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

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andrewnightingale's profile pic

andrewnightingale | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

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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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accessteacher's profile pic

accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

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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