Themes

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 772

One theme concerns how innocence is sustained by ignorance or lost by knowledge. Crucially, Walker begins the story with the words: "It seemed ." These words are revealed as the key to reading the first half of the story itself. The summer days seem beautiful to Myop, as she skips through life with the carefree innocence of a ten-year-old. Nonetheless, the story proves that life only seems safe and beautiful because Myop is sheltered and innocent. In short, the story charts Myop's sudden and total loss of innocence.

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Throughout the first half of the story, Walker artfully draws a picture of Myop's enjoyment of a summer morning: the air, the crops, the livestock all entrance her. As Walker writes: "She was ten, and nothing existed for her but her song, the stick clutched in her dark brown hand, and the tat-de-ta-ta-ta of accompaniment." Indeed, nothing does exist for Myop except her pleasure, but Walker hints that Myop's innocent enjoyment is effectively gilding her perception of her family's situation. This is suggested in her very name, Myop, which brings to mind myopia, the condition of short-sightedness. Before the dramatic revelation of racist violence, Myop fails to see that racist forces already have an impact on her life.

Walker demonstrates the pervasive background presence of racism by situating Myop's family in a sharecropper's cabin. Despite the lack of any further mention of this fact, a reader familiar with the history of the United States cannot help but think that the sharecropping system forced post- Civil War freed African-American families into an economic virtual slavery almost as profound as formal slavery. Though harvests might seem to be filled with golden surprises for Myop, historically they occasioned long hours of backbreaking toil for sharecropping families, anxiously struggling to maximize the yield of their land. Furthermore, they were times of bitterness, as almost the whole harvest went to the white owners of their land, while the sharecroppers slid further into debt and were often left to live off produce unfit for sale. This hint of the poverty of Myop's family is subtly strengthened by Walker's passing reference to the rusted boards of their sharecropper cabin.

As Walker describes Myop's walk into the woods behind the cabin, the reader is transported to the innocent wonder of childhood through sensual detail and the varieties of flowers that Myop gathers. Moreover, we are told that Myop has explored the woods many times before with her mother. Again, though, Walker shows how appearances can be deceptive and how the familiar haunts of childhood can turn threatening. Myop discovers that she has wandered too far, and the familiar woods become threatening. Walker underlines the change as the golden sunlight, dry heat, and bright colors of the familiar woods become "gloomy. . . the air [becomes] damp, the silence close and deep." The day no longer seems pleasurable and safe to Myop.

To some extent, this change in tone prepares the reader for the disturbing discovery that follows. Nonetheless, when Myop's foot comes down between the eyes of the grinning skull, this sudden appearance of death, amidst the variety of life which so entrances Myop, is shocking. It is not first the fact of the man's death, however, that spells the end of Myop's innocence, for Walker writes that Myop, having unearthed the man's remains, "gazed around the scene with interest." More tellingly, Myop is still engaged in her innocent project of gathering flowers: she picks a pink rose, even though it grows close to the skull. At this point she sees the loop of plowline, and the full implications of the scene Myop has uncovered become clear to the character and the reader. The loop is still tied to the remnants of an oak branch. Thus, Walker dramatizes that the man has been lynched.

The revealed fact of lynching, exposed that summer after being hidden for many years, causes Myop's loss of innocence. The final line, "And the summer was over", stands alone as the single sentence of the last paragraph, forcing readers to think about the way in which Myop's innocence has been destroyed: she can no longer be innocent, can no longer be a child, in the face of this evidence of the U.S. history of racial violence. Finally, Walker would expect her readers to know of contemporary lynching and racial violence. This continued threat is suggested in the restless spinning of the loop around the bough. As the loop is described as clinging to the bough, so the threat of lethal violence clings threateningly to American racial relationships; the forces of resentment and insecurity that drive lynching eddy restlessly and unpredictably.

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