What is the meaning of The Flowers by Alice Walker?
“The Flowers,” by Alice Walker, is a story about the loss of childhood innocence. The main character, a young girl named Myop, is enjoying a summer morning by gathering flowers when she stumbles upon the decaying body of a man who has been lynched. Myop can no longer be protected from the harsh realities of racial violence and this traumatic event means that her childhood, like the summer, is now over.
As the previous answers have noted, The Flowers is a story of childhood innocence, and the loss of that innocence due to the hash realities of the world. However, it is in many ways a story of protest against classically held ideas and standards. Alice Walker builds an elaborate picture of the innocence through symbolic imagery of light versus dark descriptors and scenery. From the onset of the story, Alice Walker sets the tone of the story as sweet, innocent and childlike by stating,
She felt light and good in the warm sun... She was 10, and nothing existed for her but her song, the stick clutched in her dark hand...
Alice Walker also begins the juxtaposition of light versus dark to illuminate the innocence and its loss. Look at the intentional use of the phrasing,
in her dark hand, coupled with feeling... light and good in the warm sun.
Not only is this characterization of Myop, but it also setting the tone for the time where a little Black girl, who for all intents and purposes, would not feel good and light due to her family's poverty, and their relative social standing in the world.
Then, the story switches back to the imagery of innocence versus reality as Myop chooses her own path instead of following the path that she would take with her mom. For readers, this use of imagery highlights change, growth, and leaving the old child-like ways behind. Additionally, the light versus dark juxtaposition reenters the story as Myop describes white- or good- bubbles, disturbing the thin, black- or dirty/bad- soil in the water. It is here, that we start to see an intentional flipping of what is classically considered good, and what is classically considered bad or evil. In most literature, what is good is light, white, and/or pure; what is bad is the opposite: dark, heavy, and dirty. Alice Walker I intentionally challenges this notion, by displaying the white bubbles, as being the culprit to disturbing the black soil. She turns the classical notions of good versus evil on its head, and sets up the ultimate loss of innocence felt by Myop when she finds the dead body.
For many readers, it is easy to believe that Myop was ignorant to the world around her. This is not true. Alice Walker intentionally describes a scene that is both familiar to, and understood by Myop. This intentionality indicates that Myop fully understands the world she lives in, but has chosen not to allow it to deter her innocent frolics. Again, reference the protest of white disturbing darkness throughout the story. As Myop encounters the dead body, this notion is evidenced again here,
It was then she stepped smack into his eyes. Her heel became lodged in the broken ridge between brow and nose, and she reached down quickly, unafraid, to free herself.
...because Myop bends down and frees herself, unafraid, as if this weren't her first encounter with a dead body, nor is she particularly surprised to see the body, and/or, become a part of it bystepping into the eye socket. What happens next puts the nail in the coffin of the protest element of this story, as Alice Walker describes the naked smile of the corpse, and the decaying, rotting, white noose. Again, what is classically considered pure and good, is described as rotting, and dirty. The corpse, which is assumed to be a black man, is seen as having a naked, or vulnerable, exposed and bare smile, of broken and cracked white teeth. It is at this moment that Myop's innocence is lost because she can no longer ignore her reality. She is forced to end her summer, and thusly, lose her innocence because she can't un- see the truth of the world around her.
"The Flowers" is a story of losing innocence (or, if you will, of lost innocence). The theme is grounded in a specific racial experience as the story quite poetically relates a young girl's discovery of a lynched man lying dead in some underbrush.
As the story begins, Myop is young and believes in her youth and possesses the natural solipsism of youth. However, the further Myop gets from home (her place and moment of origin), the darker the world becomes. When she realizes this, Myop tries to go back and tries to regain her position of innocence. Her effort fails.
"Myop began to circle back to the house, back to the peacefulness of the morning. It was then she stepped smack into his eyes."
The discovery of a dead, lynched body overtakes her former, brighter vision of reality. Myop drops her load of flowers.
"The final line, "And the summer was over", stands alone as the single sentence of the last paragraph, forcing readers to think about the way in which Myop's innocence has been destroyed: she can no longer be innocent[...]" (eNotes).
The meaning of the story then can be related to Myop's journey from innocence to experience or from ignorance to experience. At the story's outset, Myop did not believe her world was populated by such gruesome things but in the end she can no longer hold onto the idea that her world is one of pure beauty. She releases that idea figuratively when she drops her bundle of flowers.
First, begin by thinking of the significance of the little girl's name. Myop is short for "myopia" a eye condition where one cannot see things far away (near-sightedness). Little Myop cannot see beyond the beauty of her carefree childhood.
However, one summer morning her romping takes her farther from home than she'd ever been before, a whole mile. She does not realize (due to her myopia) the remains of a hanged man until she quite literally bumps into him.
That the man was a laborer is clear from "some threads of blue denim" from his overalls and the "shredding plowline" that is found in the earth nearby. The brutality of his death is uncovered in the details: "large white teeth, all of them cracked or broken" indicates that he had been beaten before his murder. He had been left and forgotten for so long that he had literally rotted away, his severed head lying horrifically beside his decomposing body.
The story concludes with "And the summer was over." The young negro girl has lost her innocence, her myopia.