How does Alice Walker establish the setting and atmosphere in the first two paragraphs of "The Flowers"?
Alice Walker's short story "Flowers" is notable for its compactness and brevity. The author wastes no words in establishing the setting and atmosphere in the first two paragraphs, using a series of rich images to convey a sense of innocence and childlike exuberance and joy. In the first paragraph, phrases like "skipped lightly", "days had never been as beautiful as these", "keenness", "harvesting", and "golden surprise" all convey the essence of childhood and growth, both as they pertain to the child and to the land. The setting is established succinctly as a rural farm, with the phrases "henhouse to pigpen to smokehouse" and "corn and cotton, peanuts and squash" again allowing the reader to visualize the scene through clearly defined imagery.
In the second paragraph, the writer reveals more about the central character, Myop, by providing short flashes of description. Myop is ten, and is playing with a stick, poking at the chickens and playing music on the fence. Myop's environment is sparse and natural, her experience is elemental and limited, "nothing exists for her but her song, (and) the stick clutched in her hand". Within her sheltered world Myop's spirit, at one with nature, thrives, and she feels "light and good in the warm sun".
It is important that the setting and atmosphere Walker establishes in the first two paragraphs is firmly delineated in the reader's mind. The message of innocence lost she communicates a few paragraphs later is all the more devasting because of the strength of the images that are shattered.
In the beginning we see everything that's innocent. Everything "seems" happy, warm and inviting. The air has a "keenness" about it while the "warm" sun is about. The whole setting is expressed as a "golden surprise." The setting and atmosphere paint a picture of Myop, an innocent little girl enjoying the outdoors. She is skipping and collecting flowers and ferns as she skips along. Walker needs us to see such beauty in the world along with such innocence in order to set us up for the facts of life that Myop discovers in the woods. The atmosphere is really the mood of the short story.
The turning point is then when the mood changes with the words like "damp" and "gloom." And then she discovers the skull.