What does Lizabeth in the story "Marigolds" by Eugenia Collier realize as an adult?

In the short story "Marigolds" by Eugenia Collier, as an adult, Lizabeth realizes that she lost her innocence and learned compassion during that traumatic incident in which she destroyed Miss Lottie's marigolds. The marigolds gave Miss Lottie hope in the midst of poverty and despair, and as an adult, Lizabeth also realizes the value of such hopeful spots of beauty.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

As an adult, Lizabeth in "Marigolds" realizes that the moment she destroyed those marigolds marked the end of her childhood and of her innocence.

She did not need, as an adult, to recognize her wrongdoing, or why her actions had been so cruel. These things had been realized...

Get
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Start your 48-Hour Free Trial

As an adult, Lizabeth in "Marigolds" realizes that the moment she destroyed those marigolds marked the end of her childhood and of her innocence.

She did not need, as an adult, to recognize her wrongdoing, or why her actions had been so cruel. These things had been realized as soon as she saw Miss Lottie's reaction to the destruction of her beautiful flowers. It was also in this moment that she realized that despite her own challenging situation as an African American girl growing up in poverty during the Great Depression, she had no right to destroy something that meant so much to Miss Lottie.

Perhaps as an adult, Lizabeth would have had an even deeper understanding of how her action of destroying one of the few beautiful things in their neighborhood added to the sense of sadness and despair pervading not only her life, but also Miss Lottie's.

Adult Lizabeth looks back on that moment with feelings of humiliation and reflects that while it was the end of her innocence, it was the beginning of her compassion. Her epiphany was that compassion and innocence cannot coexist within one person. We also learn that Lizabeth has become a planter of marigolds rather than a destroyer of them. This tells us that as an adult, she has realized the importance of creating beauty wherever possible.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The short story "Marigolds" by Eugenia Collier is a coming-of-age story. Lizabeth, the narrator, is looking back as an adult at an incident that took place when she was fourteen years old that was "the last act of childhood" for her. To understand what she realizes, it is important to consider this incident.

Lizabeth lives in poverty with her parents and her younger brother Joey in the dusty hometown of her youth. Lizabeth, her brother, and a group of friends are enduring a hot, boring summer. For something to do, they decide to go harass an old woman named Miss Lottie and her "queer-headed" son, John Burke. Despite Miss Lottie's broken-down shack and empty yard, she tends a lovely bed of bright marigolds. The kids throw rocks at the flowers and dance around Miss Lottie and call her names. Later, after becoming broken-hearted when listening to a conversation between her parents and hearing her father weep, Lizabeth goes out and destroys the marigolds in front of Miss Lottie's house.

After Lizabeth kills the marigolds and sees Miss Lottie's "immobile face with the sad, weary eyes," she realizes that Miss Lottie had lived in poverty all her life, and the marigolds were her attempt "to create beauty in the midst of ugliness and sterility." As an adult, Lizabeth realizes "that that moment marked the end of innocence." She sums up her realization like this:

In that humiliating moment I looked beyond myself and into the depths of another person. This was the beginning of compassion, and one cannot have both compassion and innocence.

Lizabeth closes the story with the confession that she has also planted marigolds. In other words, as an adult, she has come to realize the importance of a glimpse of hopeful beauty in a world in which "life is as barren as the dusty yards of our town."

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

As an adult, Lizabeth realizes that at fourteen, she had had an epiphany about why Miss Lottie planted marigolds. Lizabeth explains that her innocence was lost at the very moment she discerned the truth.

 

Innocence involves an unseeing acceptance of things at face value, an ignorance of the area below the surface. In that humiliating moment I looked beyond myself and into the depths of another person. This was the beginning of compassion, and one cannot have both compassion and innocence.

Throughout her childhood, Miss Lottie had always been the subject of Lizabeth's childish contempt. She shared her brother, Joey's suspicion that Miss Lottie was a witch. Since Miss Lottie never had any visitors, and no one knew how she maintained her living, Miss Lottie became the subject of much speculation. Chief among Lizabeth and Joey's concerns was that Miss Lottie's marigolds looked out of place on her property:

 

They interfered with the perfect ugliness of the place; they were too beautiful; they said too much that we could not understand; they did not make sense. There was something in the vigor with which the old woman destroyed the weeds that intimidated us.

The enthusiasm and energy Miss Lottie displayed towards the tending of her marigolds unnerved the children. As she reminisces about Miss Lottie, Lizabeth also comes to realize that her perverse contempt towards the old woman had been the product of her own childish, myopic view of life. She comes to understand that, to Miss Lottie, the marigolds had represented an act of rebellion against the 'ugliness and sterility' of her impoverished life. Now, as an adult, Lizabeth confesses that she has planted marigolds as her own act of rebellion, during moments of her life when everything had seemed 'barren' and hopeless.

 

Yet, there are times when the image of those passionate yellow mounds returns with a painful poignancy. For one does not have to be ignorant and poor to find that his life is as barren as the dusty yards of our town. And I too have planted marigolds.

 

 

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team