In defense of Meghan

In my interview with Merry Gangemi on Woman-Stirred Radio, one of the most interesting discussions is about the character of Meghan. Merry Gangemi, an astute and fascinating interviewer, held the perspective that Meghan is irritating and doesn’t know her self. I’ve spent the week considering this, and I’d like to take a moment to talk about why Meghan is important. Why her character is valuable despite the fact that for much of the book she behaves like a shithead.

Meghan has chosen a career at odds with her values. She’s working to get into West Point, sponsored by a chaplain’s family that she admires, aware of the military’s (and the sponsoring family’s) stance on homosexuality. She knows these things and attempts to navigate what is expected of her, despite her desire. She’s young, 18, and ambitious, the ideal role model for Cole’s parents to foist on Cole, except that Meghan is a lesbian.

And this is what I like best about Meghan. She really is all these things. A role model. A person with honor. A cadet. An overachiever. But none of that matters if she’s gay. In the time of the novel — 1990-1991 — if she’s gay, she gets kicked out of the military, she gets dumped by her sponsor family, she compromises her potential because she wants a girl rather than a boy.

If you understood that, and realized how arbitrary and nonsensical that is, how would you behave?

I have such affinity for Meghan. For the honorable person of whom dishonorable things are demanded. It’s her choice though, right? Nobody is forcing her to go into the military. Right. But it’s an absurd requirement. You don’t need to be straight to sacrifice for your country. Now we admit as much; Don’t Ask Don’t Tell is dead, and the military is the better for it, as the Pentagon reported earlier this year.

Meghan is weak, which is to say human. I love her because she struggles and gets it wrong and is determined to self correct. I love her because externally she’s the golden girl for whom life should be lemon meringue pie. Except that she loves this girl. And determines to do something about her love: to make herself worthy of it. I love her because she found a way to make vocabulary lists love letters.

6 thoughts on “In defense of Meghan”

  1. Who really knows their self at the age of 18? I didn’t find Meghan irritating. I actually liked her, and liked how she tried. I understood she was in a tough place, and I felt she understood she was as well. I thought she was completely believable. I mean, she’s 18, not 35.

  2. I loved Meaghan, for the very reasons you listed. Because she is all those things, honorable, over-achieving, all of them, and a person who wants to serve her country, and she is eighteen, a beautiful, aching, eighteen years old.
    I see some of those same qualities in Cole, an over-achiever of whom much is expected, but she is sixteen. She likes the grunge boy and the perfect boy, she likes basketball and she likes making music, and she likes Meaghan.

    Since that war, that time, we have learned a lot, as have Meaghan and Cole.

  3. I appreciate these comments, thank you both. Merry and I also discussed the part of Cole & Meghan’s dynamic I find most compelling: power. Merry wondered if the power differential rendered their relationship inappropriate. I think Meghan struggles with that very question, and it’s a fascinating one to me. At the end of the day, they’re both teenagers, but Meghan is not in high school, and she has been given the authority of a chaperone at her own request.

  4. There’s a power differential, for sure, but I thought that was a big part of Cole’s attraction. Sure you can make a case for it being inappropriate. Meghan knows that before it even begins, but perhaps that’s part of the attraction for her, as well? Meghan clearly likes power; she seeks it at every turn.

    From a storytelling perspective, I think Meghan is important for Cole to grow towards. She’s a kind of foil. We see how Cole contrasts them, how she admires Meghan. If I recall, Cole’s doubts about their relationship, about whether Meghan is taking advantage, come much later. After Meghan has hurt her, and wants to be forgiven.

    I love Meghan. I love the vocabulary lists. I’m not sure what the story would be, without her. But, full disclosure: I have a thing for slightly inappropriate relationships, for figures in power who are humbled by their own weakness. That’s just interesting to me. But there’s also a firm distaste for that sort of thing, particularly for women, which is understandable. I suppose if that puts you off, Meghan might seem predatory, irredeemable. But I think for Cole, she’s simply a revelation.

    1. I think Meghan teaches Cole that she doesn’t have to be all of what is expected of her: that she can get good grades, make music, excel at sports, etc. She can be the band girl and the photography student and the girl who is vicious and gifted on the soccer field. She can be the person who sits with the “good” girl in church on Sunday, after staying up until 2 or 3 am the night before with her band.

      I also think it’s human to want things that, ostensibly (because of some human-made rule), you can’t have, or to make sacrifices of self toward a goal, especially if something is expected of you.

      I loved the vocabulary lists as well: love letters, indeed.

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