How is Miss Lottie affected by Lizabeth emotionally when she destroyed the marigolds in the short story "Marigolds"?

In Eugenia Collier's story “Marigolds,” Miss Lottie responds to Lizabeth's destruction of her carefully, lovingly tended marigolds with numb sadness. She has poured all her energy and most of herself into that bright patch of flowers, which is the only beauty and joy in her life. With the marigolds destroyed, she no longer has the strength plant them again, and she lives out her days in barren dullness.

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It's hardly an exaggeration to say that Miss Lottie lived for her marigolds. They were about the only thing in an otherwise sad and lonely life that gave her a reason to get out of bed each morning. So when Lizabeth willfully destroys Miss Lottie's flowers, Miss Lottie has no...

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It's hardly an exaggeration to say that Miss Lottie lived for her marigolds. They were about the only thing in an otherwise sad and lonely life that gave her a reason to get out of bed each morning. So when Lizabeth willfully destroys Miss Lottie's flowers, Miss Lottie has no joy and beauty left in her life.

As one can imagine, Miss Lottie is utterly devastated by the completely uncalled-for destruction of her pride and joy. Yes, Miss Lottie still has a son to love and to whom she can now perhaps devote more attention. But as John is mentally disabled, one gets the impression that Miss Lottie experiences difficulties in caring for him. Perhaps tending to her marigolds gave her some brief respite from the many challenges life presented her with.

In any case, with the destruction of her marigolds, all joy and beauty have now gone out of Miss Lottie's life completely, never to return. Not only that, but whatever energy she may have had has been sucked right out of her by Lizabeth's cruel and inconsiderate actions. As a consequence, Miss Lottie no longer has any life to speak of, simply a bare and barren existence.

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Miss Lottie has one small spot of beauty in her dull, difficult, plodding, poverty-stricken life: her garden of marigolds. She tends them carefully, pouring her heart and soul into that little patch of flowers. They seem to be her primary reason for living and the source of her only goal in life, to keep those flowers alive and shining brightly.

Then Lizabeth comes along. In an adolescent temper tantrum, she destroys Miss Lottie's marigolds. She tears them up by their roots, tramples them, and mangles every last one. Yes, she is angry at the world, upset that her father cried because he could not find work, and disgusted that she is helpless to do anything about her family's situation, but this is no excuse for her behavior.

Lizabeth looks up into Miss Lottie's face, perhaps expecting the usual rage the old woman exhibits toward the children who taunt her. But there is no rage now. Miss Lottie's face is merely “immobile,” and her eyes sad and weary. She is broken and numb as she looks at the wreckage of her beloved marigolds. The beauty she has so carefully tended and cultivated is gone, and since she has poured so much of herself into those flowers, she seems to be gone as well. All her joy, all her life, all her energy has been sapped by that one destructive act.

To Lizabeth's credit, she realizes the depth of what she has done, even though she cannot express it until much later. She lost her innocence at that moment when she looked behind those numb, sad eyes to see Miss Lottie's deep, quiet pain. Miss Lottie never again plants marigolds. Perhaps she simply lacks the spirit and vigor to care for anything that deeply again. Perhaps she does not want to risk being hurt again by losing something she loves. So she lives out her days in barren, brown dullness. Lizabeth, however, does plant marigolds when she grows up: to remind herself of the lessons she learned when she destroyed Miss Lottie's marigolds.

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When Lizabeth tells us, in retrospect, about that poignant moment when her chaotic mind led her to destroy the only beautiful thing in the horrid neighborhood, Miss Lottie's marigolds, she offers an insight of information that the reader must consider prior to being able to determine the extent to which Lizabeth hurt the old woman. 

...she had nothing except a falling-down hut, a wrecked body, and John Burke, the mindless son of her passion. 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.

This clearly establishes two things. First, that Lizabeth has finally matured and sees the horrible act that she commits for what it is. Second, that she no longer sees Miss Lottie as the witch of the street like the other kids do. She sees the broken woman that perhaps Lizabeth herself will become. She sees a product of the terrible times; she sees Miss Lottie, finally, as what she really is: Lizabeth's victim, not her perpetrator. 

After this statement, we learn that Lizabeth apparently tries to apologize. However, here is the telling part that shows how Lizabeth may have destroyed Miss Lottie's last attempt at hope.

I last saw her hut, completely barren at last, for despite my wild contrition she never planted marigolds again.

Clearly, Lizabeth's attempts to apologize could never make up for taking away someone's last gift of life. Nothing Lizabeth could ever do or say can fix a shattered illusion, or bring back a gleam of wishful thinking, as it was originally created. The marigolds were, by Lizabeth's own words, whatever was left of the beauty of love, joy and life that was not already squeezed out dry from the woman's body. It was all that Miss Lottie had left, and Lizabeth killed that. 

Therefore, the fact that the woman never planted marigolds again, indicates that Lizabeth killed the last of the woman's attempt at life. Miss Lottie was a loner, odd, old, tired, poor, and had an invalid for a son. She had nothing else really to hold on to in life, but the flowers. Lizabeth did something worse than murder because she did not kill a human body; she destroyed the last vestiges of a tired soul. This is how she emotionally must have emotionally butchered the poor old woman. 

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