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Literature Study GuidesMeridianPart 2 Section 16 Summary

Meridian | Study Guide

Alice Walker

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Meridian | Part 2, Section 16 : Truman Held (Truman and Lynne: Time in the South) | Summary



This chapter opens with descriptions. First Lynne is described from Truman's perspective as he observes her. She is surrounded by African American children who are taking turns combing her long hair. He starts to photograph the scene but then turns around to take a different picture. It is a picture "of the broken roofing and rusted tin on wood that makes up one wall of a shabby nearby house."

Next Truman and Lynne are described, arriving in Mississippi on a motorcycle in 1966 to take part in the civil rights movement there. Lynne's long hair streams behind them. Lynne views "the black people of the South [as] Art." She has longed to come here since the murder of Chaney, Goodman, and Schwerner in this "worst place in America for black people." Truman has reluctantly agreed.


This section of the book begins with an epithet, an eight-line poem titled "The Last Toast" by the famous Russian poet Anna Akhmatova (1889–1966). From a family of privilege, Akhmatova loved her native country, even as she watched it crumble beneath monumental political and social changes. Her poems often speak fiercely in favor of the Russia she grew up in. Walker, who loved Russian history and wrote eloquently in college about the revolution there, greatly admired Akhmatova. Walker's choice to include this particular poem foreshadows the "brutal and coarse" reality of the American civil rights movement that will be revealed in the chapters.

The first chapter of this part returns to the symbol of hair: Lynne's long, flowing hair, which Truman observes black children combing. Looking at the scene, Truman realizes that he and Lynne are opposites and it gives him a "sinking, hopeless feeling about ... what they do to each other." Readers will find in this part that what Truman and Lynne do to each other is bleak, indeed. Their differences are already apparent, and the danger of an African American man and a white woman traveling together in the Deep South is stated. The narrator says, "Riding the motorcycle was dangerous because of the whiteness of her face, but at dusk they passed in a blur."

Lynne's motives for being in Mississippi are not particularly noble. She still seems to think of African Americans as an exotic breed, just as Jill did when photographing Saxon students when she was an exchange student. The text describes her as "a romantic." Truman, too, is not really there for the cause, having "had enough of the Movement and the South." So it seems clear no good will come from their being in Mississippi together as two troubled people.

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