Alice Walker uses her novel Meridian to address the revolution within a revolution from the 1960s to the 1970s. The Women’s Liberation Movement brought awareness to how women’s hardships were not only a private issue but also a social and political issue. Through a feminist perspective on the Civil Rights and Black Power movements, Walker uses her characters to represent ideas of women’s rights and conformism. Her creation of female characters is meant to go against the status quo and embody nonconformism.
She explains the expression “the personal is political” as well as the influences of the growing generational gap on younger women through the use of literary devices. Walker’s use of stereotypical and sexual symbolism and her contrasting point of view between two generations embodies the hardships young women face while trying to free themselves from the chains of traditional gender roles and stereotypes set by society. During this time, women lived in a male-dominated culture that affected their social and political situation, especially of the younger generation.
Women were influenced and controlled as a result of their gender. Throughout the novel, Walker addresses the differences between idealism and individuality where women were not accepted by society. “All she had to do… was ‘lay back and be pleasured’ … But she … had gone outside the home to seek her pleasuring’” (Walker 5).
Women are put into this archetypal role of domesticity and are expected to sit at home and let their husbands do all the work. Marilene was “defined by domestic roles inside the home and sexual gratification outside the home.
” (Decker lecture, 10/16/18). Walker uses Marilene O’Shay as a symbol of the male-dominated society’s idealization of a dead woman as the “perfect woman.” However, Marilene is a nonconformist who embraces her individuality and left her domestic expectations to increase her satisfaction. Her personal experience was due to her social conditions and societal expectations of women. She embodied the values of True Womanhood, but sought to escape them and ended up having to “gone wrong” (Walker 4). Even after her death, she was still controlled by a male figure and set up as a sideshow. It illustrates how men dominate women to fit their ideal role of a woman which leads to young women suffering from going against the social norm. Walker emphasizes gender stereotypes and the generational gap through Meridian’s contemporary perspective. During the novel’s period, women were expected to be as submissive as the older generation was, as observed by Meridian’s mother: “She [Mrs. Hill] did not appear to understand much beyond what happened in her own family … She did not take extreme positions on anything…” (Walker 74). Throughout the novel, it becomes apparent that Meridian is informed and opinionated about political and social issues, but her mother is ignorant and acquiescent about those issues. Meridian stands up for what she believes to be morally right and her mother accepts it since she is “blind, enduring, stumbling – though with dignity … – through life” (Walker 74). Walker highlights the differences between the growing younger generation, symbolized as Meridian, and the older, more submissive generation, symbolized by Mrs. Hill. Older women did not understand why the younger generation was trying to change the way society viewed women since they did not view women as political or social leaders. This difference in opinion between the two generations is influenced by the political climate of their society and their upbringing. The topic of sex was apparent throughout the novel, where female characters are objectified and experience many incidents of sexual assault. At the beginning of the book, Meridian “did not see how he [Eddie] could feel she was less interested in sex, for she felt she had never shown anything approaching interest” (Walker 61).
Meridian experiences sex and endures it so she can experience the things she never received from others: peace. After being sexually assaulted, objectified, and degraded her entire life, Meridian views sex as an act of convenience and with no meaning. Sexuality is a way for two people to connect, but in the novel, it is used as a tool of violence and oppression: “For she could only make male friends only when she was sexually involved with a lover who was always near – if only in the way the new male friends thought of her as ‘So-and-so’s Girl’” (Walker 57). Sex is linked with possession, and to escape the reality of being looked at as a sexual object, women have to “become” someone else’s sexual object. It also emphasizes that even the most politically active men can succumb to misogyny, specifically when Truman says that “it seemed doubly unfair that after all her sexual ‘experience’ and after one baby and one abortion she had not once been completely fulfilled by sex” (Walker 119). The male-dominated society has little to no interest in fulfilling women through sexual relationships. Walker’s use of sex as a symbol of failure and unfulfilled satisfaction epitomizes the expression “the personal is political.” The political setting and societal norm focus on men being prioritized in front of women, including in pleasure. Even though young women faced multiple hardships while going against societal norms, they slowly succeeded in expanding beyond the gender stereotypes and expected roles. The expression “the personal is political” affected the lives of all women regardless of their race, religion, age, etc. In addition to the generational gap and gender stereotypes, the Women’s Liberation Movement was also complicated by the racial dynamics between women. Given the issues that the movement campaigned for, it is reasonable to question whether or not the issues they were fighting for affected women of all races.
It was common that “black” referred to black men and “women” referred to white women. The purpose and formation of the Black Feminist movement were to stop racist, sexist, and classist discrimination since the race, gender, and class are interconnected in women’s lives. Black women and black feminists faced a greater magnitude of operating ssion throughout their lives than white women and feminists. In the novel, the relationship between Lynne and Meridian convey the difference between race despite their shared goal of fighting for equality and mutual love interest. The discrepancy between the needs of the races functioned to establish black women’s efforts to focus on racial liberation rather than the liberation of women as a gender. It can apply to the past and the present, where a movement to resolve specific issues eventually created other problems.