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Literary Techniques

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

"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

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

"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?

Social Concerns

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Alice Walker's story, "The Flowers," does not spell out its social concerns: instead, they must be read through hints. This is not to say, however, that this story is straightforward. Rather, the implications must be teased out beyond the sketch-like portrayal of events in the work. Simply put, the story deals with one morning in the life of a young girl called Myop, who strays beyond her usual haunts while looking for flowers. While walking back, she literally steps on the remains of a man whom, she discovers, has been lynched. At this point, the story ends.

It is the terse brevity of Walker's narrative in this work that warns the reader to give the text the kind of close reading normally reserved for poetry. Furthermore, one of the epigraphs to In Love and Trouble (the collection of stories of which "The Flowers" is a part), refers to the human predisposition to seek solutions to the easiest of presenting problems while the ones that are more difficult to resolve. The epigraph asserts that we must hold to, and confront, the greater difficulties rather than settling for the path of least resistance. This need is...

(The entire section is 1,515 words.)