The themes of the short story "Marigolds" by Eugenia Collier include poverty, maturity and the relationship between innocence and compassion. These themes are realized through the main character, Lizabeth, and her relationship with an old woman, Ms. Lottie. The story is set in rural Maryland during the Great Depression.
The setting of the story introduces the theme of poverty. Lizabeth's parents are constantly working to provide for their family, and their absence is one cause of Lizabeth's anger. In fact, when Lizabeth overhears her father crying to her mother about how inadequate he feels because he is unable to provide enough to feed his family, it incites Lizabeth into a rage that leads to her destroying Ms. Lottie's beautiful marigolds. The themes of maturity, innocence and compassion go hand in hand with one another, as Lizabeth states that only through a loss of innocence can one gain compassion. A loss of innocence also results in maturation.
Lizabeth reflects on how ashamed she felt while standing in the ruins of the marigolds with the old woman watching her. When she was older, Lizabeth realized the reason she felt ashamed was that she had destroyed the beauty Ms. Lottie had cultivated in "the midst of [the] ugliness and sterility" of the poverty of the Great Depression. It was at this point, Lizabeth recalls, that she lost her innocence and became a woman.