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Meridian | Study Guide

Alice Walker

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Meridian | Part 1, Section 12 : Meridian (Battle Fatigue) | Summary

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Summary

Several months after Meridian joins the civil rights movement, she realizes that Truman Held actually means something to her. This awareness comes on a night when they are arrested and beaten for demonstrating.

Truman was in the first group of protestors who were arrested, taken to jail, and beaten. That night those protestors were released from jail so there would be room for new ones to be taken there and beaten. Meridian was among this second group. While she was being beaten, she realized she and Truman were "absolutely together," not in love but in this time and place in history.

Weeks later, as the protests and beatings continue, Meridian sees Truman one night, blinded by tear gas. She soaks her blouse in water and goes to find him. She plans to wipe the gas from his eyes, but he has been taken away in a police car.

Although most people in town appreciate what Meridian is doing as part of the movement, her mother is not. Mrs. Hill believes what is happening is "crazy." She tells her daughter that they should all just deal with the way things have always been. As a result, Meridian is filled with consternation when she must tell her mother what the next phase of her life is going to look like at school. She brings her two best friends along for moral support when she shares the news.

Meridian has been a good high school student and has a high IQ. The principal of the high school she attends make her an offer to go to Saxon College in Atlanta on a scholarship. The scholarship comes from a wealthy couple in Connecticut who have been appalled at the civil rights violations they have seen on television.

Meridian takes two young women with her to tell her mother of these plans. They are Delores, a fellow worker in the civil rights movement, and Nelda, a lifelong friend who has had more than one unwanted pregnancy. Nelda hopes Meridian can escape that sort of life. The main problem Mrs. Hill has with Meridian's plans to attend college is that she is willing to give up Eddie, Jr., in order to do it.

Mrs. Hill's response to the news is to suggest that Meridian is a monster for being willing to give up her son. She points out: "I have six children, though I never wanted to have any, and I have raised every one myself."

Meridian follows through with her plans. She says goodbye to her son. Then she finally feels that loves him "with as much love as she loved the moon or a tree, which was a considerable amount of impersonal love." She knows he will be better off without her, yet she is not perfectly at peace with her decision. She decides to rename him Rundi "after no person ... who has ever lived," thereby setting him free.

When Meridian arrives at Saxon, she embraces the opportunity to better herself, but she always hears a voice "that curse[s] her existence—an existence that could not live up to the standard of motherhood that had gone before." But she works hard to be as good a student as she can and "to be distracted" from the voice in her head.

Analysis

What enrages Mrs. Hill about her daughter's opportunity may be envy. She was a teacher successfully living on her own before she became a married woman with children. She feels that she did not have the option to simply walk out of that life once she found how discontented she was with it. She is angry that Meridian sees this as an option—and that she has it as one.

Meridian, who has always felt guilty and personally responsible for her mother's unhappiness, feels her mother's judgment of her keenly. Delores makes the comment during the discussion that Mrs. Hill could have been saddled with children in the days of enslavement. She means that at least Meridian lives in a time of greater freedom and is working to increase it. Meridian takes note of the error of that statement as it applies to her and her family. One of the most heartbreaking things that happened to enslaved women was that their children were taken from them. Meridian knows that "enslaved women had laid down their lives, gladly, for their children." She realizes "that the daughters of these enslaved women had thought their greatest blessing from 'Freedom' was that ... they could keep their own children." The realization magnifies her guilt. She views herself as some sort of freak, "belonging to an unworthy minority." She throws herself into her studies in Saxon and does not want "to pause long enough to respond to this spiritual degeneration in herself."

One reason Meridian is so sure it is right to accept the Saxon College opportunity is because Truman supports it since he goes to college right across the street from Saxon. They will be able to see each other daily. He assures her she "will be just the Saxon type!" and that they can work together in the Atlanta Movement. There is some foreshadowing here of just how much Truman will come to mean to Meridian in the future.

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