What creates tension in the story "The Flowers"?

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Tension is created in the short story "The Flowers" through a number of hints and suggestions that the author inserts into the text. Readers learn that ten-year-old Myop is an African American child living in a sharecropper cabin, that there are dangerous snakes in the woods she is exploring, and that on this occasion in particular, the land seems unpleasant, gloomy, and strangely silent.

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In "The Flowers" by Alice Walker, the author uses several phrases and suggestions to build tension until the short story reaches its unexpected and tragic ending. The story begins with a description of a carefree ten-year-old girl named Myop. She skips happily around the farm "from henhouse to pigpen to smokehouse," singing and rapping things with a stick.

The first hint of tension appears when Walker provides more details of the girl's circumstances. She has "dark brown" hands, and her family home is referred to as a "sharecropper cabin." This puts the historical context most probably somewhere between the end of the Civil War and the Great Depression, when it was common for African American farmers to work on land usually owned by white people; they would provide the labor, and in exchange for the use of the land, they would give the owners a share of the crops. This was a time of inequality and racial tension in areas where sharecropping occurred.

Myop wanders off into the woods behind her family's house. We then receive another hint of tension when we learn that she has to keep "an eye out for snakes." She ends up "a mile or more from home," which seems far for a 10-year-old to be roaming, but the author reassuringly adds that "she had often been as far before." However, the tension builds significantly as we read that "the strange land was not as pleasant as usual." To Myop, it seems "gloomy," and the silence is "close and deep." The writer is building a tense atmosphere for the horror that Myop is about to discover.

The rising tension reaches a climax when Myop steps on a skull that is part of the remains of a skeleton of a man who has been lynched there. Lynching (which means extrajudicial execution by hanging) of African Americans happened frequently in the Southern United States when sharecropping was common. Myop's summer is over, because she can no longer be joyful when she realizes what has taken place on that spot.

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