Symbolism in Marigolds

Analyzing the symbolism in Eugenia Collier’s “Marigolds.”

“Childhood is measured out by sounds and smells and sights, before the dark hour of reason grows,” recited poet John Betjeman. In a time where hardships are many and childhood freedoms few, a young girl Lizabeth – the main character of Eugenia Collier’s powerful story “Marigolds” struggles with growing up. This poignant story is set in the Great Depression, a time of confusion and grief for many, especially for underprivileged African American families living in neglected rural areas. During this time of turmoil, a patch of marigolds in an elderly women’s garden symbolize the hopelessness of poverty, coming of age, and the power of hope.
A patch of beautiful marigolds in a world of dirt, gloom and depression symbolize the hopelessness of poverty. Lizabeth and her younger brother spend her fourteenth summer playing in dusted streets surrounded by dilapidated houses. Lizabeth does not have a full understanding of poverty, describing it as “vague” and like the “undirected restlessness of the zoo bred flamingo who knows that nature created him to fly free” (123), but senses the marigolds have a hand in this anxious unhappiness. Angered for some misunderstood reason, Lizabeth recalls: “For some perverse reason we children hated those marigolds. They interfered with the perfect ugliness of the place; they were too beautiful, they said too much that we could not understand; they did not make sense” (126). Although Lizabeth’s hatred of poverty is still formless, the marigolds symbolize the hopelessness of poverty.
Furthermore, the marigolds symbolize coming of age. Lizabeth feels her whole life is crashing down around her, and to regain some sense of control, she destroys Ms. Lottie’s marigolds. Feeling even more lost and alone than ever once realizing the toll of her destruction towards Ms. Lottie, Lizabeth expresses, “I knew in that moment, and as I look back upon it, I know that that moment marked the...