What do Miss Maudie's azaleas symbolize in To Kill a Mockingbird?
To Kill A Mockingbird contains many symbols, starting with the title. In the fight for justice, innocence is lost. It is "a sin to kill a mockingbird," because in singing "their hearts out for us," they have no malice or personal agendas—much like Tom Robinson in feeling sorry for Mayella Ewell and trying to ease her apparent suffering.
Flowers are a recurring symbol in the book and as Atticus refuses to judge anyone in his community of Maycomb County and looks for the good (the beauty) in everyone, flowers are a reminder of that. People are rude and offensive and their behavior is often disgraceful and yet, Atticus instructs his children to accept and respect the views of others, even when those thoughts are intrinsically flawed and even wicked. Flowers provide the stark contrast between his attitude and that of most of his community. Furthermore, Mayella's harsh life conflicts with a show of color, even though her geramiums are grown in "chipped-enamel" jars.
In terms of Miss Maudie, she does not want to be stereotyped or stay indoors, because that would be "time wasted," even if the Maycomb community expects her to. Her azaleas provide the contrast between her friendly disposition and the bitterness and hypocrisy in Maycomb County. Her azaleas need nurturing, and are also a symbol of her efforts to nurture not only her azaleas, protecting them from the snow, but also the children, who are free to spend time with her as long as they do not spoil her azaleas. She also likes the bright colors; she does not discriminate one color over another—a subtle reference to the racial prejudice by which she is surrounded.
In chapter 5, Scout and Miss Maudie have a conversation about many things, but part of it revolves around her flowers. Scout asks Maudie about Boo Radley and Maudie tells her that he grew up with a very strict father who was "a foot-washing Baptist" (44). Maudie explains that these particular Baptists believe that "pleasure is a sin." She mentions that some of these types of Baptists walked by her house one day and told her that she and her flowers were all going to hell. Scout is amazed that these people would send flowers to hell along with Miss Maudie, the "best lady" Scout knows. Miss Maudie elaborates by saying that they thought she should be in the house reading the Bible and not working outside so much. Based on the information from this scene, and because the azaleas are Maudie's fragile favorites and the most colorful, they symbolize passion, beauty, and hard work spent on gardening rather than reading the Bible.
The foot-washing Baptists might also consider the flowers something like idols that Maudie worships because she spends so much time with them. For example, in chapter 16, a woman who must be from the same group of foot-washers yells, "He that comes in vanity departeth in darkness!" Whereupon Maudie yells back, "A merry heart maketh a cheerful countenance!" (159). The azaleas must be symbols of Maudie's alleged vanity according to the critical, yelling woman. She must think that Maudie decorates her house with so many colorful flowers to show how vain she is. But for Maudie, the azaleas are symbols of cheerfulness and joy, not things to flaunt for her own vanity's sake.
Azaleas are a colorful flower that blooms in the spring in the South. Their bright colors announce the change in season. Azaleas are a symbol of spirit and determination, even rebirth. These flowers had to be protected from freezing to death in the unexpected snowfall. In a way, the flowers were symbolic of the children and their innocence that had to be protected from the harsh realities of life. These flowers require much love and care, as children do when growing up. To raise them to their full potential, the flower (and the children) require nurturing. When the flowers are destroyed in the fire, Miss Maudie determines to have a smaller house in order to raise more flowers, symbolic of her strength and determination.