"The Flowers" is not even two pages long, and so Walker's narrative is correspondingly dense with significance. To begin with narration, there is an abrupt shift in style at the point when Myop discovers the body. Before this event, the narrative reflects the excited tone of childhood pleasure, describing Myop's gaze flitting from place to place, revelling in all that she sees. When she stands on the skull, the narrative shifts to a very matter-of-fact description of Myop's curiosity and her unearthing of the skeleton. Through the shockingly incongruous description of the noose as blending "benignly" into the soil, Walker highlights the horror of Myop's discovery that the man has been lynched, which ends both a carefree day and an innocently curious childhood. Perhaps in her choice of a old plowline for a noose, Walker also implies that African Americans have been reduced to beasts of burden and field laborers, a practice which continued after the Civil War in the practice of sharecropping.
Walker's title is symbolic. Walker uses both flowers and summer as symbols for innocence and the state of innocence in childhood. Though Myop enjoys the summer and gathers flowers for most of the story, in the final two lines, Walker states that Myop lays down the flowers and that summer was over. Since the flowers are dropped at the feet of the unburied man's body, they could also symbolize an act of mourning that comes too late. Finally, just as the man has not been accorded a proper burial, so the racist violence that killed him has not been laid to rest; its currents stir restlessly like the ragged ends of the lynch rope.
Ideas for Group Discussions
"The Flowers" is a study in control and brevity. Through an account of one child's loss of innocence, Walker manages to evoke the ways in which the history of racist violence in America is temporarily hidden and how that history continues to blight the American landscape. Just as Myop must uncover the man's body and learn the secrets of his murder, so Walker's epigraph suggests that people must strive to uncover this hidden past as a whole. Furthermore they must acknowledge their responsibility to acknowledge these past crimes. In seeing the past accurately people make strides to put to rest its legacy.
1. What do you think the flowers symbolize in this story?
2. Explain the value in the story's shortness and also explore what is thus left unsaid? Offer some explanations for why Walker chooses not to write about other parts that might have been included in a longer version.
3. Identify the benefits of childhood innocence and its dangers. What is the risk of being idealistic in a racist society?
4. What does the anonymous omniscient narrator add to the story?
5. Why do you think that Walker shocks her readers with Myop's discovery? How do you think that this relates to the notion of racist violence as a hidden history?
(The entire section is 1,515 words.)