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Meridian | Themes

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Importance of Community

Throughout the novel there is the powerful message that people in a community are stronger and better than people living isolated lives. The civil rights movement develops into a community. The effort of trying to get African Americans registered to vote called America for All is focused on making everyone a part of the bigger community. Whenever Meridian feels most pained by what happens in the world, she goes into communities to live "among the people." She does whatever she can to help them. This may be in the ghetto surrounding Saxon or in the small towns in the South such as Chicokema. Meridian discovers the importance of community for the African American population in Atlanta. They are healed by being with one another. They are healed by promising one another they will always remember pain and suffering and never forget sacrifices made in reaching for a better life. A turning point in the novel "is the song of the people, transformed by the experiences of each generation, that holds them together" (Chapter 28).

Lynne, too, thrives in community. When she helps to build the community center in Mississippi, she is at the happiest point of her life. When the community rejects her for being white, she is crushed.

People who live outside of community, who are ostracized for different reasons, cannot thrive. Wile Chile, Fast Mary of the Tower, Walter Longknife, and the Treasure sisters—all suffer and seek what they cannot find alone. Although Meridian does spend a great deal of her life living alone, she is never without a community behind her. The community takes care of and provides for her.

Unacceptability of Racism

Meridian has at its core the message that racism is unacceptable. This theme necessitates some of the graphic depictions of the horrible acts done to African Americans. These depictions range from the time of enslavement to the time of the novel. The horrors include rape, maiming, murder, and economic disenfranchisement. They are repeatedly revealed. Readers can then understand just how unacceptable events become when any human is viewed as less than any other human being. Native Americans, African Americans, and "poor white trash"—all suffer enormous difficulties stemming from a racist mentality.

When peaceful protests do not gain much traction for civil rights activists, they turn to violent measures. This highlights, again, the unacceptable racist actions that drive people to the point of responding in kind in order to protect their lives and the lives of their loved ones. Meridian's own ambivalence toward this mirrors Walker's own distaste for violent response. But Meridian's thoughts suddenly shift at the turning point of the novel when "she made a promise to the red-eyed man ... she would kill, before she allowed anyone to murder his son again."

The Costs of Unwanted Pregnancy

Over and over in the novel, Walker drives home the cost of unwanted pregnancy. Young women's lives freeze when they have babies. Many young women die trying to end those pregnancies, and many give up their babies, leaving orphans behind rather than sacrificing their own chances for happiness and success. Then they suffer guilt throughout their lives. Even married women, like Mrs. Hill, often find their happy lives disrupted by motherhood in an era that won't support women working and raising children.

Indeed, in this era prior to birth control, many families have more babies than planned. Families who have a lot of children often suffer great financial hardship. The costs to society for unplanned pregnancies can go beyond tragedy and suffering to a far-reaching lowering of the quality of life for those who cannot cope.

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