In “The Price of Flowers,” a poor British youth named Maggie cherishes a supposedly magic crystal ring that her brother Frank—a soldier fighting in India—obtained from a yogi. As spurious as its purported powers may be, the ring plays a significant role in this sad tale. It provides and represents...
In “The Price of Flowers,” a poor British youth named Maggie cherishes a supposedly magic crystal ring that her brother Frank—a soldier fighting in India—obtained from a yogi. As spurious as its purported powers may be, the ring plays a significant role in this sad tale. It provides and represents connection and hope to Maggie and her mother, Mrs. Clifford.
Maggie and Mrs. Clifford believe that if they gaze into the ring’s crystal stone while concentrating on a person far away (e.g., Frank), they can see him and what he is doing. Unfortunately, despite their best efforts staring at the ring, they are frustratingly and heartbreakingly unable to learn anything about him. Mrs. Clifford reveals,
Maggie and I have concentrated upon it again and again because we have not had any news from Frank for a long time. But we have not been able to see anything. Why don’t you try? You are an Indian. You may be able to do it.
The narrator Mr. Gupta knows that this superstition about the ring is unfounded and that his identity makes no difference in the yogi’s ruse. Nonetheless, he does
not have the heart to tell the mother and daughter that the ring was nothing much—brass with a piece of ordinary glass stuck into it. They believed their Frank had sent them a new and miraculous thing from a distant land, from a dream world. How could I shatter their faith?
Therefore, he gamely stares intently at the ring to try to see something but after a time gives up and admits to Frank’s disappointed mother and sister, “I cannot see anything.”
First, the ring itself is the only physical object that Mrs. Clifford and Maggie possess that links them to their long-lost Frank. The brother gave the crystal ring to Maggie as a birthday gift. Having received no letters or any other communication from or about him, the mother and Maggie cling to this ring as their sole connection to him.
Second, the ring represents a spiritual tie to Frank—it supposedly allows them (or, if not them, another person like the Indian Mr. Gupta) to connect with him somehow, at least from their end.
Third, the ring serves as a source of ongoing hope for them. Although Maggie eventually realizes that the ring does not provide clairvoyant visions, her mother still believes in its powers. When the woman falls ill, she desperately wishes to learn anything about her son Frank and begs Maggie to ask Mr. Gupta to gaze in the crystal again. Maggie wants Mr. Gupta to look in order to satisfy her mother.
If you could bring yourself to tell Mother only once, after looking into the crystal, that Frank is all right, that he is alive—will it be too much of a lie?
Mr. Gupta agrees to tell this white lie, which revives Mrs. Clifford’s faith and desire to live. After he gazes into the crystal and declares that Frank is alive,
tears of happiness welled from her eyes. She whispered faintly, “God bless you! God bless you.” Mrs. Clifford recovered.
Although Mr. Gupta learns that Frank was dead even before he told the white lie, the crystal ring—initially a scam—proves to be a source of life-giving hope, at least temporarily.