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Meridian In her second novel, Alice Walker stages Meridian with “time out of joint” through flashbacks and alternating narrators. Its story follows Meridian Hill, a black woman activist attending college during the 60s and 70s in an environment tinted with racism and sexism. These themes along with issues with regard to fiction and reality, life and death, ordinary life and life in struggle arise from the Civil Rights Movement. Through characterization and narrative structure, Walker conveys that fiction and reality are in constant conflict as the characters balance their personal lives and activist lives amidst suffering.
Walker further argues through literary devices the manifold nature of life where only suffering and pain are an inevitability as emphasized by the Civil Rights Movement as it transitions into militancy. Walker employs characterization while alternating between flashbacks of different characters to structure the novel with “time out of joint”.
The novel generally follows Meridian battling through concepts of realism while fighting for social progress.
Meridian consistently acts in the context of the greater good for the Movement and in her life. By introducing a specific flashback after Meridian is unable to respond violently on behalf of the Revolution, narrative structure imbues significance to Meridian structurally by the deliberate fashion the flashbacks are ordered. As Meridian becomes nostalgic of her choir days, Walker argues how youthful life and life engaged in a geopolitical struggle are inextricably intertwined. More specifically, Walker is critical of the stand for violence many civil rights activists took during the late 60s after “witnessing the extreme violence, against black dissidents, of the federal government and police” (15).
The author instead underlines Meridian’s alternate response in seeking solace in a time when the Movement still embraced nonviolent integration.
Walker makes empathy characteristic of Meridian as she longs for the pacifying effect of singing in a church choir that she believed could be maintained by the Movement in contrast to savage motives of the Revolution’s militant strategy. Her flashbacks represent her idealism that enables her to uphold the notion that the Movement could continue to be nonviolent in spite of white racist violence and apathy. Meridian wilfully decides not to engage in murder in commitment to her life experiences despite the insistence of her peers, shifting power and moral authority from a community to a personal level. Her peers have also taken personal control in another way by taking their violent experiences and responding equally violent against their oppressors. In one way, Meridian is elevated to a higher status as a character who is obstinate to her beliefs. However, her idealism can disable her from recognizing the ongoing violence when confronted with the question of murder.
As she clings to a happier pastime, Walker asserts that the boundary between reality and fiction is blurred as Meridian debates her conflict between a vision for a nonviolent movement and the response required by life embroiled in racism and violence. Aside from her dilemma between violence and pacifism, the unstable political climate Meridian resides in also develops into familial clashes that reflects how ordinary life in the face of oppression is defined. Life is consumed by suffering especially for blacks in the past 200 years that they have faced institutional and structural racism. It’s what the Civil Rights Movement fought against, also proof that ordinary life and life in struggle are inseparable. It particularly becomes a source of dissension between Meridian and her mother as they’re characterized by how they choose to manage these two aspects of their lives. For Meridian, it’s a balancing act between keeping and breaking tradition.
Her chronic illness partly stems from her resentment for her mother over her failure to guide Meridian through adolescence. As the story progresses, however, Meridian recognizes that her the mother is the product of endless years of abuse and brutality much like herself. Meridian eventually comprehends that her mother’s “purity of life was compelled by necessity” (130), a self-defense mechanism against a life lived not in her mother’s terms. Through this method of distinguishing Meridian from her mother, the role of their different political and social contexts is stressed. Meridian’s mother did not live “in an age of choice” (130) while Meridian joins the Movement as the opportunity is allowed to her. In spite of this, death is prevalent in all life, limiting Meridian’s commitment to the Revolution. Death is utilized as a recurring event throughout the plot. Meridian is exceptional in that she permits death to fuel her passion for the Movement as in the death of Wild Child but not change her character as she only agrees to commit murder for what she believes to be for the right reasons.
Meridian is emblematic of the perspective on the Movement Walker favors as the other activists participate in the Movement for selfish agendas. To illustrate, Anne-Marrion joins the Movement to achieve the same economic success as white people, and Lynne involves herself in the Movement to satisfy her interest in anything foreign to her. Meridian’s compassionate character entitles her to understand her mother even though she feels she has wronged her, obliging her to heal and discover her identity. In the same manner, she empathizes with Wild Child as motivation to not commit murder as she feels the weight of pain in death and suffering, especially with existing prejudices and racism against black people. Walker believes that in a time of inescapable death and suffering, people must choose their battles wisely and not use pain as an excuse to retaliate. It’s the balance Meridian attempts to maintain for herself, and it’s her character that empowers her to cope with all the pain.
Narrative structure heightens the significance of Meridian’s character development as she only fully comes to her own when she understands the plight of her mother later in the novel after she had accumulated the necessary wisdom about the world and herself. Yet it’s also Meridian’s empathetic nature that allows her to take her grassroots efforts as a means of developing herself. Walker concludes that people should take advantage of the opportunity to fight for justice and equality but to not let life rife with death and suffering consume us. This ideal capacitates Meridian to control the impact of death and suffering in life in general by separating her own needs and opinions about the world from her life as an activist. Meridian is a heroic figure of how blacks can reconcile their everyday life and their life in the wake of political struggle.
In Meridian, Alice Walker covers most of the themes expanded upon in her most notable work, The Color Purple. Meridian is the precursor to one of Walker’s favorite topics as a writer, issues facing one of the most oppressed groups in America: black women. The Civil Rights Movement birthed the feminist consciousness in America, inspiring women to assert their social and political rights. Describing herself as a ‘womanist’, Walker combines the battles of women and black people to communicate the role of race is feminism and the role of feminism in the black power movement. Using narrative structure and characterization, Walker expresses the conflict between fiction and reality as she attempts to reawaken the nonviolent movement that rose to prominence many years ago. Within this discussion, she also conveys how life is unavoidably pained with suffering and death and how Meridian emerges as the hero who best conciliates her past with the future.
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