In the short story Marigolds by Eugenia Collier, a girl named Elizabeth and her family struggle through living in the time of the Great Depression. Elizabeth is an African American girl that is on the threshold of womanhood. Elizabeth’s family is very poor and is forced to live in a shantytown. Elizabeth and her family have to live through the struggle of poverty, poignant and meaningful arguments in the family, and Elizabeth is caught between the chaotic emotions of a child and a woman.
Elizabeth & her family are struggling through the “punishment” called poverty. Elizabeth’s difficulty coping with her poverty is mainly what influences her to destroy the marigolds in Miss. Lottie’s yard. In the beginning of the story Collier expresses an image which resembles the town where Elizabeth is forced to live an unprivileged life. Elizabeth only “seem[s] to remember [the] dust-the brown, crumbly dust.” She only can remember the dust because it, like the whole town around her, reminds her of the poverty she cannot escape. Another vague memory she “remember[s], [is] a brilliant splash of sunny yellow against the dust-Miss Lottie’s marigolds.” Elizabeth remembers the beautiful marigolds in Miss Lottie’s yard and how they didn’t fit in with the ugliness of everything around it. Elizabeth realizes that the marigolds are too beautiful and that “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.” Elizabeth emphasizes that the marigolds are too beautiful to be in a place full of ugly and ragged things. After seeing everything around her in this ugly, poor fashion, the marigolds confuse her and are almost too much for her to handle. Her incapability to comprehend the abstract beauty of the marigolds drives her impulse to destroy and get rid of the confusion.
Elizabeth constantly has to face problems in her family, and this leads to tension which eventually leads to the final destruction of the marigolds. Elizabeth’s hope dramatically lessens when she listens in on her parents talking one night. When Elizabeth hears her father complain to her mother, “It ain’t right. Ain’t no man ought to eat his woman’s food year in and year out.” Elizabeth feels that before her father was strong like a rock and her mom was fragile, now everything has changed and her dad is broken into pieces. Elizabeth’s mother tries to relieve her father: “Look, we ain’t starving. I git paid every week, and Mrs Ellis is real nice about giving me things.” Eventually, Elizabeth’s father broke down even farther and he “sobbed, loudly and painfully, and cried helplessly.” The man of the household is breaking down, and does not know where he stands anymore nor does Elizabeth. When Elizabeth realizes that her father cannot support her family devastates her and Elizabeth is broken by that realization. She does not have a stable set of parents who can even rely on each other or themselves, leaving her to feel lost and hopeless. Elizabeth becomes insecure by the fact of her father crying. When she realizes she cannot stand anymore confusion in her family, she goes to wake her brother up and then vents out her angst on the marigolds and this also shows some immatureness in Elizabeth.
Elizabeth is a young woman who doesn’t know where to place herself, as a child or as a woman. Elizabeth refers to the “Joy and rage and wild animal gladness and shame become tangled together in the multicolored skein of fourteen-going on-fifteen as I recall that devastating moment when I was suddenly more woman than child.” All the things that is mentioned which seems to be tangled in what she as an endless piece of yarn, are mostly contradictions. Elizabeth switches between a child and a woman several times during the course of the short story. One time when she acts like a woman she mentions that “Suddenly I was ashamed, and I did not like being ashamed.” This was right after the first destroying of the marigolds, and instead of joining with the kids in merriment, she instead felt ashamed as a woman. Elizabeth also turns into a child in the story. In a certain case she has to decide between both of them: “I just stood there peering through the bushes, torn between wanting to join the fun and feeling that it was all a bit silly.” Elizabeth ends up being less mature than her brother in the end. When she destroys the marigolds for the last time, her brother keeps on trying to stop her: “Lizabeth, stop, please stop!” This proves that in fact she ended up more as a child then a woman, and her brother is more man than child. At the end the confusion she had with the marigolds is gone and she realizes why they are there.
After all the events have taken place, Elizabeth learns to cope with her poverty, Elizabeth isn’t confused as much about her family dynamics, and she becomes a woman. Elizabeth learns that
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