What is the plot structure of "The Flowers" by Alice Walker?

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booboosmoosh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Alice Walker's "The Flowers" is a impactful short story with the wallop of an explosion in the midst of a rose garden: her artfully constructed plot in no way prepares the reader for Myop's life-altering experience.

Plot structure begins with the exposition or introduction. The main character is introduced, setting established and mood developed. Myop is ten years old and lives in the country. She is very observant of nature: animals, plants (especially flowers), and even bubbles in the creek. Carefree, she loves the world—she is the epitome of childish innocence.

It seemed to Myop as she skipped lightly from hen house to pigpen to smokehouse that the days had never been as beautiful as these. 

 The mood and setting are further developed:

The harvesting...made each day a golden surprise that caused excited little tremors to run up her jaws.

Myop is a child excited by nature's beauty. It is harvest time, and "golden surprise" refers not only to her delight in each discovery (figuratively "golden"), but also to the colors that abound in the landscape, from flowers to produce ready to be picked. For all of the harvest times she remembers, this is the best.

Myop's joy is interwoven into the rising action of the story. She carries a stick, using it on favored "fowl"...

Myop carried a short, knobby stick. She struck out at random at chickens she liked...

The stick creates "music" on the fence. The sunshine warms her. "Nothing existed" but the stick, and her improvised song with its "tat-de-ta-ta-ta" beat. An important detail includes her race:

... the stick clutched in her dark brown hand...

Her family is poor: they are sharecroppers—they work someone else's land, and pay rent for the land with a "share" of their crops. But nature is filled with pleasure for Myop, and she is suffused with it. The family may not have much, but Myop is rich in what the land freely offers. This land is familiar to her. She has traveled over it many times: sometimes alone, and sometimes with her mother—often at this very time of the year. The only threat is that of snakes, and she keeps an eye out to avoid them.

Walker includes descriptive or sensory details to create imagery that adds to the mood of the story:

She found...pretty ferns and leaves, an armful of strange blue flowers with velvety ridges and a sweet suds bush full of the brown, fragrant buds.

Then, foreshadowing is found in...

... strangeness of the land...The air was damp, the silence close and deep.

In this different place, the land's unfamiliarity and silence (like a graveyard) cause Myop concern. So she turns to go back to the peace of home, but she is stopped at a place from which she cannot return unchanged:

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.

The long-dead body is not the climax—that is found in minute details of enormous significance:

...she noticed a raised mound, a ring...It was the rotted remains of a noose... Around an overhanging limb...clung another piece.

The falling action is found as Myop lays down her flowers there, as if on a grave. The resolution or dénouement is found in the last line: "the summer is over" refers to Myop's childhood. A black man (we infer) has been lynched. This horror, so close to home, is a turning point in her young life. Death has stepped into her world, and she will never be the same.