Oppression in Walker's Meridian

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A full understanding of a society's current condition only occurs if a thorough comprehension of the society's past is recognized. Alice Walker, in her novel Meridian, specifically utilizes references to Native American history to help depict African American life in the South during the civil rights movement. The text makes reference to the Native American past to effectively present its relationship to the position of African Americans during this time period and to better understand that position. The novel accomplishes this by comparing Native and African American sentiments of nature, relating the prevalent racism directed toward both groups, and by raising questions about who is guilty of oppression.

For Native Americans land was the physical embodiment of their freedom. As Europeans conquered increasingly amounts of the Americas, the independence of Native Americans was proportionally being reduced. The native peoples of America had no concept of owning, selling, or buying land, let alone money itself. Gradually the Native Americans were being killed off, while the survivors were left with less and less land. Because Native American culture was tied so strongly to the land and had no way of adapting to this forced foreign way of life, it has been almost wiped off of America.

It is then appropriate to use an oppressed people tied to the land and nature of America to help describe African Americans and their history of being tied to the land. Traditionally, though, African Americans have been tied to the land for starkly different reasons than Native Americans. For African Americans being tied to the land has meant, in the past, being physically enslaved to toil the land against their will. But, the book Meridian shows that this bond between African Americans and "the land" is still strong in some instances, despite being spawned by the ignoble institution of slavery.

As a child, Meridian Hill, the protagonist of the book, lives with her family on a farm that once was Native American territory. Running through the farm is the Sacred Serpent, a long burial mound in the shape of a snake. The Sacred Serpent housed the remnants of Native Americans that had once lived. While Meridian's brothers considered farming the lowest form of work, she and her father both shared the wonder of nature and of the land that Native Americans once cherished also.

At the end of the serpent shaped burial mound, its tail coiled, forming a forty feet deep pit. Meridian would climb inside and have an almost out of body, nature induced experience. She felt as if she had stepped into another world, into a different kind of air. The green walls began to spin, and her feeling rose to such a high pitch the next thing she knew she was getting up of the ground. She knew she had fainted but she felt neither weakened nor ill. She felt renewed, as from some strange spiritual intoxication. Her blood made warm explosions through her body, and her eyelids stung and tingled.¹ Meridian's father told her that the Native American's had built the coil in the burial mound to give the living some feeling of dying. But Meridian felt that the coil was a way to increase the awareness of being alive while in the ground among the dead. In any case, Meridian, as a black girl during the middle of the twentieth century, shared the awe of the land that Native Americans had felt thousands of years before.

The one action of the text that most deeply depicts how Native and African Americans share a bond to the land in the South is when Meridian's father gives the deed to his sixty acres of land to a Native American. "He was a wanderer, a mourner, like her father; she could begin to recognize what her father was by looking at him. Only he wandered physically, with this body, not walking across maps with his fingers as her father did," (48). The man, Walter Longknife, spent most of that summer living on the land, and then when he was...
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