Featured Series of Close Readings: A Close Reading of Alice Walker’s “The Flowers” by Pamelyn Casto

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Pamelyn Casto

A Close Reading
of Alice Walker’s “The Flowers.”

Read the Story at http://theliterarylink.com/flowers.html

“A Day in June” by Isaac Levitan

This short-short story by Alice Walker is a powerful innocence-to-awareness piece. Ten-year-old Myop makes a gruesome discovery, and with her new realization and understanding, her friendly and benign world changes to something that now contains evil. Her young and innocent eyes are opened to some terrible realities of the world.

Walker provides outstanding description that serves to fully draw a reader into this wonderful summer world that this child of a sharecropper inhabits. Young Myop’s days are filled with chickens and pig pens, with golden surprises as she explores a terrain of “corn, cotton, peanuts, and squash,” of bubbly springs, of silver ferns and wildflowers, of sweet and fragrant suds bush.

Myop’s name is fascinating for what it can suggest. Myop is a plausible name but it is also a name that strongly suggests a type of vision; a shortening of concepts like “myopia” or “myopic,” a condition having to do with the eyes and sight and with vision, which also suggests “deficiency of foresight or discernment.” It is not clear that Walker chose this name for this reason, but many authors choose significant names for their characters. The interesting character name works exceptionally well in this tightly crafted short-short.

True to her name, Myop is short sighted in the beginning of the story. She travels through time in “days [that] had never been as beautiful as these.” She is an innocent child who felt “light and good in the warm sun.” For all Myop knew, all she had to watch out for was snakes. All of this, the Edenic beginning, the snake in the garden, and the casting of the child out of her summer paradise, suggests the story pattern set down in Genesis. While Walker makes use of a pattern already established, she gives her story its particular individuality through her character’s name and through the situation that cast Myop out of her own state of childhood innocence.

Like Eve, Myop explores alone. She travels into a strange-feeling cove where she has been gathering unusual blue flowers. (Her story is also reminiscent of the Persephone myth. Persephone was abducted while picking flowers and was taken to dark Hades). Myop senses that she should turn back, hoping to get “back to the peacefulness of the morning” when she stepped on the dead man’s face.

Myop wasn’t particularly disturbed at first; when she saw his grin, she only yelped in surprise. She inspected this dead man and gazed around the area with interest. None of which suggests she is upset . . . at first. It takes time and more information before her understanding occurs. The implications surrounding this dead man have not entered her vision yet, have not yet opened her eyes. There is something else she has to see first.

Things change again when she notices the pink rose as she reaches to add it to her collection of flowers. It is then that she discovers the remains of a noose (“blending benignly into the soil”). She looks up and sees another piece of the noose in the oak tree. It is then that she puts the clues together and understands she is seeing evidence of a lynching. Young Myop is brown. The remains of the noose spin “restlessly in the breeze”… and with this awareness Myop lays her flowers down. Her naive summer of childhood and child-like innocence is over, immediately and for good.

Myop makes a gruesome and startling discovery, and with that discovery she has eaten of the tree of good and evil and is forever cast out of Eden. Good literary writers do more suggesting than telling, so that a reader can co-create the story and thus feel it more profoundly.

This is a powerful and disturbing story. Walker pulls us in… and we walk along with Myop, seeing what she sees, experiencing her world with her, and then with her we make the shocking discovery and experience her stunning realization. We too suddenly understand the full implications of her discovery and with Myop, we are suddenly cast out of Eden as well.

There has been a death… of both the man and the death of Myop’s previous life. Myop places her gathered flowers on the ground, as if symbolically upon a grave. It is a grave situation marking a death of childhood and an end to a particular kind of pleasant and naive life. The grave is both literal and figurative. And summer (childhood and innocence) ends as our eyes are suddenly opened along with Myop’s. Myop can never return to her Edenic existence again.

Walker’s small story is disturbing. It makes use of an old story pattern, and Myop’s discovery ends the story in a subtle but powerful way. The story allows a glimpse into the innocent world of a child who makes a terrible discovery and whose world is forever changed by her shocking realization.

 

About the writer:
Pamelyn Casto, twice a Pushcart Prize nominee, has published feature-length articles on flash fiction in Writer’s Digest (and in their other publications), Fiction Southeast, and Writing World (and elsewhere). Her essay on flash fiction and myth appears in Rose Metal Press’s Field Guide to Writing Flash Fiction: Tips From Editors, Teachers, and Writers in the Field and her 8,000-word essay on flash fiction is included in Books and Beyond: The Greenwood Encyclopedia of New American Reading (4 volumes). Casto also has a 5,000-word article on flash fiction as the lead article in the new book Critical Insights: Flash Fiction. Subscribe to her free online monthly FlashFictionFlash newsletter (first issue published in 2001) for markets, contests, and publishing news for flash literature writers. Pamelyn Casto is an Associate Editor at O:JA&L.

About Alice Walker: Alice Walker (1944-) is an American novelist, short story writer, poet, and feminist. Her novel The Color Purple won the National Book Award for Fiction and the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1983.

Image: “A Day in June” by Isaac Levitan (1860-1900). Oil on canvas. 43 x 61 cm. 1895. Public domain.