When Lynne first appears in Meridian, she is an idealistic student who has arrived at Saxon College to take part in the allure of the burgeoning civil rights movement. She and the other northern transplants adopt a patronizing attitude toward the black women of Saxon, exoticizing and romanticizing their “otherness.” Lynne eventually confesses that she equates the often-gritty reality of black life in the South with “art,” trivializing the institutionalized racism that controls and regulates most aspects of black life. Lynne uses the movement to transcend her sanitized upbringing, though her guilt at coming from a white, privileged background becomes all-consuming. Her idealism and personal agenda initially hinder her effectiveness as a civil rights worker. On a voter-registration drive, accompanied by Meridian, Lynne comes into contact with a variety of impoverished, rural communities. During one visit, Lynne is more interested in arguing with than helping a highly religious woman who trusts her faith, and not the state and federal government, to instigate change in her life.
The gulf between ideology and reality and between theory and practice eventually shrinks for Lynne as she learns to sympathize with the reality of racism as it affects individual lives. Lynne feels she must go to greater lengths to establish herself within the black community as well as in the movement. However, her whiteness will always set her apart, and she remains an outsider, ultimately pushed to the fringes of the movement. Lynne’s racial guilt is unanswerable, and she sinks into a slovenly, stagnant state. Eventually, she feels she must be the sacrifice that atones for years of racial injustice, and she does not resist or fight Tommy Odds when his aggressive sexual advances turn to rape. Perversely, she feels that by allowing him to have his way, she’ll be atoning for her guilt. After the death of the daughter she has with Truman, she is stricken and dispossessed, with no identifiable future.