What are the symbols and their representations in "The Flowers," by Alice Walker? What is the significance of the word flowers in the title?

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Tamara K. H. eNotes educator| Certified Educator

One of the most important symbols in Alice Walker's short story "The Flowers" is Myop's "family's sharecropper cabin." Myop is described as walking away from the dirt road of the cabin to the stream behind the house and deeper into the woods beyond the stream. In addition, while taking this walk, Myop is described as being extremely happy. The story is set during the final days of summer when the harvest begins, and in Myop's mind, these final days of summer are the most beautiful ever, especially because the scents of the harvest excite her as if each new day holds a "golden surprise." Yet, the image of a sharecropper cabin is an extremely sorrowful image; it's an image tied to extreme poverty, a black man's continued subordination to white masters despite the end of slavery, the denial of education needed for a black man to break these chains of subordination, and racism, making the image of a sharecropper cabin symbolic of poverty, subordination, and racism. Yet, Myop, at the start of the story, is apparently innocent of an understanding of the extent of her family's suffering. Therefore, the image also foreshadows and symbolizes the suffering and racism she will soon come to understand as she leaves her childhood innocence behind.

In the woods, Myop strays a mile from home gathering wildflowers. She is just starting to head home when she discovers the corpse of a hanged man. Myop notices the noose that serves as evidence of a lynch mob hanging the moment she sees a single wild rose. In describing the wild rose, author Walker intentionally creates a very incongruous image. Walker describes Myop as picking the rose and seeing "a raised mound, a ring, around the rose's root." The problem is that wild roses do not grow from single rooted stems; they grow from bushes. Yet, Walker has intentionally chosen not to mention the bush. The incongruous image of the wild rose helps the reader see that the members of the lynch mob used the wild rose in mockery of life and that, in the story, the wild rose symbolizes a mockery of life. Rather than protecting the life of the more than likely innocent man, as a wild rose should, it was used by members of the lynch mob to cause his painful death, all because of racism. It is when Myop is described as having "laid down her flowers," as if laying down flowers on a tomb, that Myop seems to have come to fully understand what she is seeing. The act of laying down these wild flowers symbolizes her awakening--no longer does she see life as a joyous wonder; she is now fully aware of the existence of death and will soon become more aware of the fact that racism causes death and destruction. Hence, the story is titled "The Flowers" because her act of laying down flowers at the side of a deceased man portrays her new awareness of death and suffering.

mrs-campbell eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Flowers are an important symbol in the story, representing the beauty and sweetness of innocence, ignorance and youth.  Myop carries flowers with her that are as beautiful and unknowing as she is herself about the harsh world and all of its cruelties.  Even the wildflower that is sprouting out of the middle of the noose is completely oblivious to the violence and death that had occurred so close by.  Myop is the same way; she is young, naive, and completely oblivious to the fact that many people were lynched and hanged, simply because they were black, people that she might have known, that lived close to her.  So, the flowers symbolize that unknowing beauty that childhood often possesses.  Then, at the end, when it says "Myop laid down her flowers," it symbolizes how she laid down her innocence and childhood.  She turned a corner to adulthood and was never able to go back.  Giving up the flowers meant that she was also leaving behind her naivety and ignorance.

Another symbol is the summertime, which also represented innocence and childhood; at the end, it says that "the summer was over" for Myop; her childhood was over.  I hope that those thoughts helped; good luck!