The Mystifying Sexual Politics of Motherhood in Meridian

Categories: Motherhood

The 1960’s was an iconic decade associated with a long list of images from hippies to the television to communism. It was also a time of great rise in political activism in so many realms, including feminism, as everyday people started to voice their opinions on the absence of equality in the world. In Meridian, Alice Walker uncovers the stark reality of the hardships of almost every American woman in the 1960’s. Walker underscores how social constructs turned many feminists to fear motherhood through the coming of age story of Meridian Hill, a black girl who is conflicted with what is the morally right in the midst of the civil rights movement.

The impassioned tone that is constructed through the thoughtful use of irony and significant symbolism highlight that private experience, such as motherhood, is inextricably bound to social conditions and the political setting.

In the novel, the idea of the sacrifices women are expected to and/or must endure for their children convey the demands of motherhood due to social constructs.

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Almost every woman in Meridian had her story told through these obstacles, including Meridian Hill’s mother. Mrs. Hill is a perfect example of a woman whose life changed completely because of the gender roles that society pushed on her. Mrs. Hill was “not a woman who should have had children” (Walker 40). She had lived very comfortably as a school teacher until society convinced her that becoming a mother was the only way to live a rich, full life.

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“She noticed that other girls were falling in love, getting married. It seemed to produce a state of euphoria in them” (Walker 41). So, that was exactly what she did; she got married and had Meridian only to realize that motherhood was not the right path for her. This was not uncommon for women in the 1960’s; many women were not only led to their unhappy lives by society’s promise of a perfect life as a mother but were also terrified to speak out and admit that they were unsatisfied in fear of society’s judgment. Mrs. Hill continued to live a miserable life as a housewife and took that anger and desire for her past independence out on her daughter. This had a direct effect on Meridian. She never had the desire to have a baby after being a constant disappointment to her mother but became pregnant in high school due to her lack of sexual education. She felt even more reluctance towards her situation as she was expelled and forced to watch as her husband went to school and work every day. This restriction led Meridian “to dream each night, just before her baby sent out his cries, of ways to murder him. She sat in the rocker Eddie had bought hand stroked her son’s back, her fingers eager to scratch him out of her life” (Walker 65). Society had pushed her into a position where she felt like there was nothing she could do other than murder her child in order to escape her life as a mother. Before getting worse, she decides to do the unfathomable and go against societal norms by giving up her baby, pursuing further education, and putting her happiness first. Although it was sexual politics that led to both their pregnancy and discontent as mothers, the two women blamed their suffering on motherhood. The repeated connections between children and the unwelcome consequences of sexual politics resulted in many women in the 1960’s believing that motherhood was the cause of their unhappiness.

Mrs. Hill’s relationship with her daughter is further developed and understood through ironic symbolism as Walker utilizes this technique to shed light onto a less obvious angle on sexual politics. Although there are obvious detrimental effects of gender roles, many people in Meridian show that the fight against sexual politics is often inadvertently harmful due to the approach. The most powerful image that shows this idea is Wild Child’s funeral. This was a gathering that was supposed to honor Wild Child and her horrific past. However, when officials did not let the people pass school grounds with her casket, many students ended up taking their anger out on the one thing that unified them throughout all of their years at school: The Sojourner tree. “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. Though Meridian begged them to dismantle the president’s house instead, in a fury of confusion and frustration they worked all night, and chopped and sawed down, level to the ground, that mighty, ancient, sheltering music tree” (Walker 39). The image of The Sojourner being chopped down can be seen as poetic, but in reality, it just shows how the students’ temper ended up hurting themselves and those they love rather than achieving their goals. Wild Child was still buried in a segregated graveyard; the only thing that changed was that The Sojourner was gone. The destruction of The Sojourner tree is such a powerful image because it symbolizes many things at once. It can be seen as a symbol of Meridian, underlining the irony that although she should have been the one thing that brings Mrs. Hill happiness, she did the opposite and was constantly reminded that she was unwanted and unloved. Mrs. Hill lashed out on the wrong person, blaming motherhood, and pushed Meridian away just as the girls took their anger out on The Sojourner. The image of The Sojourner can be further expanded to the many movements of the 1960’s, including the feminist movement. Many protestors were blinded by their anger and were unable to redirect it towards something that was beneficial. In this one image, it is shown how people’s private experiences are affected by the social conditions and political setting in so many different ways, leading them to trigger even more problems.

Meridian shows that women should go out and fight against the restrictive gender norms of the world. However, there is one important thing to remember in the process: it must be done in the right way. The symbolism and irony that Walker employs all throughout Meridian reveal that in many movements of the 1960’s, including the one against gender norms, people’s blind rage stopped them from seeing what was really best for their cause. Although private experience, such as motherhood, is inextricably bound to social conditions and the political setting, perhaps sexual politics is further perpetuated by the very people who are fighting against it. Through this, Walker sends an even deeper overall message to all the readers of Meridian: not all action against sexual politics is the same.

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The Mystifying Sexual Politics of Motherhood in Meridian. (2021, Aug 17). Retrieved from

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