Literature Study GuidesMeridianPart 2 Section 17 Summary

Meridian | Study Guide

Alice Walker

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Meridian | Part 2, Section 17 : Truman Held (Of Bitches and Wives) | Summary

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Summary

This chapter opens with a description of the shooting of one of Truman's friends and fellow co-workers in the movement, Tommy Odds. As Truman, Tommy, and a third man named Trilling exit a meeting held in a church, machine-gun fire rings out. Truman and Trilling jump out of the way, but Tommy takes a bullet in the elbow.

When Truman goes to the hospital to see Tommy, he learns that Tommy has lost the bottom half of his arm. He also finds out that the event has changed Tommy into a bitter person with a burning hatred for all whites.

When Truman mentions Lynne's name, Tommy says flatly, "Don't mention that bitch to me, man." Lynne and Tommy have been friends, but now he only sees her as a white person, and he hates her. Truman is stunned and says Lynne has nothing to do with what happened. But even as he says it, he begins to doubt it. He thinks back to times when having Lynne with them has caused difficulty. One night, for example, they had gone out for a sandwich at a "Whites Only" café. They all thought it was a joke and a kind of a dare at the time, but as they left the restaurant they were followed by people in a car. Only Tommy Odds' friends, a rough group they called "niggers-on-the-corner," were daring enough to walk with them and keep them safe.

During this visit with his old friend, Truman begins to think it is time for him to "get rid of [his] bitch." He ponders how an African American civil rights leader and a famous African American actor have recently dumped their white wives in favor of black women. He thinks about how much he despises a man named Tom Johnson because he has a white girlfriend but keeps it a secret from the community. He tells Truman, "It's just a matter of pussy. That's all. Just a matter of my personal taste in pussy."

Truman thinks back to the time when he and Lynne first became activists in the area and helped build a community center. The young African American men who were so grateful to have the center to hang out in were at first scared to come near Lynne. They saw her as "a route to Death, pure and simple." Lynne had won them over, but since then the movement has changed. Lynne is no longer welcome to participate. Yet the young men she has befriended remain loyal to her and still visit her. They share the news about the community and the movement that her own husband does not share with her.

Analysis

Tommy's militant response to losing his arm coincides with the end of many African Americans' willingness to continue to protest in nonviolent ways. Now they are interested in responding with the violence and hatred they have faced throughout their lives. In particular, many African Americans begin to completely separate themselves from white people. They especially view a man's marriage to a white woman as a betrayal of ethnicity. After all, as Truman points out, white women are capable of ruining a black man's life just by making accusations against him. Of course, Lynne is not this type of a woman. But with her long hair and large body, she represents all white women, a "large, mysterious doll." By being with African American men and putting them at risk she is "[g]uilty of whiteness, as well as stupidity."

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