Literature Study GuidesMeridianPart 1 Section 6 Summary

Meridian | Study Guide

Alice Walker

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Meridian | Part 1, Section 6 : Meridian (Indians and Ecstasy) | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 6 reveals more about Mr. Hill, giving readers information about the things Meridian admires most in her father. Mr. Hill has a deep interest in the history of Native Americans. In a shed in the yard, he spends hours poring over maps, photographs, and books on this topic. He believes fervently in preserving their history and respecting their culture. This desire is one of the few things he will argue over with his wife.

Mr. Hill was given 60 acres of land by his grandfather, and on this land is a sacred Native American burial site. He works the land for years to turn it into decent farmland, but he never desecrates the burial ground, known as the Sacred Serpent. Mr. Hill meets a Native American named Walter Longknife—a man who is lost in the world. He bears the grief of his time serving as a soldier in World War II and the lost legacy of his people, the Cherokee. Mr. Hill gives Longknife the deed to the land. Mrs. Hill is bitter about this, saying, "Other men run away from their families outright ... You stay, but give the land under our feet away."

Longknife camps out on the land for a few months, but then he gives the deed back to Mr. Hill and resumes his life as a wanderer. Before long, however, the government claims the land to turn it into Sacred Serpent Park. This is a public park, which means African Americans like the Hills cannot go to it for many years until the segregation laws are changed. Meridian grieves over the loss of the farm and the sacred mound with her father even though the rest of the family does not care about the loss.

The history of the land is also included in the chapter. Meridian's great-grandmother on her father's side is a woman of "some slight and harmless madness" named Feather Mae. She was the first one to try to keep the Native American burial mound sacred. From childhood, Feather Mae enjoyed sitting on the side of the mound and dreaming big dreams. One day she followed some squirrels, going "to the center of the Serpent's coiled tail, a pit forty feet deep, with smooth green sides." Standing there, she experienced physical ecstasy and believed only in this as spiritually rewarding for the rest of her life.

Meridian follows Feather Mae's tradition, "[s]eeking to understand her great-grandmother's ecstasy and her father's compassion for people dead centuries before he was born." When she enters the pit, she too experiences the sensation of ecstasy. Later in life, in Mexico, Meridian has the same sensation at an ancient altar.

Analysis

Through getting to know her father's family's story and Walter Longknife, Meridian gets to know her father. She understands that her father mourns in the same way Longknife mourns. Deep in his soul, he is "looking for reasons, answers, anything to keep his historical vision of himself as a just person from falling apart."

Similarly, in observing her mother's responses to Mr. Hill's compassion, Meridian gains insight into just how limited her mother is. She thinks, "The answer to everything ... is we live in America and we're not rich." Unlike Meridian and her father, Mrs. Hill does not seek any higher spiritual awareness. Rather than doing her part to try to set things right, she would rather complain and stay stuck in her bitterness.

One of Meridian's beliefs concerns the power of the coil in the Serpent's tail. She says that "it was a way the living sought to expand the consciousness of being alive ... the ground about them was filled with the dead." Once again, dead bodies are prominent, but here they serve to elevate the living into a higher plane of being.

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