Where the Lilies Bloom

by Vera Cleaver, Bill Cleaver

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Themes and Characters

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 526

Where the Lilies Bloom portrays poverty in a realistic light, neither glossing over its ugliness nor dwelling unnecessarily on any of its horrors. Mary Call Luther has promised her father that the family will never accept charity, so the four children must work for a living Without letting anyone find out their father has died. Mary Call comes up with a plan: the family will become "wildcrafters," gathering and selling medicinal plants that grow wild in the mountains. Through extremely hard work, cleverness, and some luck, the Luthers survive. As the book ends one feels that the Luther family will be fine, and probably closer and stronger than ever.

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The central conflict in the story revolves around Mary Call Luther's feeling of responsibility for her family. Her sense of obligation to fulfill the promises she made to her dying father leads to her feelings of inadequacy and rebellion. She fights with her brother and sisters, who say she is mean and "hateful," and struggles with a part of herself that wants to run away from the entire situation. Mary Call is a strong character, made wiser than most fourteen-year-olds by her duties to her family and her sense of honor. As the narrative progresses, she senses her strength: she can win the fight against nature, provide for her family, and keep most of her promises to her father. Mary Call is a model of self-control and perseverance, and her character suggests that anything is possible for someone who has enough motivation.

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The novel features several interesting and unusual characters. Romey Luther, the ten-year-old brother, is generally loving and mature for his age. Although rebellious at times, he "has none of the rough makings of a farm boy." Eighteen-year-old Devola Luther is a sort of mother to her younger siblings; she apparently suffers from a mental disability that makes her "cloudy-headed." Kiser Pease, one of the villains of the story, is really more comic than evil, with his yearnings for Devola, his superstitions, and his rotten teeth. Mrs. Connell (whom Romey calls an "old bat,") is the only truly evil character. She plagues the children with her criticizing, prying, and threats. She vows to make sure that the children go to "an institution for people like them" when Roy Luther dies. She takes a sad pleasure in tormenting the children with tales of her own childhood as an orphan, and in ridiculing their old, torn clothing and proud refusal of charity. Even her gifts are meant to hurt: she gives Ima Dean, the youngest sister, a bag of candy, a real luxury to a poor little girl. When the child opens it, however, she finds the candy is so "old and dirty" that "nobody could've eaten it."

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Latest answer posted January 24, 2012, 1:31 pm (UTC)

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The need for emotional, financial, and physical security, the need to fulfill appointed duties and promises, and the need for family unity and pride are the themes that run throughout this story. Although most readers will not have experienced the level of poverty that the Luthers endure, they will be able to relate to the spirit of struggle and will rejoice in the triumph of Mary Call and her siblings.

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