The University of Iowa College of Liberal Arts & Sciences Department of English

Alice Walker, Meridian, 1976

1. How does the epigraph from Black Elk Speaks affect your expectations for this novel?

2. Why do you think the author opens her book with a series of definitions of "meridian"? Which of the listed meanings do you think apply most to this novel?

3. What does its date of publication indicate about the social context in which Meridian was written? How can you date the incidents in the novel?

4. "The Last Return"--Whose last return is it? Why do you think the novel begins with such a finality?

5. In the first chapter how and what do we learn about past race relations in this town? What is the significance of the town's tank? Over what grotesque spectacle has conflict erupted?

6. What do we learn about Meridian before we know who she is? What action does she perform, and with what result? Through whose eyes do we view her?

7. Who is Truman Held, and what past events unite him and Meridian? Under what conditions is she now living, and what is her state of health when found?

8. What do we learn about her revolutionary past? Why does she refuse to promise to be willing to kill in the cause of revolution? (17)

9. What are some of her memories of childhood? What do we learn about her past relationship with her parents, especially her mother?

10. What unifies the list of names on page 21? What memories of 1963 on a college campus does it evoke?

11. How had Anne-Marion and Meridian become friends? Who was Medgar Evers, and how had Meridian commemorated his death?

12. What seems to be Meridian's character?

13. "The Wild Child"--What had been the problem of the "Wild Child"? How did Meridian try to help her? What foiled her attempt?

14. "Sojourner"--What legends and memories are associated with the great tree Sojourner? What is the significance of its name? What sad event occurs before the destruction of the tree?

15. Who destroys it, and for what purpose? Is there a symbolism to the tree's death?

16. Alice Walker attended both Spellman College and Sarah Lawrence College. Which incidents or descriptions may be based on her assessment of one or both of these schools?

17. "Have You Stolen Anything?"--Who asks this question? Why does she ask it, and why does Meridian resent such questioning?

18. What do we learn about her mother's past and her attitude toward child rearing?

19. "Gold"--What is shown by the story of seven year old Meridian's finding of the bar of gold? Why do her family take no interest? Do you think the bar is in fact made of gold?

20. Is this tale an allegory?

21. "Indians and Ecstasy"--What is Meridian's father's attitude toward the Indian past? (47) How do his views differ from those of her mother? (49)

22. What act of generosity does he perform? (47) What finally happens to the Sacred Serpent burial mounds? (54)

23. How had her father's grandmother helped preserve the mounds? What had happened to Feather Mae, her father's grandmother, when she entered the underground pits?

24. Who later shares her experience, and what does it seem to mean?

25. "English Walnuts"--To what does the title refer?

26. What preparation had Meridian received for the changes of adolescence? Under what circumstances does she become pregnant?

27. What is her relationship with her first lover Eddie? What is her response to his character? Their future?

28. Are there parallels between her early sexual experiences and those of Maya Angelou or other writers we have read?

29. "The Happy Mother"--How is the title ironic?

30. What are Meridian's reactions to motherhood? What may be some reasons for her indifference and hostility?

31. What causes her estrangement and eventual separation from her husband? On what topics do they disagree? (attitude toward education)

32. What new activity is begun in her town? (69) What shocking event attempts to defeat it?

33. How does this book differ or resemble earlier works by African-American women we have read?

34. Is the plot clear or coherent? What purpose is revealed by the sequence in which it is told?

35. To what extent do you think this book may be autobiographical?

36. "Clouds"--What reflections does Meridian make on her life thus far? How does she evaluate her situation? (73)

37. "The Attainment of Good"--Is the title satirical? What do we learn in this chapter about the past life of Meridian's mother?

38. What do we learn about Mrs. Hill's views on religion and politics? Do these remind you of the views of other characters we have encountered?

39. "Awakening"--What is Meridian's first step toward civil rights activism? How is she treated by her male colleagues?

40. "Battle Fatigue"--What is referred to by the title?

41. What is the significance of the names given to the private colleges, Saxon College and R. Baron College? What circumstances enable Meridian to attend college?

42. What is her mother's attitude toward her attendance? Toward her desire to relinguish her child?

43. How do her friends help her to make her plea? For what does Nelda blame Meridian's mother?

44. Why do you think Meridian wishes to abandon her child? What emotions does she feel after doing so?

45. "The Driven Snow"--What is referred to by the title? What are some features of Saxon College which cause Meridian discomfort or distaste? Does it surprise you that these are alleged as the features of a college for African-Americans? (94)

46. What social movement does Meridian now join? What are some of the things she witnesses as a participant?

47. What traumatic event is associated with her arrest? (96)

48. What emotions does she feel toward her mother during this period? With what results does she associate "black motherhood"? (96)

49. Why does she move from campus? What has happened to her father?

50. What do you think causes Meridian's thinning hair? Toward whom do her thoughts now turn?

51. "The Conquering Prince"--To whom does the title refer, and to what extent is it ironic?

52. What are some of Truman's unusual traits? What is their relationship, and how does it change?

53. What effect does the presence of the white exchange students have on each of them? On what had been Meridian's opinion of white women been based?

54. What do we learn about her social life? Under what circumstances does she again become pregnant?

55. How is the abortion described? (119) Why does she strike Truman when he again approaches her? (120)

"The Recurring Dream"

56. What different beliefs about the goals of life do Anne-Marion and Meridian hold?

57. How does Anne-Marion respond to Meridian's sickness? Is she guilty of negligence? Who finally rescues her?

58. What do we learn of the history of Meridian's family? How does this affect her view of her mother?

59. What causes her parting with Anne-Marion? What effect does this have on Meridian?

"Truman Held," "Of Bitches and Wives"

60. At what juncture did Truman and Lynne arrive in Mississippi?

61. What is the context for the title, "Of Bitches and Wives"? Under what circumstances is Tommy Odds shot, and whom does he blame?

62. What effect does Tommy's shooting have on Truman's relationship to his wife Lynne? On his attitude toward her?

63. What seems to be the author's view of the demand that Truman divorce his wife on account of her race? How can you tell?

64. What seems to have been a change of "movement" attitudes toward white civil rights workers?

"The New York Times"

65. What is meant by this title?

66. At what time period do the events in this chapter occur? What is Meridian's response to Truman's overtures? Of what lack does she accuse him? What obligations does she remind him of?

67. "Visits": What do we learn from Lynne's visit with Meridian? What peculiarly painful events does she recall?

68. What has happened to her marriage with Truman, and what losses does she regret?

69. What do we learn about her character? What account does she give about her past?

70. What has been Lynne's relationship with her parents, especially her mother?

71. "Tommy Odds" and "Lynne": What act does Tommy Odds commit, and what was his motive? What are some of the many results of this incident? What ends her marriage?

72. "Of Giving Him Back to His Own": Why is this title ironic? What happens when Lynne tries to tell Truman of their daughter's injury?

73. "Two Women": What brngs Lynne and Meridian closer together? What had caused Camara's death?

74. "Ending": Whose funeral is described? What are some of Meridian's reactions to the event?

75. "Questions": In their conversations, what opinions do Meridian and Truman express about the nature of revolution? How do their attitudes differ? Does she ever change her mind?

76. "Camara": What funeral causes Meridian to reevaluate her view of African-American religion? What has happened to Anne-Marion in the intervening years?

77. "Treasure": To what does the title refer? What has happened to Margaret Treasure, and how are Meridian and Truman able to help her?

78. "Pilgrimage": Why does Meridian visit the girl who has killed her child in prison?

79. What victory have the townspeople achieved, and how had Meridian aided in this reform?

80. In the chapter, "Atonement," who atones to whom? What understanding do Meridian and Truman come to in "Settling Accounts"?

81. What has happened to the tree Sojourner? Why does Meridian separate from Truman, and what is her final situation?


82. What effect has her life had on that of her friends? What seems to be the meaning of the book's final paragraph?

83. To what extent does the novel end affirmatively? Is it a novel of healing?

84. Which of the novel's events can be read symbolically?

85. What do you think are some of the novel's major themes? Do you think they are effectively realized?

86. How does this book portray black/white relationships? male/female relationships in general? of the effects of political turmoil on private life?

87. What account does this book provide of the progress of civil liberties for southern African-Americans?

88. Would you describe this as a unified book? Why or why not?

89. How would you compare this novel in content, tone and ideology with the other works we have read, especially Hansberry, Angelou and Petry? How does it differ from the earlier works by Petry and Hansberry.

90. Angelou and Walker's books appeared in the same decade; how do they present contrasting views of an era?

91. What do you find to be the merits and/or demerits of this novel? What topics did it cause you to think about?


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