Study Guide

Truman Held in Meridian

By Alice Walker

Truman Held

Truman is a man with many faces. At times, he seems like a principled political activist, dedicated to putting his life on the line for the less fortunate. At others, he seems like a hunk with a cocky attitude and gross views about women. At others still, he acts like an artist, detached from the world and focused solely on the inside of his own head.

Basically, we're saying that the dude is complicated. Over the course of the novel, we watch Truman's identity grow and shift until, finally, he arrives at something good. And it's all thanks to Meridian.

The Many Faces of Truman Held

Before we go any further, let's take a closer look at Truman's many identities:

  • College Truman: When we first meet Truman, he's caught in the throes of a classic college-aged pretentious streak. Yeah, Truman's the guy who always talks in French because he spent a summer there. It's no wonder that Meridian asks him if "revolution, like everything else in America, was reduced to a fad," because sometimes it seems like everything in his life is a fad (3.27.20).
  • Activist Truman: Truman is one of the first people who Meridian meets when she joins the Movement. Everything else aside, Truman puts his life on the line for the Movement, getting beaten and arrested by cops. This seeming dedication makes it all the more shocking when he abruptly quits, saying, "'What I believe cannot be placed on a placard'" (1.14.83).
  • Artist Truman: With that, Truman becomes an artist. Unlike activists, artists don't have to be a part of the world; they don't have to get their hands dirty with the nitty-gritty. The problems run deeper than just that, however. Truman's art is an attempt to be something he's not, as emphasized by the fact that he sculpts "voluptuous black bodies" while pursuing exclusively blonde, white women in real life (2.23.10).

The Man in the Mirror

That last bit touches on the most confusing aspect of Truman's personality: his misogyny. This part of Truman never rises to the forefront, but it can always be seen lingering in the background.

Remember how he rejects Meridian because "he [...] had been raised to expect and demand a virgin" (2.18.23)? Remember how he says that "b****es are dispensable," as if we weren't talking about real women with real feelings (2.17.29)? Although he tries to atone for these sins by chasing Meridian, he only does so to get "her brown strength that he imagined would not mind being a resource for someone else" (2.18.17).

Somehow, though, Meridian manages to get through to Truman. Maybe it's because he admires her tenacity and fearlessness. Maybe it's because he finally sees the suffering of poor communities first-hand. Maybe it's simply the delayed shock of his broken marriage to Lynne and the death of their daughter Camara.

No matter the reason, we see a brand new Truman at the end of the novel—a Truman who wants to care for Lynne as his sister and who feels maternal toward Meridian. Basically, Truman has found his feminine side and become as fearless and strong as Meridian herself. If only it were that easy for everyone!