The Theme of Innocence in the Flowers,a Story by Alice Walker
Alice Walker’s The Flowers discusses the theme of innocence, and more specifically how innocence is sustained and lost. We see this immediately, as Walker begins the story with the words: “It seemed.” These words are revealed as the key to reading the first half of the story itself. The summer days seem beautiful to Myop, as she skips through life with the carefree innocence of a child. Nonetheless, the story proves that life only seems safe and beautiful because Myop is sheltered and innocent. The story let’s us follow Myop’s loss of this ignorance, and consequently her innocence. Throughout the first half of the story, Walker develops a beautiful setting detailing Myop’s enjoyment of a summer morning. The air, the crops, the livestock all entrance her. As Walker writes: “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.”
Nothing exists for Myop except her enjoyment of the moment, but Walker hints at her naivete for us by naming her Myop, meant to bring to mind Myopia, short sightedness. Before she’s confronted with the lynched body, Myop fails to see that racist forces already have an impact on her life. Walker shows the pervasive background presence of racism by setting Myop’s family in a sharecropper’s cabin. While the author does not discuss this in detail, a reader familiar with US history cannot help but remember that the sharecropping system forced freed slaves into a virtual slavery almost as profound as formal slavery.
Though harvests might seem to be filled with golden surprises for Myop, historically they occasioned long hours of backbreaking labor for sharecropping families, struggling to maximize the yield of their land in hopes, typically in vain, that they would be able to reap some of the benefits. This led to bitterness, as almost the whole harvest went to the white owners of their land, while the sharecroppers slid further into debt and were often left to live off produce unfit for sale. This hint of the poverty of Myop’s family is strengthened by Walker’s passing but important reference to the rusted boards of their sharecropper cabin.
As Walker describes Myop’s walk into the woods behind the cabin, we are transported to the innocent wonderland of childhood through the detail and the varieties of flowers that Myop gathers. We are told that Myop has explored the woods many times before with her mother. Here again, Walker shows how appearances can be deceptive and what seems familiar in childhood can turn threatening. Myop discovers that she has wandered too far, and the familiar woods become threatening. Walker highlights the change as the sunlight, dry heat, and bright colors of the familiar woods become “gloomy… the air becomes damp, the silence close and deep.” The day is not as perfect and safe as we have thusfar been led to believe. This change in tone attempts to prepare the reader for the disturbing discovery that follows.
Even still, when Myop’s foot comes down between the eyes of the grinning skull, the sudden appearance of death amidst the variety of life which we have explored with Myop is shocking. It isn’t death itself though that marks the end of Myop’s innocence. Walker writes that Myop, having unearthed the body, “gazed around the scene with interest.” Tellingly, Myop is still gathering flowers, she picks a pink rose, even though it grows close to the skull. At this point she sees the rope, and it’s this revelation that shows the full story for both Myop and us. The rope is still tied to an oak branch, and we understand that the man has been lynched. The lynching, which while hidden from Myop had always been there, causes Myop’s loss of innocence. The final line, “And the summer was over”, stands alone as the last paragraph, forcing readers to think about the way in which Myop’s innocence has been destroyed. She can no longer be a child in the face of this evidence of the US history of racial violence. Her innocence is represented by the summer. Summer is over, as is the ignorance, and innocence, of her childhood.