awareness of death—first fostered during her experience at the Sacred Serpent—is the first step toward her enlightenment.

    The depiction of Martin Luther King Jr.'s funeral celebration illustrates the idea that long-suffering communities have a more realistic relationship with death.

  • Spirituality

    Do you know the spirit in the sky? Meridian Hill sure does. In Meridian, this sharply intelligent young woman is torn between the religious traditionalism of her youth and the die-hard atheism of her adulthood. Quite the conflict. The question raised by the novel is simple—what happens when someone tries to find a balance between the two? The answer is surprisingly complex and balanced, emphasizing the importance of ritual, tradition, and community—even if you don't believe in the big bearded man upstairs. And who knows: maybe the church did a little changing along the way, too. So put on your Sunday best and get your singing voice warmed up—Shmoop's taking you to church.

    Questions About Spirituality

    1. What is the difference between religion and mysticism?
    2. Why is Anne-Marion so resentful toward religion?
    3. What can we learn about spirituality from Feather Mae? Explain.
    4. What causes the changes in the church that Meridian observes at the end of the novel?

    Chew on This

    While Meridian never becomes religious per-say, she always has a spiritual side that guides her throughout her life.

    Although Anne-Marion talks a lot of trash about religion, wethinks the lady dost protest too much—her anti-religion attitude is simply a reaction to her own strict upbringing, rather than a nuanced belief system.

  • Guilt and Blame

    Do you ever feel guilty but don't know why? If so, then we simply must introduce you to our pal Meridian Hill. Throughout her life, this intelligent woman has always felt nagged by a strange feeling—that something about her is just wrong. Maybe it's because her mother always resented her for destroying her freedom. Maybe it's because Meridian, a teenage mom, is forced to give away her child to assert her own independence. Maybe it's something that's always been there, just waiting beneath the surface. Whatever the reason, Meridian spends a life mired in guilt and shame until some deep emotional realizations help her let it go. Yes, we know you're sick of that song by now, but we never let a perfect opportunity slip through our fingers.

    Questions About Guilt and Blame

    1. In your opinion, what is the root of Meridian's feelings of guilt?
    2. Why is Meridian's mother so resentful of her?
    3. Did Meridian do the right thing when she gave Eddie Jr. away? Explain.
    4. What is the meaning of Meridian's poem about guilt?

    Chew on This

    Meridian's guilt is rooted in her mother's resentment of her: Mrs. Hill will never forgive Meridian for shattering her sense of freedom.

    Like her mother, Meridian is torn between her independence and her motherhood, but only Meridian is able to make peace with her decision.

  • Sex

    In the eyes of Meridian, sex isn't all it's cracked up to be. At its best, sexuality is a way for two people to be close to each other. At its worst, it's nothing more than a tool of violence and oppression. Yikes. It's hard to blame Meridian for feeling this way, however—after being sexually molested, objectified, and demeaned her entire life, she has more than enough justification to dislike the whole sex thing. You might not reach the same conclusions in your own life, but the perspective presented in Meridian is one worth seeing, if only to know what not to do. And, as we all know, knowing is half the battle.

    Questions About Sex

    1. Why does Truman break things off with Meridian?
    2. How do her early experience with sexual abuse shape the person that Meridian becomes?
    3. Was Meridian ever fulfilled by a sexual relationship? Explain your answer.
    4. Why did Meridian continue to return to Daxter and The Voice?

    Chew on This

    In Meridian, we're shown how a male-dominated society has little interest in fulfilling women through sexual relationships.

    Truman's attitudes about female sexuality show us that even the most intelligent and politically aware men can fall victim to run-of-the-mill misogyny.