They have a saying for people who fall down as I do: If a person is hit hard enough, even if she stands, she falls.

Meridian speaks these words in the novel’s opening chapter, “The Last Return.” She is referring to her illness, which causes her to collapse and lapse into unconsciousness. Her words are prophetic, as they also reference the various physical beatings and torments she experiences while protesting on behalf of the civil rights movement. Both her condition and the violence meted out by policemen and others unsympathetic to the cause serve as powerful threats that unsettle Meridian, qualifying her identity and stability. Meridian’s words probe the nature of strength and resistance and the challenges, both internal and social, with which she is saddled. No matter how strong she is in the face of adversity, hatred and violence leach away her dignity, resolve, and her belief in herself. Meridian learns that, like racism, her “peculiar madness” is a legacy, an affliction that affected her great-grandmother and her father as well. Meridian’s life is overburdened with this overwhelming genetic inheritance, just as her daily life is affected by segregation, which dehumanize those who are subjected to it. No matter how strong her resolve, Meridian’s body and psyche bear the scars of the physical and emotional assaults that she must constantly repel.