What Is the Theme of the Story “Marigolds”?
Marigolds is a short story by Eugenia Collier. In the story, Lizabeth develops a relationship with an older woman named Ms. Lottie. This happens under the backdrop of rural Maryland during the Great Depression.
Marigolds takes place during the Great Depression, which was a time of intense strife throughout the nation. Lizabeth is a 14-year-old girl who sees her mother work hard at home and her father battle with unemployment. She lives in a poor neighborhood and deals with issues like hunger and lack of resources each day. She builds resentment and anger as she discovers the strain her parents face each day. One day, she lashes out against Ms. Lottie’s marigolds. She destroys them and realizes that Ms. Lottie saw her do it.
The first theme introduced in Marigolds is that of poverty. Lizabeth’s parents are overworked, constantly worried about providing for the family. She hears her father crying about his feelings of inadequacy. He fears he can’t feed the family. Lizabeth feels angry because their absence at work is so notable, and this is when she lashes out on Ms. Lottie’s garden of beautiful marigolds.
Poverty is interwoven into the fabric of the story from the beginning. Not only does Lizabeth live in poverty, but it also impacts her decisions. She feels intense anger because of the poverty she experiences, especially after she sees her father’s experience with poverty.
Lizabeth exhibits shame throughout the story. For example, she discusses the shame she felt when she stood over the marigolds when Ms. Lottie saw what she had done. Later on, she grows to realize that Ms. Lottie was trying to grow something beautiful in the midst of poverty. She was trying to fight ugliness with beauty, and Lizabeth realizes she stomped all over this.
Lizabeth is not the only character who exhibits this emotion. Her father also expresses shame. Lizabeth overhears her father crying, which alarms her. She has never seen or heard a man cry before, and this upsets her terribly.
Lizabeth matures throughout Marigolds. At the beginning of the story, Lizabeth feels as if she must throw rocks at the marigolds with her brother because she does not want to be a coward. She does not have the strength or maturity to stand up to him and say she does not want to ruin the marigolds. Later in her life, she can look back at this time and see that she was immature. She acknowledges the event changed her.
Innocence and Compassion
By the end of the story, Lizabeth claims that only through losing innocence can one gain compassion. It is through Lizabeth’s loss of innocence, her violent act, that she learns to have compassion for Ms. Lottie. When people are innocent, they are unaware of the suffering of others. It was in the moment that Lizabeth realized what she’d done in a rage that she developed compassion. She realized that she was not the only person with struggles.
Ms. Lottie plants the marigolds as a way to hope for prosperity and fortune. Her flowers symbolize what she hopes the future will look like. When Lizabeth destroys the flowers, she could also be represented as destroying hope.