Kevin Watson has taught ESL, Spanish, French, Composition, and literature for over 33 years at universities in France, Spain, Taiwan, Ukraine, United Arab Emirates, Japan, and Ecuador. He has a bachelor’s in education and master’s in applied linguistics from the University of South Florida and a master’s in creative writing from the New School in New York City.
Bursting With Life
In ''The Flowers,'' a short story by Alice Walker, Myop is a 10-year-old daughter of sharecroppers. She happily tours places around the farm as if she hasn't a care in the world. The first two paragraphs give visuals of pastoral beauty, the flavors that make Myop's jaw tremble, the scents that make her nose twitch. We feel the sun, we hear the tapping of her stick and feel it clutched in her ''dark brown hand.'' In this short space we get all five senses, the full offering of life. In this idyllic place, she is content. She is very much alive.
The Perfect Place
There is a beautiful spring, the beginning of a stream that was born and will flow until its end. There are wildflowers bending in the breeze. Myop turns her back on the house and ventures into the woods; she keeps an eye out for snakes. At this point, maybe you are beginning to put together a picture: a perfect place, a girl's curiosity, turning her back on her parents' home, watching for snakes, and gathering plants from nature's garden.
The Garden of Eden
There is certainly the sense of perfect beauty and innocence in the woods and in the girl. She has always followed her mother, her authority. But then she goes farther than she has before, tasting more as she ventures into a strange place until paragraph five where the tone changes, and the beauty fades. It seems she has gone too far.
Walker foreshadows the change of mood with language: ''not as pleasant as her usual haunts.'' Then it is ''gloomy,'' ''damp,'' and ''the silence close and deep.'' These words could easily describe a cemetery or a grave. She decides to return to the peacefulness of the morning, but it is too late. She steps into the eyes of a man that died some time ago; his eyes are closed forever, but hers are about to open. She absorbs visually the scene with interest, with no other thoughts intruding, no panic or fear or disgust.
The sequence of visuals follows Myop's eyes, which have never seen anything like this and simply absorb the death in front of her. Yet when her eyes drift to a pretty flower by the dead man's head, she eagerly picks it to add to her collection. It is then that she sees the noose around his neck and the other end still hanging from the tree limb above. The dead man is now a murdered man, showing the evil of men that she was not yet aware of.
Walker's story is one of death and a loss of innocence, modeled on the story of the Garden of Eden and the fall from grace. Like Eve, Myop lives in her idyllic garden but turns her back on her parents' home and wanders the garden aware of snakes. Her curiosity leads her to a tree where a rope hangs like a serpent above, and in this place, she finds death awaiting as it did Adam and Eve.
Summer is youth and freshness. Walker's final sentence, ''And the summer was over,'' is a metaphorical way of saying something beautiful will give way to the decline of autumn and the death of winter. Here we can see that young Myop has lost her innocence and her eyes have been opened to the pain of the world.
Myop is the African-American daughter of sharecroppers who live in an idyllic place in the country. Life is the focus at the start, but soon she discovers death and with this loss of innocence, she learns that life has a beginning and end and eventually leads to the grave.
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