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Meridian | Study Guide

Alice Walker

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Meridian | Symbols



Hair—and the choices women make about grooming their hair—represents ethnicity and acceptance or lack of acceptance of it. Hair is first discussed in Chapter 1, when the sweeper tells Truman about Henry Shay's obsession with his mummified wife's hair. He wants her hair to remain long, straight, and red—to be sure people don't mistake her darkened body as that of an African American.

When Lynne becomes active in the civil rights movement, she tightly braids her long straight hair and pins it on top of her head. She may be trying to fit in with the way African American women often wear their hair. Later, after being ousted from the movement, Lynne sees that her long, straight hair gives her a desirable beauty. It is appealing for African American men, who Truman says like any hair that is long and flowing, including a horse's tail. She proudly shakes her head to make her waist length hair more noticeable. She often takes her hair down when she needs to feel confident.

In contrast, many of the African American women in the novel try to alter the hair they are born with. They straighten it, color it, or otherwise change it, to be more similar in appearance to white women like Lynne. This is symbolic of their lack of comfort in their heritage. They believe that they might be treated more fairly if only their hair is changed.

Meridian, of course, does nothing to her hair—except to gradually lose it as her life of service goes on. As she sheds her hair, she seems to be shedding her ties to the world. At the end as she comes to a full understanding of exactly what her role should be, her hair begins to grow back. This hair is completely different now, described as "soft wool."

One other African American woman in the novel slowly goes bald. This is Nelda's mother, whose hair falls out steadily as she has more children. For her the loss of hair represents the slow loss of herself as she has one unwanted pregnancy after another. She becomes someone who can only work six days a week and spend Sundays in church—all other options are closed to her. Nelda's mother's hair will never grow back, as Meridian's does, because she can never find herself.

The Sojourner

The Sojourner is the name of the tree on the campus of Saxon College, said to be the largest magnolia tree in the country. The tree was planted by a woman named Louvinie, who was enslaved on the Saxon plantation where the college now stands. Louvinie planted her tongue under the tree after it was chopped out by her masters who blamed her for scaring their youngest son to death with her stories. After the Louvinie planted her tongue by the tree, the tree grew to magnificent heights. Many people thought it was magical that it was able to talk, make music, and obscure vision. This last attribute made it a perfect hiding place for enslaved people trying to escape from the plantation. It also sheltered Saxon students wanting to make love with their young men.

The Sojourner represents safety and security. It represents hope of avoiding the unwanted pregnancies that often ended the dreams and growth of young women. When the mighty tree is chopped down, the act symbolizes the hopelessness people feel in the face of institutions that will not change discriminatory policies. It foreshadows the acts of violence many civil rights activists will eventually espouse and practice in frustration at the limited gains from nonviolent protests. Meridian was devastated to watch The Sojourner being chopped down. In a few years, she will resolutely refuse to kill if the movement requires it.

The picture of The Sojourner's stump with the new branch growing from it shows that the mighty tree did not die after all. This event occurs at the end of the novel, and readers should note the timing: The Sojourner and Meridian are coming back to life.

The Sacred Serpent

The Sacred Serpent, the sacred burial ground for Native Americans, is on the Hills' property. It is symbolic of the need to respect all people, to honor their traditions, and to treat them with fairness. Father Mae, Meridian's great-grandmother; Meridian's father; and Meridian herself all recognize the incredible value of the Sacred Serpent. They are able to be transported to a state of ecstasy when in the coil of the serpent's tail. True purity of heart, true acknowledgment of the sacredness of all human beings, lifts people up to be their best selves.

Dead Bodies

Throughout the novel, dead bodies appear to underscore the brokenness of society. The first chapter of the novel is focused to a great degree on a dead body—the mummified remains of Marilene O'Shay. Her body on display represents her husband's opportunistic grab for money. He literally turns the mummy and the story behind it into a freak show.

Wile Chile's dead body, denied entrance to the chapel at Saxon College, is buried in anonymity in "an overgrown corner of a local black cemetery." That shame drives the students to chop down the most beautiful thing on campus, The Sojourner.

Often the dead bodies in the novel are chopped up or otherwise defiled. Fast Mary of the Tower chops her infant baby into pieces after killing it. The child murderer Truman and Meridian meet in prison bit her baby's cheek off before killing the child. Meridian carries the dead five-year-old child into the mayor's office in Chicokema as a form of protest. The body is bloated because of drowning caused by the powerful people's blindness to the horrible conditions of African Americans living there.

One place where dead bodies offer hope in the novel is in the coil of the Sacred Serpent's tail on Mr. Hill's land. It is where Meridian and her father and his grandmother are all reminded that life is worth living at a higher, nobler level.

Meridian and the other mourners follow Dr. Martin Luther King's dead body in the funeral procession. It is the first place where Meridian recognizes the importance of community for African Americans. At the same time, she is puzzled by the celebratory atmosphere, but it is the beginning of her understanding of how they can heal themselves from all of the suffering and grief.

Questions for Symbols

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The most important difference between the Reggio Emilia and American attitude toward children is that Reggians tend to value children's use of graphic materials to: A. explain the children’s ideas. B.
Question 1 The reason many students fail exams is because they do not study. incomplete comparison lack of parallelism faulty predication dangling modifier 1 points Question 2 Scuba diving is where yo
He has a thin face, his hair is thin and light brown. This sentence contains a Question 1 options: A) fragment B) comma splice C) run-on D) correct as is
Oates has specifically mentioned the "Death and the Maiden" folktales as one inspiration for this story (see "Death and the Maiden" under " Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory "). Some literary critics have
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