Alice Walker

The Flowers

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The Flowers Summary

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“The Flowers” is a 1973 short story by African-American author and activist Alice Walker. It was first published in the anthology In Love and Trouble: Stories of Black Women. Brief, even for its genre, the story concerns a ten-year-old African-American girl named Myop, whose happy-go-lucky life is disturbed when she discovers the remains of a long-dead human near her house. The story is one of the most successful pieces of American “flash fiction,” a subgenre that refers generally to short stories of less than 1,000 words.

The story begins in the middle of summer on a peaceful farm. The narrator describes Myop’s surroundings as she skips happily through the expansive farm: she is surrounded by crops of cotton, squash, peanuts, and corn, as well as a henhouse and pigpen. She reaches a fence and uses a stick to tap out a song; through the narrator’s description of her dark hand, the narrator implies her race. She enters the nearby forest, which surrounds her family’s farm on all sides. She passes through a region of ferns before coming to the spring where her family draws their water. She decides to move past this familiar place and stumbles upon a patch of blue flowers, a rarity. She spends the remainder of the morning collecting the blue flowers in her arms, making it so far into the woods that the air seems denser and darker.

Myop decides to make her way back to her family’s farm. As she turns back, one of her footfalls crushes the skull of a man, whose whole skeleton is lying semi-concealed in the underbrush. Myop wonders who the man might have been, but fails at first to find any signs, for even his clothing has disintegrated. She notices that he was very tall and had broken teeth.

Myop becomes aware of a beautiful rose near the body. She picks it, and finds attached to its stem a sinewy ring, which she slowly recognizes is a noose. Looking up, she sees the other end of the noose still hanging around the tree where the man was hanged. She lays down her flowers near the man’s body, deciding that summer has come to an end.

Myop’s abrupt loss of innocence is coupled with an instinct to draw significance out of the experience, despite the horror of her discovery. The Flowers sends a powerful message about how the United States’ long legacy of racial atrocity still marks its children.