Why does Lizabeth in "Marigolds" get so upset by her father's tears?

Lizabeth in "Marigolds" gets so upset by her father's tears because she has always viewed him as the metaphorical rock of their family. His tears reveal that her father has struggles himself, and this forces Lizabeth to confront a world which doesn't fit the idealized structure that she has always imagined.

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This story is about the transition from the innocence of childhood to a more realistic understanding of the world. The narrator, Lizabeth, begins the story by describing the dusty setting and later equates that to the poverty which is "the cage in which [they] all were trapped." Lizabeth's life is...

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This story is about the transition from the innocence of childhood to a more realistic understanding of the world. The narrator, Lizabeth, begins the story by describing the dusty setting and later equates that to the poverty which is "the cage in which [they] all were trapped." Lizabeth's life is barren and devoid of hope. She watches her father leave day after day to try to find work in their community. Despite his best efforts, he has returned home daily for years empty handed, and her mother has earned only a meager income which is incapable of supporting the youngest children in their family, who have been sent to live with relatives.

Lizabeth's father begins crying because he believes that he has failed his family. His sobs are deep and loud, and this shocks Lizabeth. To see her father cry is a further disruption of the innocence of her childhood. Until this moment, she "had never heard a man cry before" and "did not know men ever cried." She had always looked to her father as the strong, solid force of their family, and his emotional breakdown reveals that he has struggles of his own.

Her father's sadness causes the ordered world of her childhood to lose its "boundary lines." In this world, she must realize that her father may not have all the answers and can't be endlessly strong for his family. In recognizing his limits, Lizabeth is left wondering how the world is truly structured. Suddenly, she isn't sure where she fits in, and this sense of a world without perfect order leaves her bewildered.

She carries this sense of bewilderment with her, full of a sense of hopelessness surrounding her family's poverty, to Miss Lottie's yard and destroys the beauty Miss Lottie has tried to create in her own life. Those actions are fueled by the shock of her father's tearful breakdown and demonstrate her childlike response to feelings of fear and disappointment.

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Lizabeth says, later in the story,

Innocence involves an unseeing acceptance of things at face value, an ignorance of the area below the surface.

Up to the moment that Lizabeth sees her father cry, she had an innocent, idealistic view of him. He had always been 'the rock on which the family had been built' and seeing him sob so profoundly shattered that image. Lizabeth realized, at that moment, that the foundation on which her entire life had been built, had crumbled. She attempted to not hear her father's despair but was not able to do so. It was impossible for her to believe that he was so distraught since he had always been the one who brought them joy by creating things for them and laughing heartily. It was unthinkable that this same man that she had so much faith in, could be weak and broken.

Furthermore, the fact that her mother, 'small and soft' was now the strength of the family, dumbfounded her. Lizabeth's world had been turned upside down and she questioned her place in that situation. She was overwhelmed by utter confusion and fear. The situation that she had just witnessed was not supposed to be - it had to be the other way round. She was so upset by what she had heard and witnessed that she could not cry herself. Instead, she was overwhelmed by a desire to do something to express her shock, anger and confusion. In her immature mind the only solace she could find was to destroy something precious to someone else - Miss Lottie's marigolds - because she had lost a childhood ideal, something that had been precious to her.

Lizabeth's act of misplaced vengeance is a sad reflection of how the loss of something valuable can bring out the worst in us. It is fortunate, though, that her mindless act made her realize something of even greater value. She felt humiliated by what she had done after being confronted by Miss Lottie, who did not retaliate, and Lizabeth finally understood:

I looked beyond myself and into the depths of another person. This was the beginning of compassion, and one cannot have both compassion and innocence.

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This excellent short story by Eugenia W. Collier unfortunately does not have a group, so I will live it in the Literature section of enotes. Lizabeth is so upset by her father's tears at the state that he finds himself in: unemployed and unable to earn money to provide for his family. There is definitely an element of brutal realism in this story as it explores the poverty that so many black families had to face and the difficulties they had trying to find employment. However, this state is one that Lizabeth's father finds incredibly difficult to bear, and as a result, he starts to cry. This is something that is devastating to Lizabeth, as she tells us:

I had never heard a man cry before. I did not know men every cried. I covered my ears with my hands but could not cut off the sound of my father's harsh, painful, despairing sobs.

The sight of her father crying bears no relation to Lizabeth's picture of him as a strong man who laughs a lot and does not get depressed or burdened by worries. The impact this has on Lizabeth is summed up when she says, in the paragraph straight after this sight, that "The world had lost its boundary lines." Lizabeth's world will never be the same again now that she has had her image of her father shattered.

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