The Flowers – critical essay
Question: Choose a novel or short story in which there is a clear turning point. Briefly describe what leads up to the turning point and explain the effect it has on the rest of the novel or short story.
The short story, “The Flowers” by Alice Walker, has a clear turning point. There are many clues in the story which symbolise the turning point coming closer. The turning point is when the main character, a young girl, steps into the skull of a lynched black man and in the process, loses her innocence.
This short story is based in 1950s America, when whites hated blacks. It is based in the time in which the Third Ku Klux Klan was active, they were notorious for abducting and murdering blacks. Myop, the girl in the story, goes through the woods collecting different flowers with assorted colours, which symbolises her approaching the turning point, when she steps into the skull of a lynched black man. The climatic turning point symbolises the end of Myop’s innocence.
“The Flowers” starts with the words “it seemed”, which shows Myop’s carefree innocence in the story as everything “seems” perfect. She may be like this because her parents have protected her from the dangers of the world, which is to no avail later in the story. Myop’s carefree innocence is further emphasised when we are told “she skipped from henhouse to pighouse to smokehouse”. Myop’s naivety is shown when the author says that she thought “ the days had never been as beautiful as these.”
The first true warning we get of the turning point is when Myop senses something. There was a “keenness” in the air “that made her nose twitch”. The twitchy nose reminds us of dog’s sharp sense of smell, or a rabbit’s nose twitch when it senses danger. So in effect we get the impression that she senses something will happen, we don’t really know if it will be good or bad until we read on.
We are reminded of Myop’s protected innocence when we are told of her excitement of the new harvest. The harvest has the connotations of control and plentiful food, suggesting Myop’s parents censoring what really happens out in the real world to protect her innocence. This is further emphasised by the mention of the colour, which is an expensive metal, so it is normally associated with security and protection, which emphasises how much innocence Myop will lose at the end of the story.
We go back to Myop’s carefree mood again when we are told of her actions. She was making up “the beat of a song on the fence,” this is an action normally associated with young carefree children. We go back to safety and security when we are told Myop “felt light and good in the warm sun”. We are also reminded of the fact that she is a child, and how much she is to lose when we are told “she was ten”. This is a really powerful point because a child finding a murdered body, especially out of hatred, is more powerful and evocative than if it was an adult. A hurt child evokes more sympathy than a hurt adult.
We get an almighty shock when we find out that the child is black. We realise this when we read that she had a “stick clutched in her dark brown hand” when she is beating out a rhythm on a fence. The fact she is black makes us think what really will happen at the end.
We reach a minor turning point which gives us clues to the major turning point later. The story seems to darken when Myop turns her back on “her family’s sharecropper cabin.” This could be interpreted as Myop turning her back on the safety and security of her parents. She is no longer secure or protected, which acts as a foreshadowing of the turning point later on in the story. The mention of “sharecropper” is also another suggestion that Myop is black, because many sharecroppers were black in America.
The story continues to darken and the colours change as we approach the major turning point; this is done through a change in setting and metaphors with hidden...
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