How are the conflicts in the main characters in "Marigolds"(Elizabeth) and "The Osage Orange Tree" (Evangeline) similar and different.

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

One conflict that both Evangeline and Lizabeth both face is in the struggle with poverty.  Lizabeth finds that rural Maryland is gripped in the vise of economic hardship.  It is a conflict that governs all consciousness in the town:  

I suppose that futile waiting was the sorrowful background music of our impoverished little community when I was young. The Depression that gripped the nation was no new thing to us, for the black workers of rural Maryland had always been depressed.

While Lizabeth might not have experienced the full brunt of poverty, she was aware of it.  She understands its presence in moments such as when she says that "poverty was the cage in which we all were trapped."  Lizabeth recognizes poverty in her homelife, as well.  When she hears her father cry, it is a moment in which Lizabeth clearly wrestles and struggles with the reality of poverty:

“Damn, Maybelle”—and suddenly he sobbed, loudly and painfully, and cried helplessly and hopelessly in the dark night. I had never heard a man cry before. I did not know men ever cried. I covered my ears with my hands but could not cut off the sound of my father’s harsh, painful, despairing sobs.

The conflict brought about by the "hopelessness of our poverty and degradation" is what causes Lizabeth to do what she does to the marigolds.

In a similar manner, Evangeline struggles with poverty.  Much more silent than Lizabeth, Evangeline confronts the hopelessness in lacking economic opportunity.  She does not articulate it as Lizabeth does, but it is experienced. The "faded blue dress" is one example of how Evangeline struggles with economic reality.  The fact that other girls deride her for her clothes as well as the ending in which it becomes clear that Evangeline ends up stealing money for her graduation dress all reflect this condition of poverty.  It is accentuated when it becomes clear that Evangeline spent her money to purchase the boy's newspapers.  It became the only way she could sustain seeing him.  The ending of the story illuminates the pain of poverty and the challenge of economic reality.  While Evangeline's characterization lacks the verbal articulation of economic challenges that Lizabeth possesses, both girls have to wrestle with the overwhelming reality of economic hardship.

In the midst of sadness, both girls face the conflict of how to appropriate beauty in a world that is not entirely beautiful.  The collision between a perception of beauty in a world of revulsion becomes the central conflict that both girls must confront.  Evangeline recognizes this conflict and seeks to do whatever she can to cherish her time with the narrator.  It becomes clear to the narrator that the family did not want the newspapers, and thus, Evangeline sacrificed her own meager funds only to be able to see him regularly.  She saw him when it was cold and when there was only hardship for her.  Her desire to steal money for a graduation dress might not have been as much for commencement as much as it was to see him.  Evangeline makes the conscious choice to do what she can to preserve beauty in a world of ugliness.  The crate of newspapers that the narrator finds at the end of the story is a testament to how much Evangeline sought to preserve beauty and restorative hope in a cruel and condemning world.

Lizabeth takes a different approach towards the beauty of the marigolds. Unlike Evangeline whose desire to preserve beauty is different than the world around her, Lizabeth's actions reflect the appropriation of the cold condition of her world.  It had already been established that the marigolds represent beauty, the only reflection of it in the town.  When she destroys the marigolds, it is a reflection of the same struggle that Evangeline endures, but in the opposite approach:

I had indeed lost my mind, for all the smoldering emotions of that summer swelled in me and burst—the great need for my mother who was never there, the hopelessness of our poverty and degradation, the bewilderment of being neither child nor woman and yet both at once, the fear unleashed by my father’s tears. And these feelings combined in one great impulse toward destruction.

Evangeline's impulses are geared towards restoration and hope.  Lizabeth's are geared towards destruction.  Both girls struggle with how to reconcile feelings towards that which is beautiful in a world that is far from it.  Their struggle shared, both girls react in different ways as a result of this conflict.