Check Your Understading

Identify important details that reveal Lizabeth’s character, especially from the middle of the story to the end. What makes her a complex character? Highlight textual evidence and make annotations to show how the details reveal Lizabeth’s complexity.

Details to highlight might include: “By the time I was fourteen, my brother Joey and I were the only children left at our house”; “we were becoming tired of the formlessness of our summer days”; “Suddenly I was ashamed, and I did not like being ashamed”; “The child in me sulked and said it was all in fun, but the woman in me flinched at the thought of the malicious attack I had led”; “I gazed upon a kind of reality which is hidden to childhood.” Possible annotation: Lizabeth is a complex character because she is between being a child and being a woman. She is wrestling with adolescence. She feels ashamed of acting childish, and yet she does childish things as if she can’t help herself. She realizes that she needs to grow up, but cannot see how to do it. The inner conflicts and outer behaviors, along with her awareness of what is happening to her, show what a complex person she is.

One of the ways an author develops character is by describing how a character interacts with the setting. The narrator provides many details about the setting in the early part of the story. How does Lizabeth feel about her town? Highlight textual evidence and annotate to explain the effect the setting has on Lizabeth, and how she interacts with the setting.

Collier describes the setting as a very poor rural town in Maryland during the Great Depression. Acceptable highlights include: the last two sentences of paragraph 1: “And so, when I think of that time and place, I remember only the dry September of the dirt roads and grassless yards of the shantytown where I lived. And one other thing I remember, another incongruency of memory—a brilliant splash of sunny yellow against the dust—Miss Lottie’s marigolds.” sentences 2 and 5 of paragraph 3: “The Depression that gripped the nation was no new thing to us, for the black workers of Maryland had always been depressed….Perhaps we waited for a miracle, amorphous in concept but necessary if one were to have the grit to rise before dawn each day and labor in the white man’s vineyard until after dark, or to wander about in the September dust offering one’s sweat in return for some meager share of bread.” sentences 1 and 4 of paragraph 4: “We children, of course, did not know the extent of our poverty….In those days everybody we knew was just as hungry and ill clad as we were.” paragraph 22: “For some perverse reason, we children hated those marigolds. 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.” Possible annotation: The poverty of the setting, including the dirt, dust, and faded clothes, are mirrored in Lizabeth’s spirit. She is restless, just as she “wanders” in the dust, and the confusion of her own feelings is matched by the color of the marigolds in Miss Lottie’s yard. Lizabeth is not fitting in and is not comfortable in her own skin, and the marigolds may remind her of being out of place.

An author will sometimes use figurative language to develop a reader’s understanding of a character and the setting. When Lizabeth begins to describe Miss Lottie’s house in paragraph 17, she uses a simile, saying it is “like a house a child might have constructed from cards.” How do images like this help the reader understand Miss Lottie’s situation? Highlight other descriptions of Miss Lottie and her house. Annotate to explain how these details help develop the ideas and advance the events in the story.

Highlight this sentence from paragraph 18: “boards themselves seemed to remain upright not from being nailed together but rather from leaning together, like a house that a child might have constructed from cards.” Other possible highlights include: “A brisk wind might have blown it down, and the fact that it was still standing implied a kind of enchantment that was stronger than the elements.” “a gray, rotting thing with no porch, no shutters, no steps, set on a cramped lot with no grass, not even any weeds—a monument to decay.” “Miss Lottie’s marigolds were perhaps the strangest part of the picture. Certainly they did not fit in with the crumbling decay of the rest of her yard.” Possible annotation: While Miss Lottie’s house is falling down around her, she continues to plant marigolds in her otherwise lifeless yard. The house is too much for Miss Lottie to maintain, and also too expensive to fix, probably. But Miss Lottie can keep planting and replanting marigolds to cheer up what is otherwise miserable to look at. This shows there is a need for beauty inside Miss Lottie, and a need to feel alive inside all the “decay.” At this point in the story, Lizabeth cannot understand this.

One way that authors develop complex characters is by showing how they interact with other characters. In paragraph 16, how does Lizabeth react when Joey suggests that they all go to Miss Lottie’s house? How does Lizabeth feel later that afternoon as a result? Find evidence in the text to explain why Lizabeth does not join in the group’s “merriment” when they return home.

Acceptable highlights include: sentence 2 of paragraph 16: “I was still child enough to scamper along with the group over rickety fences and through bushes that tore our already raggedy clothes…” sentence 1 of paragraph 24: “I just stood there peering through the bushes, torn between wanting to join the fun and feeling that it was all a bit silly.” sentences 1–4 of paragraph 34: “I did not join the merriment when the kids gathered again under the oak in our bare yard. Suddenly I was ashamed, and I did not like being ashamed. The child in me sulked and said it was all in fun, but the woman in me flinched at the thought of the malicious attack that I had led. The mood lasted all afternoon.” Possible annotation: At first, Lizabeth joins in enthusiastically with the other children. When they get to Miss Lottie’s house, Lizabeth feels torn between wanting to join in and thinking it was childish to taunt the old lady. Lizabeth is provoked into action by her brother, but later Lizabeth does not join with the other children to celebrate their actions. By this time, Lizabeth is beginning to break from her childhood, because the childish games she once enjoyed are making her feel ashamed. The pain of this time is important for her growth, and it’s a sign she is maturing into an adult.

What in Lizabeth’s life causes her to see Miss Lottie as an antagonist? Highlight textual evidence to help explain your ideas. How does Lizabeth deal with her rage against Miss Lottie? How does this action affect Lizabeth at the time and later, when she narrates the story? Identify details and explain how Lizabeth changes from the beginning of the story. Explain the role empathy plays in her changes. How do these elements help to express the story’s central idea, or theme?

Acceptable highlights include: “The world had lost its boundary lines. My mother, who was small and soft, was now the strength of the family; my father, who was the rock on which the family had been built, was sobbing like the tiniest child. Everything was out of tune, like a broken accordion.” “‘M-miss Lottie!’ I scrambled to my feet and just stood there and stared at her, and that was the moment when childhood faded and womanhood began.” “…I know that that moment marked the end of innocence. Innocence involves an unseeing acceptance of things at face value, an ignorance of the area below the surface. In that humiliating moment I looked beyond myself and into the depths of another person. This was the beginning of compassion, and one cannot have both compassion and innocence.” Possible annotations: Lizabeth is beginning to realize that her parents are real people, adults who have problems and pain, and who have more to deal with than she realizes. Lizabeth’s early response is to try to deny all this reality, and she runs to Miss Lottie’s, where she destroys the old woman’s source of joy, her marigolds. It is an irrational, childish act, and she knows it. When Lizabeth sees Miss Lottie standing in front of her, she realizes that destroying someone else’s joy does not make her feel better. At the beginning of the story, Lizabeth is only thinking of herself, her town, her boredom, and her own rage. By the end of the story, Lizabeth has empathy not only for Miss Lottie, but also for her parents, who cannot seem to attain a comfortable life even while trying their best. The central idea is about the pain of maturing, and that the measure of adulthood is not doing what you want, but realizing that everything you do has consequences for yourself and for others.

Consider the word vividly, from the last sentence in paragraph 2 of Marigolds. What is the affix of this word? What is the word’s root? Is the root a base word, meaning that it can stand alone as a word? Use context and what you know about the affix and root to guess at the meaning of vividly. Now use a good dictionary or search online to find out the etymology, or origin, of vividly. Finally, write as many other words you can think of that are in the same family, or share the same root, as vividly.

The affix of vividly is “–ly.” This is a suffix rather than a prefix because it is at the end of the word. This suffix is used to turn a word into an adverb, which is a word that describes a verb, an adjective, or another adverb. This leaves the root word vivid, which is a base word because it can stand alone as a word. The word that vividly describes is the verb remember. The narrator states, “I think of those marigolds at the strangest times; I remember them vividly now as I desperately pass away the time.” For more context, the previous paragraph offers this: “And one other thing I remember, another incongruency of memory—a brilliant splash of sunny yellow against the dust—Miss Lottie’s marigolds.” So, these marigolds are something that the narrator seems to remember clearly. I can infer, therefore, that vividly means something like “clearly” or “sharply.” When I research the etymology of vividly, I discover that vivid comes from the Latin vividus or vivere, which mean “to live.” The word vivid, according to my research, can mean “strong,” “sharp,” or “intense.” These words all have something in common with life or living. Other words in this word family include revive (to bring back to life); survive (to stay alive); and vivacious (full of life).