The story "Marigolds" has, in effect, two Lizabeth's: the adolescent girl on the brink of adulthood and the wiser, mature adult woman looking back across the decades to analyze and try to understand her younger self.
Lizabeth's adolescence affects her decisions and actions in the story, because she does not yet understand why she acts the way she does. For example, when she first torments Miss Lottie along with the other, younger children, she is too immature to see Lottie as a human being like herself. As Lizabeth notes:
When we were tiny children, we thought Miss Lottie was a witch and we made up tales that we half believed ourselves about her exploits. We were far too sophisticated now, of course, to believe the witch nonsense. But old fears have a way of clinging like cobwebs . . .
In other words, the adolescent Lizabeth is as yet unable to drop the childish concept that Miss Lottie is a witch.
Lizabeth is no longer just a child, however. Life has become complicated for her. She is old enough as an adolescent to have conflicted feelings about her taunting attack on the old woman, but not mature enough to control her impulse to lash out. After mocking the Miss Lottie, she thinks:
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.
Later, when she overhears her father lamenting his inability to find work as a black man in the Great Depression, and then sobbing about it, she is distressed, because her father has always been a pillar of strength. She thinks:
my father, who was the rock on which the family had been built, was sobbing like the tiniest child. Everything was suddenly out of tune, like a broken accordion. Where did I fit into this crazy picture? I do not now remember my thoughts, only a feeling of great bewilderment and fear.
It is typical of an adolescent to act out of a torrent of emotions, such as fear and bewilderment, without fully comprehending her motivations. When she gets out of bed at night and destroys Miss Lottie's marigolds, her adolescent self doesn't understand why she is doing this. It her adult self looking back that supplies the reasons: that she was feeling hopeless, degraded, torn between childhood and adulthood, and afraid.
However, this "violent, crazy act was the last act of childhood." Lizabeth suddenly realizes that Miss Lottie is not a witch, but fully a broken, suffering human being. As Lizabeth grasps this, she becomes an adult who has
the beginning of compassion, and one cannot have both compassion and innocence.
In sum, Lizabeth's adolescent "innocence" or lack of awareness makes it difficult for her to control her impulses and to perceive a much older woman as fully human. As a result of her immaturity, Lizabeth behaves aggressively and cruelly. Feelings of anger, fear, and despair run through her, but through most of the story she is too close to childhood to analyze them or to channel them in productive ways. She must become an adult to learn to behave with restraint and compassion.