“Alice Walker’s short story The Flowers is essentially a coming-of-age story that expresses the theme of loss of innocence as Myop – a young African American girl–” discovers the viciousness of the world and what can be done to her vulnerable body.
The story begins with a young girl, Myop, roaming around her family’s sharecropping farm “feeling at peace with the world and ends with her realizing that the world is far from a wonderful place.” In the first paragraph of the short story, Myop is a carefree, light and happy young girl skipping “from hen house to pigpen to smokehouse”, enjoying the beautiful atmosphere. Walker emphasizes on Myop’s happiness by highlighting her physical reactions such as the “little tremors her jaws” and her nose twitching. We later discover that Myop is an African American girl as Walker illustrates an image of a “stick clutched in dark brown hand.” Knowing Myop’s origin is essential to understanding the purpose of the story later on, since Myop is unwillingly educated about the cruelty and oppression her African American ancestors have faced. “Her happiness is further depicted in her venture of picking wildflowers, a venture she becomes so engaged in that it carries her a mile or more away from home.” Walker precisely chose the action of picking flowers as flowers are a symbol of purity and innocence just like Myop’s childish, fragile innocence. As Myop walks along the stream around the spring where her family got drinking water, she “watches bubbles disrupt the thin black scale of soil.” Walker’s portrayal of the bubbles emerging and disrupting the stagnant natural soil is foreshadowing that something bad is about to happen, something is about to disrupt Myop’s innocence.
A significant change occurs as Myop’s character begins to transform. The ten-year-old diverts from the path her mother took her on and starts to make “her own path” within the woods; hence the gradual loss of innocence. Upon her journey, the mood of the story changes as Myop “vaguely out for snakes.” The reader feels more anxious as snakes typically symbolize treachery and evilness. As time passes by, it’s twelve o’clock and Myop is far away from home, she feels the strangeness of the land contra to the initial pleasant morning environment she wandered in, where certainty and safeness were still untouchable. Now, Myop finds herself in a gloomy cove; “the air was damp and the silence close and deep.” Walker continues to emphasize the change of ambiance and setting; the weather is becoming dark and Walker is purposefully referring to Myop’s innocence which is at risk. The snake and the darkness in contrast to the change of time are symbols that foreshadow the evil arising.
Furthermore, the reader is about to experience Myop’s complete detachment from innocence through significant events that unfold until the end of the story. Feeling anxious, “Myop began to circle back to the house, back to the peacefulness of the morning.” Myop was headed back to her house, where she felt safe with the protection of her parents. Suddenly, facing reality, Myop “stepped smack into his eyes.” To begin, the use of onomatopoeia is significant as it brings the story to life; the reader can hear the unsolicited sound of Myop’s foot smacking into a person’s skull. Not knowing what she stepped into, “she reached down quickly, unafraid, to free herself.” Again, Walker’s use of imagery helps the reader imagine Myop’s foot lodged “in the broken ridge between brow and nose.” Looking down at “his naked grin”, Myop discovers a deceased skeleton of a man and “gave a little yelp of surprise.” Formerly unafraid and carefree, Myop is now frightened by what she has seen. It is then when she has an awakening; Myop, unaware, has stepped into adulthood, she on the verge losing her innocence.
Meanwhile, Myop is about to discover the prolonged abuse her people have faced, in which for the first time, she is unwillingly educated about the inhumane acts of humankind. Observing the body from feet to neck, the head was detached from the body and the body was covered with layers of leaves, earth and debris indicating how long the body has been there. Myop saw that he’d had large white teeth, all of them cracked or broken denoting violence, perhaps a beating. “All his clothes are except some threads of blue denim from his overalls.” Walker specifically mentions the blue denim overalls as they were a form of labor uniform for people of color. Still looking around, Myop picks up a wild pink rose and notices the rotted remains of a noose.
Around a great spreading oak clung another piece frayed, rotted, bleached and frazzled – barely there – but spinning restlessly in the breeze. The remains or the rope forever hanging on the tree is an indication that the vulnerability of African Americans will always be there; the cruelty and oppression towards them will always be a part of history. Similarly, they will, unfortunately, always fear for their lives. What used to be in the form of slavery and labor work is now in the form of hate crimes, job insecurity, and injustice. Black people have to constantly prove themselves to a society that will forever discriminate against them; they have to endure pain and impediments. Apprehending what has happened, Myop lays down her flowers, overwhelmed by the realization that the man was a victim of a hanging.
With several clues – Myop’s skin color, the sharecrop farm, and the overalls – the reader can conclude that the dead man suffered from a hanging. Not only have we discovered the racial identity of the victim, but also the fact that it happened a long time ago given the description of the rotten overalls and rope used. The lives of black people have always been vulnerable and while this was ‘post slavery’ as implied by the reference of sharecrop farms, the remains indicate the ingrained history of mistreating vulnerable bodies. Myop’s journey revealed the unequivocal truth behind racism, hatred and uncivilization. What was done to these bodies was savage and inhumane. Involuntarily educated about the history of her ancestors, Myop has lost her innocence. When Walker states that “summer was over”, she really means Myop’s childhood is over. Myop has left the world of childness and fantasy and has entered into the world of adult cruelty. She is now aware of what can be done to her body, which is why she laid down the flowers next to the black man’s deteriorated body. Suddenly, the snake was the least of Myop’s concerns; what concerns her is the brutal murder of a fellow black man.
Myop’s journey from being unaware of what lied in the place that used to signify happiness and calmness, evolves into a violent crime scene that makes her aware of the rotten and dark realities of the world we live in.