Literature Study GuidesMeridianPart 1 Section 14 Summary

Meridian | Study Guide

Alice Walker

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Meridian | Part 1, Section 14 : Meridian (The Conquering Prince) | Summary

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Summary

The last words of Chapter 13, "she was in love, with Truman," set the stage for this chapter. It is about Meridian's brief but intense romance with Truman while she is still at Saxon. She is drawn to him because "she [feels] protected when she [is] with him." It is also because he is different from "any other black man she had known."

When the chapter opens, Truman arrives at Meridian's door to take her to a party. He is wearing "a flowing Ethiopian robe of extravagantly embroidered white" and speaking French, his preferred language. On their way to the party, Meridian tells Truman about three white exchange students who had been on a protest march with her that afternoon—Jill, Susan, and Lynne. Meridian says she likes Lynne best, but that she felt uncomfortable earlier when the two went to the house of Mabel Turner to try to register her to vote. After Mrs. Turner fed the girls a delicious meal, Lynne began to argue with her about her religious, apolitical beliefs. Meridian is also unhappy that Jill has been taking pictures of the African American women. The photos show them straightening their hair and coming out of the shower—as if they are some sort of exotic beings.

When they arrive at the party, Truman asks Meridian not to go because he wants to have sex with her. She denies him, saying "One day soon we'll be together." Once at the party, Truman and Meridian separate. She dances with Terence, "a plodding young man from Arkansas," and Scott, a white boy from the University of Connecticut. When she looks around for Truman, she spies him with Jill, who is looking adoringly at him. Later, she cannot see him at all.

As the party draws to a close, Truman shows up and takes Meridian home. With the exception of one fateful night, she will not see him again for several months. His coming to her coincides with the departure of the three white exchange students, who have apparently been all he has been interested in. Truman has been reading essays by W.E.B. Du Bois (1868–1963), a famous African American author and early civil rights activist who spent his life trying to focus attention on the need for independence and equality. Truman wants to discuss the ideas he finds so exciting with Meridian, but she is cold to him when he asserts that "if he dated white girls it must be, essentially, a matter of sex." So he leaves her life again.

The fateful day Meridian sees Truman after he begins dating the exchange students starts out with her confusion. She knows he is dating white women, which "went against everything she had been taught to expect." In the world Meridian comes from, white girls "were considered sexless, contemptible and ridiculous by all." White men were similarly dismissed and viewed as weak males who liked to experiment with all types of women. She feels betrayed by Truman's actions, but she has missed him enough that she is glad to see him and happy when he comes into her apartment with her.

Meridian works as a typist for a retired professor, Mr. Raymonds, who pays her well and gives her things like cookies, sodas, and canned meats. The price Meridian pays for these "extras" is to endure his sexual advances. When she brings out her latest crop of free food, Truman jokes about how it's a good thing Mr. Raymonds is not a "sugar daddy." Meridian does not correct him. She listens, instead, to his complaints about working at the country club and enduring the cruel verbal persecutions of the rich white men there.

As Truman begins touching her, Meridian chooses "to click her mind off, and her body seemed to move into his of her own accord." After they make passionate love, Meridian realizes Truman has not worn a condom. She goes into the bathroom to try to cleanse the semen from her body. When she finishes, she sees that Truman has left. He has returned to his favorite exchange student, Lynne. He never knows Meridian gets pregnant that night and later endures a brutal abortion at the hands of a sadistic doctor who also ties her tubes.

When Truman tries to come back to her, Meridian will have none of it. She says, "It's over. Let it stay." He begs her: "Have my beautiful black babies." She responds by hitting him with her book bag until he is bleeding.

Analysis

This chapter shines a spotlight on the sexual hypocrisy of men from Meridian's perspective. She cannot understand why an activist like Truman, who has participated in trying to lift up African Americans, will sleep with white women. It does not fit with the views of women in her family, who find white men and white women "frivolous," spoiled, and undeserving of respect. Meridian herself views whites as "very stupid ... as hordes of elephants, crushing everything underfoot." Meridian feels completely used by Truman—and disgusted—when he makes love to her one night, then goes off to enjoy sex with white women. On the morning Meridian goes for her abortion, she sees Truman and Lynne "riding across campus in his father's new red car." She says "they both look white." Even more troubling is that when he is finished with that experimentation he comes to her again. He asserts that she is beautiful and sexy and the woman he wants to mother his children. She finds this shameful and sickening.

Meridian also finds Mr. Raymonds' actions concerning women ridiculous. His skin is light in color, and so he marries a very dark-skinned woman; Meridian thinks this is somehow to make up for his lack of blackness. He is forceful about "protecting the virtue of black women from white men," yet he has no problem forcing himself on Meridian.

The doctor who performs Meridian's abortion also treats her body like something he has the right to abuse. He growls that he'll tie her tubes "if you'll let me in on some of all this extracurricular activity."

Yet Meridian is not completely damaged by all of the unhealthy encounters she has endured with men. Since coming to Saxon she has become "awake enough" to take on "all the good qualities of black women," including independence, courage, and strength.

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