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Alice Walker’s ‘The Flowers’ tells the story of a little girl’s childhood ending in a heartbreaking moment of discovery. This lesson will provide context for the story and then analyze the setting, theme, and symbolism.

Summary of ‘The Flowers’

Can you remember the moment you stopped being a child? It’s pretty tough pinning down an exact time. This makes literature a great venue to explore such an idea. In Alice Walker’s short story ‘The Flowers,’ the author tells the story of a 10-year-old girl named Myop growing up in a day. The story begins with the child happily exploring a forest.

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But when she literally stumbles over the body of a dead man, her life will never be the same.In the following sections, we will explore the setting, theme, and symbols of the story.

Story Setting

Let’s begin our analysis of ‘The Flowers’ by taking a look at where and when it took place, the setting. The story takes place outdoors on a farm during summer. The reader picks this up by the narrator mentioning the main character, Myop, passing corn, cotton, peanuts, and squash.

Myop’s family lives and works on a farm by mention of their ‘sharecropper’s cabin.’ This detail also helps create a sense of the timeframe as sharecropping came about after the American Civil War during the Jim Crow law era from the mid-1860s to 1960s. Sharecroppers were poor, typically black folks who worked and lived on an owner’s land in exchange for a portion of the crops they harvested. This is compounded by the dead man Myop discovers, which further supports this time period. With the discovery of the noose nearby and the fact that all his teeth had been broken suggests he had been lynched, an act motivated by rampant racism.

Theme in ‘The Flowers’

The setting is just one feature of ‘The Flowers’ that conveys its central idea or theme.

This coming-of-age story expresses the theme of loss of innocence. The story begins much as childhood begins, merrily without a care in the world. The narrator defines the time in the first sentence as, ‘the days had never been as beautiful as these.’ Myop plays with the chickens and ‘felt light and good in the warm sun.’ She feels the excitement and exuberance of youth. She collects flowers and even goes her own way along the stream.

Then things change. She literally gets snagged by a dead man’s body. She steps on his decaying face, lodging her foot in it. As if this were not gruesome enough, she notices his teeth have all been broken, and his head is separated from his body.

Nearby, she finds a noose, most probably the tool used to kill the man.Myop is no longer frolicking gaily in fields. She has been stopped dead by the violence of this man’s death.

She lays down her flowers near the man, setting aside her fun. The last line, ‘And the summer was over,’ completely ends her innocence. Summer and her unmarred childhood have come to an end. Now a harsher, more aware experience will take its place for Myop.

Symbolism

Let’s take a step back and explore a few symbols representing larger ideas in this story that aid the reader in better understanding the theme.The first and most significant symbol in this story is that of flowers. The inclusion of flowers in the title is the first suggestion of their importance.

Myop walks through the fields, woods, and all sorts of natural areas going her own way. She collects flowers as she goes. Flowers are often a symbol of youth and vitality as they flourish in spring. They vividly display the brilliant possibility of youth with their colors, in this case, blue.In the story, Myop collects the blue flowers and has an armful before she comes across the body or the rope.

This may represent her having come to the completeness of her youth. At this stage, she is now primed for adolescence and all the harsh realities it may bring. Myop laying down her flowers after noticing the body represents her leaving her youth and her innocence behind.The other symbol we will analyze is that of the rope. Weathered though it may be, the presence of this noose indicates violence, racism, and death.

The frayed noose encircles a wild pink rose. This may indicate that beauty and innocence can literally be choked off by violence.

Lesson Summary

The Flowers‘ is a short story by Alice Walker that explores a young girl named Myop’s time as a child ending when she discovers the body of a violently murdered man. This story’s setting is during the summer on a sharecropper’s farm, placing it after the American Civil War. This coming-of-age story has a theme of loss of innocence.

She goes from gaily exploring the forest and collecting flowers to stumbling over a man’s dead body. This man has been lynched by a racist crowd using a noose near his body. The narrator subtly expresses the drastic change for Myop by stating, ‘And the summer was over,’ meaning her childhood was over.The symbols from this story include:

  • Flowers: the flowers may represent innocence. When Myop sets them aside, she sets aside her childhood.
  • Rope: the noose may represent violence, racism, and death.

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