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Meridian | Study Guide

Alice Walker

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Meridian | Characters

Character Description
Meridian Hill Meridian Hill is the central character in the novel, which follows her life from childhood through the tumultuous civil rights movement of the 1960s—in which she is an activist—into the 1970s. Read More
Truman Held Truman Held enters the novel as a young civil rights worker who is self-serving in whatever he does. However, he has a lasting love and admiration for Meridian Hill. His ability to move in and out of her life at critical times eventually leads him to a more outward-oriented life of true service. Read More
Lynne Rabinowitz Lynne is a Jewish woman from New York who is an exchange student at Saxon College, where she meets Meridian and Truman. Lynne falls in love with Truman, and the two go to Mississippi to work for the civil rights movement. They marry and have a child who is murdered after the couple becomes estranged. This is just one of the ways Lynne is extraordinarily damaged over the course of the novel. Read More
Agnes Agnes is the wife of Johnny, the mother of Johnny, Jr. She is dying when Meridian and Truman visit the family to try to get them to vote. Agnes, who loves her husband passionately, hopes to die soon and be buried on Mother's Day, which is what happens.
Alonzo Alonzo is the kind, courteous brother of Altuna Jones, who befriends Lynne. He becomes her lover after she is raped by Tommy Odds. He does not care about the civil rights movement.
Anne Anne is a young girl whom Meridian recruits in Atlanta to join the movement. When Anne and Meridian are arrested after a sit-in at a lunch counter, Anne is abused in the jail. Her screams haunt Meridian for the rest of her life.
Anne-Marion Anne-Marion is Meridian's roommate at Saxon. She turns against Meridian. Meridian will not accept the violence and commitment to killing as necessary in the revolutionary arm of the civil rights movement, which Anne-Marion embraces.
Attacker A woman attacks Meridian and slams the door in her face when Meridian and Truman visit her home to try to get her to vote. The attacker does this because she knows that Meridian realizes she left her husband because he loved his dog more than he loved her.
Attacker's husband The husband of a woman who attacks Meridian when she and Truman visit her to try to get her to vote. He tells his wife that his dog has better qualities than she. The woman returns to him, however, because she is unable to provide for their five children—but demands that he kills the dog.
Attacker's mother The mother of a woman who attacks Meridian when Meridian and Truman visit her home to try to get her to vote. She does not want to house the attacker and her five children. The mother convinces her daughter to return to her husband—even though he loves his dog more than his wife.
Blonde girl A young blonde girl who volunteers to help the civil rights movement in Mississippi where Truman and Lynne live takes notes at church meetings. The people in the community disapprove of her because she wears skirts so short that her underwear shows when she sits in church.
Camara Camara, the young daughter of Lynne and Truman, is killed in New York City. Her death ends up bringing her mourning parents, who have been separated for years, back together.
Charlene Charlene is an unhappy student at Saxon College, a classmate of Meridian. Charlene is from St. Louis and sarcastic in her view of how the college is run.
Child murderer Meridian and Truman visit a young woman in prison who murdered her baby (a child she had when she was only 13 years old herself). The young woman says that the baby was actually her own heart, and she wonders how she is able to live without her heart. She laughs about Truman and Meridian trying to get people to vote.
Coca-Cola drinkers Truman gets to Chicokema, where he has tracked Meridian for the last time. Two black men drinking Coca-Colas at a gas station guide him to the square where she is staring down a tank.
Dark young man When Meridian decides to volunteer to help the civil rights movement in her hometown, a dark young man answers the door. He proudly leads her to Swinburn and Truman, who run the efforts in the town to register voters.
George Daxter George Daxter owns a funeral parlor in the town where Meridian grows up. The son of a black man and a white woman, he regularly sexually abuses teenage Meridian, luring her with candy and money.
Daxter's assistant Daxter's assistant at the funeral parlor tries to have sex with Meridian, just like his boss does. But he never goes beyond touching her and trying to impress her with his words about sex. He does have Meridian watch him seduce and have intercourse with another schoolgirl.
Dean of Women The Dean of Women at Saxon College is a very conservative black woman. She chides Anne-Marion for her tendency to rebel against the norms.
Doctor The doctor who gives Meridian an abortion when she becomes pregnant after having sex with Truman one time is cruel to her. He does the procedure without any anesthesia and ties her tubes as well so she cannot get pregnant again.
Eddie Eddie is Meridian's boyfriend in high school who impregnates her and marries her. He is honorable in his decision to marry her, as well as a hardworking provider, but she does not love him. He takes another lover and eventually leaves her with their son, Eddie, Jr.
Eddie Jr. Eddie Jr. is the son of Meridian and Eddie. Eddie leaves Meridian and she gives the boy up for adoption in order to attend Saxon College. She changes the boy's name to Rundi and hopes he will have a good life. Although she feels relieved at the time, Meridian is haunted by her decision the rest of her life.
Eddie's father Eddie's father (Meridian's father-in-law) likes to tell stories about how "chickenshit" black people in the South were when he was growing up.
Eddie's lover When Meridian loses interest in Eddie, he finds another young woman who will have sex with him as often as he wants. This is acceptable to Meridian—and to all of the women she knows.
Eddie's mother Eddie's mother (Meridian's mother-in-law) is very good to Meridian, thinking of her as her own daughter. She takes care of Eddie Jr. daily after Eddie leaves Meridian and Meridian becomes active in the civil rights movement and disinterested in mothering.
Fast Mary of the Tower According to a story traditionally told at Saxon College, in the 1920s a student named Mary had gotten pregnant. She concealed the pregnancy and had the baby in the tower of a building named Tower Hall. She murdered the baby and then committed suicide after being locked in a room for months. Every year on May Day the students commemorate Mary's death by holding hands and dancing slowly around a huge tree named The Sojourner. The tree is said to be Mary's only source of comfort at the college. As the students dance, they ask that they might be spared from unwanted pregnancy.
Feather Mae Feather Mae is Meridian's great-grandmother on her father's side. She is described as very beautiful and somewhat crazy. She fought her husband when he wanted to tear down a sacred Native American burial mound on their land. She went to the mound regularly to have ecstatic spiritual experiences.
Five-year-old boy Floods occur during the rainy season in the African American section of Chicokema. This happens yearly because of the way the whites in power have designed the town. One year a five-year-old boy drowns in a ditch that has flooded. Meridian carries his decomposing, dead body to a town meeting and places it on the table in front of the mayor. Many African Americans follow her on this protest and silently follow her out.
Good-looking guard A good-looking guard warns students carrying the casket containing Wile Chile's body to the Saxon College chapel that they are going to have trouble. The chapel is locked against the students and the service forbidden by the school president. Then the guard smugly points out to the irate students that he had tried to warn them.
Nelda Henderson Nelda Henderson is Meridian's childhood friend. She morally supports Meridian when she delivers the news to her mother that she is going to Saxon College and giving up her son. Nelda has had a hard life, having her first baby at 14 even as she cared for the younger children in her fatherless family. She explains to Mrs. Hill how wonderful this option is for Meridian.
Mr. Hill Meridian's father is a gentle, quiet man. He is a history teacher who is compassionate toward Native Americans and the suffering they endured. Mr. Hill is sweetly supportive of his daughter, and she often thinks of his wonderful singing voice and sense of fairness.
Mr. Hill's mother Meridian's grandmother on her father's side worked as a maid before becoming a midwife. She despises white women, whom she views as weak and useless.
Mrs. Hill Meridian's mother grew up with a physically abusive father but was independent enough to get herself educated as a schoolteacher. She loved her life as an independent young woman and resents being married and having children. She harshly judges Meridian according to the conservative religious and moral standards she espouses. She succeeds in making Meridian feel guilty whenever she thinks of her mother.
Mrs. Hill's father Meridian's grandfather on her mother's side is a handsome, hardworking man, but he also beats his wife and children. He forces his wife to earn every dime of the money it takes to send Meridian's mother to college, even though she has 12 children in all to take care of.
Mrs. Hill's great-grandmother Meridian's great-great-grandmother on her mother's side was a slave. She was sold to a man the day her mother—who had managed to keep her from being sold—died. However, she was a talented painter, and her owner allowed her to keep the money she made by painting decorations on barns. This money allowed her to buy freedom for herself, her husband, and her children.
Mrs. Hill's great-great grandmother Meridian's great-great-great-grandmother on her mother's side was a slave. When her children were sold, she followed their owners and stole them back. She was beaten severely. But she was allowed to keep her children after her third time of stealing them back. She could keep them as long as she provided all the food they ate.
Mrs. Hill's mother Meridian's grandmother on her mother's side was a hardworking woman and a devoted mother. Her husband beat her and their children. But she still managed to earn the $12 a year it took to get Mrs. Hill educated as a schoolteacher.
House mother The house mother of the dorm at Saxon College where Meridian lived would not allow Meridian to take care of the heavily pregnant Wile Chile. This ultimately resulted in the death of Wile Chile and her unborn baby.
Jill Jill is one of the three white exchange students—the other two are Lynne and Susan—at Saxon, who join the students' civil rights efforts. Meridian describes her as looking like the little Dutch boy in advertisements—pretty, with a blonde bob. She dislikes the way Jill takes pictures of the African American students as if they are some kind of exotic oddity.
Johnny Johnny is the thin, hardworking husband of Agnes who does everything for his young wife as she dies. He registers to vote after her death, seeing that it is one way he can try to make the world better for their young son.
Johnny Jr. Johnny Jr. is the young son of Agnes and Johnny.
Tom Johnson Tom Johnson is one of the workers in the Mississippi civil rights movement, but Truman despises him. He's disgusted by the fact that Tom's having a white girlfriend but hiding her from the important African Americans in the movement.
Altuna Jones Altuna Jones is a friend of Lynne's in the civil rights movement in Mississippi until Tommy Odds rapes Lynne. Then Tommy brings Altuna and two other young African Americans to Lynne's house the next day to take advantage of her sexually, too. Altuna adamantly refuses to participate, but he also cannot believe that Lynne has been raped. He decides instead that she has somehow lowered herself to sleep voluntarily with Tommy.
Delores Jones When Meridian tells her mother that she is going to Saxon College and giving up her son, Delores Jones goes with her to offer moral support. Delores is a spunky worker in the civil rights movement with Meridian. She refuses to let Mrs. Hill disparage Meridian's choice.
Lamumba Katurim Lamumba Katurim is a fictional leader in the civil rights movement, although most critics agree that this character is named for the Congolese leader against the Belgians in the 1960s. Truman thinks about Katurim when he notices how his friends are starting to scorn him because he is married to Lynne. Truman muses that Katurim had married a white woman, then divorced her, saying he was now only interested in being with black women.
Randolph Kay Randolph Kay is a fictional African American movie star. Truman thinks about Kay when he notices how his friends are starting to scorn him because he is married to Lynne. Truman muses that Kay had married a white woman, then divorced her to marry a "shiny new black wife" with whom he now freely participates completely in "the white world."
Walter Longknife Walter Longknife is a Cherokee to whom Mr. Hill deeds 60 acres of land he inherited from his grandfather, land that contains sacred Native American burial mounds. However, Longknife gives the deed back after camping on the land for several months, preferring to continue his lifestyle as a wanderer.
Louvinie Louvinie is the slave who is credited with planting the large tree known as The Sojourner at Saxon College, which was the Saxon plantation at the time. Louvinie told the Saxon children scary stories from West Africa and was blamed for the death of one of the young sons. He died of a sudden heart attack during one of her stories, so her tongue was cut out. She buried her tongue under the tree, which then grew at an incredible rate.
Louvinie's parents Louvinie's parents were revered in their West African homeland for their ability to use storytelling and interpretive powers to correctly identify murderers.
Lynne's father Lynne always thought highly of her father, believing him to be kind and gentle, "in a dull, careful Jewish way." Her attitude changes negatively when she calls to tell him Camara has been killed. Mr. Rabinowitz's response to Lynne's news that her daughter is dead is to say Lynne is dead to him and her mother as well.
Lynne's mother Lynne thinks of her mother as beastly, saying she only cares about what others think of her. Lynne is never able to forget Mrs. Rabinowitz's animal-like howling when she figures out Lynne has been sleeping with Truman.
Man blacker than night When Louvinie tells the Saxon children the scary stories from West Africa, they all feature a man she describes as blacker than night. This man likes to steal white children, bury them up to the neck in a garden, and feed them honey and live eels.
Man with poodle As Meridian takes part in the parade following the funeral of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., she notices a smiling black man who walks a white poodle. The poodle has a placard on its back that says "I have a dream."
Man with red eyes A man with red eyes tries to speak at an Atlanta church one Sunday when Meridian attends. He intends to speak about the murder of his son, a civil rights worker who advocated for revolution, and his grief bordering on insanity. But on this occasion, he is not able to say more than three words: "My son died."
Margaret Margaret is the white, big-hearted, large-breasted girlfriend of Tim Johnson. Johnson is the African American civil rights worker whom Truman detests for hiding the relationship from other people in the movement.
Matronly woman A matronly Jewish woman owns a delicatessen in one of the southern towns where Lynne lives in the early years of her activism with Truman. The woman disapproves of Lynne's hanging out with African Americans and especially of her marriage to Truman.
Minister At first Meridian is shocked that the young minister of an Atlanta church she attends is so obviously imitating Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. She comes to see, however, that he is fulfilling the role he should in the performance that the congregation expects from the church at this time.
Rims Mott Rims Mott is the 45-year-old worker who makes love to obese, 69-year-old Margaret Treasure, then convinces her she is probably pregnant. Mott likely does this in an attempt to get her house and land when she dies.
Murdered baby A teenage mother bites the cheek off her baby and then strangles her, saying she has killed her own heart by murdering the baby.
Nelda's first baby's father The father of Meridian's childhood friend Nelda's first baby is a gentle, loving high school boy when he impregnates Nelda.
Nelda's mother Nelda's mother is a single mother of six who works six days a week and is in church all day on Sunday.
Tommy Odds Tommy Odds is a good friend of Truman and Lynne in Mississippi. A fellow worker in the civil rights movement, Tommy is ambushed by whites and shot and has to have one arm amputated at the elbow. He is so angry that he declares all white people are evil and should be avoided, including Lynne. He eventually rapes Lynne as a sign of his power over her.
Henry O'Shay Henry O'Shay is a scam artist who charges people to see the mummified body that he claims is his wife, Marilene. He says the body is "Preserved in Life-Like Condition" 25 years after her death.
Hedge Phillips Hedge Phillips is a friend of Lynne's in the civil rights movement in Mississippi until Tommy Odds rapes Lynne. Then Olds brings Hedge and two other young African Americans to her house the next day to take advantage of her sexually, too. Hedge tells Lynne he would never hurt her, that he thought they were coming to her house to have fun at one of their parties.
Placid woman A placid woman sits next to Meridian at the Atlanta church she attends. She tells Meridian that the unusual stained-glass window in the church is titled "B.B., with Sword."
Praying man A man who prays at the Atlanta church service Meridian attends focuses on the church as a support community that has a lot of work to do.
President of Saxon The president of Saxon College is described by Meridian as tan and patriarchal. He is happiest when looking down on the campus through the windows of his Victorian mansion on the hill and so he has no positive influence on her.
Quiet young boy A quiet young boy wearing a nice suit leads Meridian to a pew in the Atlanta church she attends.
Raymond Raymond is a friend of Lynne's in the civil rights movement in Mississippi until Tommy Odds rapes Lynne. Tommy brings Raymond and two other young African Americans to her house the next day to take advantage of her sexually, too. Raymond, the shyest of the three young men, is only able to stammer to Tommy that he knows he has a girlfriend and so he is not interested.
Professor Raymonds Meridian works as a typist for Professor Raymonds in order to earn spending money while in college. Raymonds gives her things like canned tuna and candy in addition to money. Raymonds is old and gaunt and has terrible teeth and bad breath, and he constantly tries to force himself sexually on Meridian.
Mrs. Raymonds Mrs. Raymonds is a very dark-skinned African American. Meridian believes the professor chose her as his wife to make a point. Men of his age often tried to prove their love for their ethnicity by only dating and marrying the darkest of women.
Red-eyed man's son The red-eyed man at the Atlanta church Meridian attends believes his son was killed because of the views he held about the civil rights movement.
Schoolgirl Rather than allow him to have sex with her, Meridian watches a schoolgirl be seduced by George Daxter's smooth-voiced assistant.
Scott Scott is a white boy from Connecticut who comes on to Meridian at a party she attends with Truman while at Saxon College. Meridian is not interested, as she is in love with Truman. But she later remembers Scott tells her he is named for F. Scott Fitzgerald and decides to read some of Fitzgerald's work.
Skinny black boy During the parade following the funeral of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Meridian notices how the atmosphere has become rather festive. She overhears a skinny black boy telling a white couple that black folks do not "go on over death" the way white people do.
Small boy Truman arrives in Chicokema, seeking Meridian, and a small boy announces that she is currently standing in front of a tank, in defiance of discrimination that is taking place in the town. After announcing the news, eating a donut, and gulping a soda, the young boy runs back to watch the scene, with Truman close behind him.
Susan Susan is an exchange student at Saxon. She comes at the same time as Lynne and Jill and joins the civil rights movement. Meridian describes her as "short and mousy with thick legs."
Sweeper An elderly street sweeper in Chicokema brings Truman up to date on what Meridian is protesting. He shares his cynicism about bothering to try to bring about change.
Swinburn When Meridian first volunteers to help with the civil rights movement in her hometown, the man in charge is named Swinburn. He is thin, has dark brown skin, and is very serious.
Terence The first person Meridian dances with at a party she attends with Truman while at Saxon College is an African American from Arkansas named Terence. She is not the least bit interested in him and uses him to get herself away from Scott, a white boy from Connecticut, since Truman has disappeared from the party.
Tiny blonde girl Lynne goes to Truman's apartment to tell him that their daughter has been badly hurt and is in the hospital. She finds him with a tiny blonde girl who has been living with him for two months and says they will be getting married soon.
Miss Lucille Treasure Lucille Treasure is the younger sister of Margaret Treasure. They are elderly African Americans who have lived on the same land their whole lives and rarely leave the house. Lucille does not approve of her older sister's affair with a younger man—at age 69—and naively assumes that Margaret is pregnant.
Miss Margaret Treasure Margaret lives with her younger sister, Lucille, on family land, and she rarely leaves the house. Margaret is obese, but a young man takes her virginity at age 69 and tries to make her believe she is pregnant. Truman and Meridian take her to the doctor and she learns that she is not pregnant. Then she says instead she will do anything they want to help them with the civil rights movement.
Trilling Trilling is a civil rights worker with Truman and others in Mississippi. He flees home to Oklahoma after Tommy Odds is shot right next to him as they leave a meeting held in a church.
Mabel Turner Mabel Turner is a woman Meridian visits with Lynne when Lynne is an exchange student at Saxon, to try to get her to register to vote. However, when Lynne gets into an argument with Mrs. Turner, the visit is a failure.
Wile Chile Wile Chile is the nickname given to a wild, 13-year-old homeless girl by the people in the neighborhood around Saxon. Meridian is devastated to hear of Wile Chile's story, as the girl is pregnant, and manages to lure her into her room at Saxon. The house mother won't let her stay, and Wile Chile is killed along with her unborn child as she runs away across a busy street.
Miss Winter Miss Winter is the organist at Saxon College and one of three black teachers there. She has known Meridian's family her whole life. She is the one Anne-Marion brings to Meridian's bedside after Meridian has been ill and bedridden for a month or longer. Miss Winter is able to get Meridian to eat and begin healing.
Mr. Yateson Mr. Yateson is the principal of Meridian's high school. He is able to get her a scholarship to Saxon College even after she drops out of school to get married and have a baby.
Young Saxon son The youngest son of the Saxon plantation owners drops dead while listening to one of Louvinie's scary stories. Louvinie is blamed and punished, although in reality the child had been born with a serious heart defect.
Younger woman A younger woman watches over the cooks in the deli owned by a matronly Jewish woman. The deli is in one of the southern towns where Lynne lives in the early years of her activism with Truman. Both women disapprove of Lynne hanging out with African Americans and especially of her marriage to Truman.
Youngish man A youngish man helps a matronly Jewish woman run a deli. The deli is in one of the southern towns where Lynne lives in the early years of her activism with Truman. Unlike the women who run the deli and disapprove of Lynne's lifestyle, the youngish man is kind to Lynne but is scared to be obvious about it.
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