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One of the central messages of this short story seems to be summed up in the main symbol of the story, the marigolds, and the narrator's actions in destroying them. From the start it is clear that the marigolds are a symbol in the short story, in that they have a meaning above and beyond their literal significance. The narrator is clearly puzzled by the marigolds, especially given the nature of Miss Lottie's home:
Miss Lottie's marigolds were perhaps the strangest part of the picture. Certainly they did not fit in with the crumbling decay of the rest of her yeard. Beyond the dusty brown yard, in front of the sorry gray house, rose suddenly and shockingly a dazzling strip of bright blossoms, clumped together in enormous mounds, warm and passionate and sun-golden.
In addition to this description, we are told of the care that Miss Lottie takes in working on her marigolds, working on them "all summer". The children come to hate these marigolds:
For some perverse reason, we children hated those marigolds. They interfered with the perfect ugliness of the place; they were too beautiful; they said too much that we could not understand; they did not make sense.
However, by the end of the short story, the narrator realises herself the symbolic significance of the marigolds, however, only after she has destroyed them:
Whatever verve there was left in her, whatever was of love and beauty and joy that had not been squeezed out by life, had been there in the marigolds she had so tenderly cared for.
The marigolds, then, symbolise humanity's innate ability to create and cultivate beauty in even the most desperate and poverty-stricken surroundings. This meaning is made explicit in the last words of the story:
For one does not have to be ignorant and poor to find that his life is as barren as the dusty yards of our town. And I too have planted marigolds.
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