The setting of the story is the Great Depression that began in 1929 with the Stock Market Crash. And while the rest of the...
In the short story "Marigolds," by Eugenia Collier, the reader is presented with the characters of Miss Lottie, Lizabeth and her brother Joey.
The setting of the story is the Great Depression that began in 1929 with the Stock Market Crash. And while the rest of the world is suffering, the area in which Lizabeth and Joey reside suffers more than the rest as they had so little to begin with.
One night Lizabeth hears her father crying because he cannot find a job. His wife works for white folks up the road, and he hates not being able to provide for his family. He especially resents charity shown to them by the family that employs Lizabeth's mother.
This is the first thing in the story that foreshadows Lizabeth's loss of innocence. To this point, she has worried about little other than playing, though she also feels that things are very different between her and the other, younger kids.
Lizabeth becomes frightened by what she hardly understands and what she has no power to control, and she leaves the house in the middle of the night with Joey. Without knowing how, she ends up at Miss Lottie's shack.
Miss Lottie has very little, but she has tried to fight the overpowering sense of poverty and loss with a garden full of marigolds. They are as bright as the sun, and hopeful as they attempt to not just hang on, but to also survive and thrive (much like the people in the story). This is the one beautiful thing in Miss Lottie's life, and in Lizabeth's life as well.
A madness seems to overtake Lisabeth, and she rips up the flowers in a fit of pure rage. Joey yells for her to stop, but her sorrow and fear deafen her to what he says. In a moment, the garden is destroyed, and apologize as she does, with offers to help fix it again, Miss Lottie never again grows another marigold.
It is at this point that Lizabeth has suddenly turned an important corner in her life.
She sees the uncertainty and the ugliness of the world around her, especially in light of her father's difficulties.
Lizabeth suddenly understands that when you are a child, you see the world simplistically, in black and white. You do not look below the surface of what happens around you, but accept everything based upon its appearance.
When Lizabeth can no longer do this, her eyes are opened to life. When she looks at what she has done to Miss Lottie's garden, to that one corner of the older woman's life that provides a buffer between herself and the hard world in which she lives, she understands that Miss Lottie now has to face—up close—the hard reality of her life, without beauty in her world that seemed to alleviate some of the loneliness and heartache.
Lizabeth sees herself differently too: in knowing and accepting what she has done, she must accept the responsibility of it, leaving childhood behind. She is humiliated knowing that she has done something awful, and more so, has looked into the life of another, no longer existing in her own little world.
In the face of Miss Lottie's loss, Lizabeth experiences, for the first time, compassion. This is the feeling that comes with recognizing someone else's pain. An innocent child cannot do so, having no grasp of another's suffering, being still very self-centered. But as almost a grown-up, with an awareness of pain, Lizabeth can understand the enormity of what she has done—and what cannot be undone.
Collier sees this Lizabeth's right of passage from the world of a child to the world of an adult who cannot hide from life's glaring realities any longer.