In the story "Marigolds" by Eugenia Collier, how does Lizabeth change, why does she change, how aware is she of her own surroundings and the wider world, and what does Lizabeth's reflection at the end of the story suggest about her feelings toward the move into adulthood?

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Lizabeth’s change begins to occur after the children behead the marigolds. She charges at Miss Lottie, chanting a song, but later regrets her actions. She feels the duality of the situation: the child enjoyed mocking, but the woman was ashamed of herself. Lizabeth later hears her father crying because he...

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Lizabeth’s change begins to occur after the children behead the marigolds. She charges at Miss Lottie, chanting a song, but later regrets her actions. She feels the duality of the situation: the child enjoyed mocking, but the woman was ashamed of herself. Lizabeth later hears her father crying because he cannot provide for his family. She covers her ears because she does not want to face her father’s humanity. She has always seen him as strong and fun, and his vulnerability prompts her to take out her anger on Miss Lottie’s flowers.

After destroying the garden and seeing Miss Lottie’s broken spirit, Lizabeth realizes that she has done much more damage than to the marigolds. She understands why the flowers were so important to Miss Lottie, who had nothing else in her life except heartache and poverty. Although Lizabeth feels great remorse, she can never express it enough to undo what she has done. “I stood there awkward and ashamed,” she says. No longer a child, Lizabeth feels compassion for the woman whose spirit she has destroyed.

Lizabeth starts to become aware of her surroundings after hearing her father cry:

The world had lost its boundary lines.

She feels that the world is upside-down, and she is confused and afraid. The world she knew before as a child was comforting and sheltered. Now, she is growing up and is privy to adult problems. Her recognition that her father is torn apart by hopelessness and insecurity is too much for her to endure. Lizabeth is completely aware of her surroundings after she hurts Miss Lottie and recognizes her as a human being with feelings:

I looked beyond myself and into the depths of another person.

As an adult thinking back on these events, Lizabeth recognizes that she was unable to fully express her thoughts at the time. She says she is only able to do so now, as an adult; as a child, she was too innocent and ignorant. She sees now that the incident with Miss Lottie was when she first learned to feel compassion for someone else. She knows that life can be difficult and “barren” and joyless. Lizabeth’s epiphany is that everyone, including herself, must plant marigolds to counteract the sadness of life.

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In “Marigolds” Lizbeth has one major change.  She grows up and is no longer a child.   At the beginning of the story, she remarks on the innocence of the children.  She says,

“…. we were somewhat unaware of the world outside our community” (pg 1)

She knew that something was happening to her because she no longer enjoyed the childish games of the past.  She reflects that she had,  

“…a strange restlessness of body and of spirit, a feeling that something old and familiar was ending and something unknown and therefore terrifying was beginning.”  (pg 1)

When the group was bored and decided to annoy Miss Lottie, Lizbeth went along reluctantly, but , when challenged, she did get into the action and threw the first rock.  However, when it was all over with, she did not join in the celebration.

“Suddenly I was ashamed, and I did not like being ashamed.  The child in me sulked and said it was all in fun, but the woman in me flinched at the thought of the malicious attack that I had led. “(pg 2)

She could no longer throw those rocks in pure innocence and laugh.  She suddenly understood what she was doing to the old woman.  She felt responsible for the first time.  She had led the attack and was ashamed that she had done so. 

However, her big moment came when she overheard her mother and father talking that night.  Her father had always been the rock of the family.  He was fun to play with and fun to be around.  Her mother had been the soft, steady one who cared for the family.  Her innocence was secure in that relationship.  However, times had been hard, and her father had not been able to find a job.  She heard her mother cajoling her father because he was so upset with his lack of employment.  Her father was actually crying! 

“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.” (pg 4)

The innocence of her whole world fell apart.

“The world had lost its boundary lines.  My mother, who was small and soft, was now the strength of the family; my father, who was the rock on which the family had been built, was sobbing like the tiniest child.” (pg 4)

Her whole life suddenly crashed, and all she could think of doing was destroying something.  She ran out of the house, and destroyed Miss Lottie’s marigold patch. Miss Lottie caught her, and Lizbeth recounts

“….that was the moment when childhood faded and womanhood began.  That violent crazy act was the last act of childhood.” (pg 5)

She saw Miss Lottie not as the witch they pretended she was when they were children, but as an old, broken woman who had tried to create something beautiful in her ugly world.  She suddenly saw into the pain and the depth of the old woman.  She remarks,

“This was the beginning of compassion, and one cannot have compassion and innocence.” (pg 5)

At the end of the story, she remarks that she remembers those marigolds from time to time.  The marigolds represented to her the bright side of a dark and barren town. She says that you do not have to be poor to live a barren life.  So she too has planted marigolds ---- little bright spots in her life.

My copy of the story came from the internet, so the page numbers may not exactly coincide with yours, but they should be close.

 

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