- Myop – daughter of a sharecropper.
- Dead man – an old corpse found in the woods.
- Farm – where the parents of Myop work.
- Woods – where Myop wanders to find flowers.
- Summer – light-heartedness, carefree outlook in life the most children hold.
- Flower – innocence, universal symbol of joy and life.
- Dead man – loss of innocence, reality of life.
- Noose – impossibility of remaining innocent.
- Snakes – adult situations.
- Woods – dreaded unknown.
Theme: All people try to hang onto childhood innocence, but at some undeniable point the innocence disappears in us all.
Short Summary: Myop is happy and carefree as she skips around her family’s cabin playing with the animals. She does not look beyond the splendor of her free and comfortable childhood. On this day she decides to explore the woods as she had done many times with her mother in late autumn while gathering nuts. Myop then leaves the safety and peacefulness of her family’s sharecropper cabin to search for new and wonderful flowers.
This summer morning she makes her own path and finds herself about a mile from home in unfamiliar surroundings. The cove she had come upon was gloomy, damp and had a mysterious silence. In her quest to recapture the happiness of the morning, and find her way back to her cabin, she stumbles onto the remains of a man who had clearly been killed in a lynching. She sees the brittleness of his death when she discovered his “large white teeth, all of them cracked or broken” showing that might have been beaten before his murder.
She then looks up at a tree and sees the rotted remains of a noose. “Myop laid down her flowers” was a sign of releasing her youthfulness, as she was forced to face one of the unavoidable truths. The destruction of her childhood innocence was recognized at the end of the story with the statement “And the summer was over. ” Alice Walker dramatically shows what impact it is on a child and how quickly she can lose her childhood innocence with the realization of how prominent racial violence was in rural Georgia during segregation.
Analysis of the Story: Alice Walker’s “The Flowers” tells the timeless initiation story of a child’s struggle with loss of innocence. In reading this story, one of the most important aspects in fully grasping the central point is acknowledging and understanding its use of symbolism. Through a series of several symbols Walker creates a vivid illustration of Myop’s journey from the innocence of childhood to the grim realities of life. From the very beginning of the story we are introduced to imagery representative of deeper meanings.
The time of year is summer and the overall attitude of summer must be considered in establishing its significance in “The Flowers”. Most people, especially children, tend to view summertime with a carefree mind-set. This widespread view of summer as synonymous with light-heartedness exemplifies how the summer itself represents the trouble free, outlook on life that Myop and most children hold. Just as the summer represents the ideas of innocence in a child, Myop herself represents the physical and mental ideas of most young children.
She tends to be oblivious to the world outside of her own mind. Myop is the center of her own universe and is ignorant to the reality of life different from her own. Even the name Myop (a shortened version of the word, myopia, meaning lack of insight) provides a symbol of childhood ideals. The quote, “She felt light and good in the warm sun. She was ten and nothing existed for her but her song, the stick clutched in her dark brown hand, and the tat-de-ta-ta-ta of accompaniment,” provides example of one of the many times that Walker speaks of Myop’s oblivion.
Another symbol of innocence is the flowers that Myop so happily picks. Flowers tend to be a universal symbol for joy and life and Myop gravitates toward these life signs as a way of ignoring the cold fact that life is not always joyous. She is trying desperately to hang on to her childhood innocence, and we find that she clings to these flowers when she feels that her innocence may be threatened. For example, as Myop begins to explore the woods, Walker states the following, “Today she made her own path, bouncing this way and that way, vaguely keeping an eye out for snakes.
She found, in addition to various common but pretty ferns and leaves an armful of strange blue flowers with velvety ridges and a sweet-suds bush full of the brown, fragrant buds,”. This excerpt shows how Myop was constantly watching out for adult situations, symbolized be the snakes, during her happy-go-lucky frolic to the woods in search of flowers. Up until this point, the mood of the story has been bright and cheerful. However, the tone takes a somewhat dramatic shift when Myop finds that she has traveled too far into the woods.
These woods, symbolizing the dreaded unknown, are gloomy dark and damp and the tone reflects the characteristics of the woods. It is in these woods that Myop encounters the single event that will lead to her loss of innocence: finding the corpse of a lynched man. Myop steps, by accident, into the face of this corpse and although startled continues to grasp for childhood gaiety. She examines the area in which the remains of this man lay and finds a single pink rose. As stated before, she grasps to the flowers as a way of hanging onto her innocence and ignoring what is real.
The corpse is real and the flower is her escape. However, truth is undeniable for Myop when she bends down to retrieve the rose and spots the frazzled remains of a noose. As the story goes, “Myop laid down her flowers. And the summer was over”. Walker uses this whole situation of the corpse, noose and rose to clearly illustrate the definitive moment in which a child looses that treasured innocence. The corpse represents the irrefutable event that leads to the lack of innocence. The rose is the unwillingness of a child to give up the innocence, and the noose symbolizes the impossibility of remaining innocent forever.
When Myop “laid down her flowers” she essentially laid down her innocence. She could no longer live in her own small universe and “the summer,” or her childhood, was over. With the use of all of these symbols, Alice Walker provides a clear picture of the central theme of the story: a theme that all human beings can, either consciously or subconsciously, relate to. It is the undeniable idea of truth, that all people try to hang onto childhood innocence, but at some undeniable point the innocence disappears in us all.
Another short analysis is that the detailed description of the body follows this, which adds context and meaning to the death, leading up to the story’s conclusion. From the “threads of blue denim from his overalls”, we can deduce that the man was a worker, and, although sweeping generalizations must be avoided, his large bones and teeth, combined with his occupation and cause of death, indicate his probable ethnicity-African American, like Myop. We can also deduce that Myop was forced to face one of the most violent forms of racism.