Meridian | Study Guide

Alice Walker

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Meridian | Motifs


Physical Illness and Injury

Illness and injury are found throughout the novel. The two best examples are found in Meridian and Tommy Olds, but readers will notice sickness and painful wounds in other characters woven into the narrative.

As an activist, Meridian herself suffers regularly from paralysis, hair loss, apparent physical weakness, and other indications of physical decay. These symptoms prove just how horribly she feels about the injustice she works so hard to call attention to and try to change. As she begins to realize it is not necessary for her to literally give herself over to trying to fix the problems, her inner wounds are healed and she begins to regain her physical health.

Tommy Olds, on the other hand, can never heal his inner wounds and deep-seated hatred. His injury, the loss of an arm, is permanent. It shows that he can never come to a state of healthiness.


The novel is literally set in a black and white world. People of different ethnicities are believed by many to belong in separate places—the African Americans in black communities, the whites in white communities. The blacker a person's skin is, the less he or she is able to assimilate.

When vivid colors appear in the novel, including the bright red of blood that is violently shed, readers should take note. For example Wile Chile's coffin is vivid orange in color, "to compete with the sunrise." The mourners from her neighborhood are dressed in the best clothes, all very bright colors. The students have decorated the outsides of the buildings with bright colors calling attention to Wile Chile's death. Her sad life and death—and the denial of the students' wish to honor her in death—point to the ugly truth of discrimination.

When Meridian is on her way to abort Truman's baby, she sees him and Lynne together. They both look white to her, and the car they are in is red. This description emphasizes the point that Meridian sees no blackness there.

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