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What do the marigolds symbolize in the story?

Marigolds are a prominent symbol that appear throughout the story. The marigolds can represent several ideas and themes that develop over the course of the narrative. In this article, we will explore the shifting symbolic meanings of the marigolds.

Hope and Beauty

Initially, the marigolds represent hope and beauty for Lizabeth’s family. Lizabeth decides to plant marigolds because they are brightly colored and cheerful. She wants to plant something beautiful to bring joy to her family and counteract the bleakness of their economic situation during the Great Depression. The marigolds’ golden color and vitality contrast starkly with the family’s grim surroundings in the “dusty hillside ghetto.” Lizabeth nurtures the flowers tenderly, and they flourish under her care, suggesting that even in difficult circumstances, life and beauty can bloom through perseverance and hard work.

Lizabeth’s Nurturing Nature

The marigolds also reflect Lizabeth’s own loving and nurturing nature. She cares for the flowers as if they are her children, demonstrating her capacity for tenderness and responsiveness. She finds meaning and purpose in brightening her family’s life with marigolds’ cheer. This ties into the story’s exploration of Lizabeth’s transition into adolescence and her developing maturity. The marigolds show that she is compassionate and resourceful.

The Fragility of Beauty and Life

However, the marigolds’ delicacy also indicates the fragility of life and beauty in an unpredictable world. No matter how devotedly Lizabeth tends the marigolds, there are forces beyond her control that can destroy them, like the season changing to winter. Similarly, the poverty her family faces threatens their livelihood and wellbeing. The marigolds represent how difficult it is to preserve hope and joy amidst harsh circumstances.

Dreams, Hopes, and Aspirations

As the story progresses, the marigolds take on a symbolic meaning related to dreams, hopes, and aspirations. Lizabeth dreams that if she can nurture the marigolds into blooming vibrantly, she can prove that she is capable of accomplishing great things despite her family’s poverty. The marigolds represent her desire to transcend the limitations placed on girls of her social class and ethnicity. She wants the flowers to show that she can nurture beautiful life in even the bleakest environment.

Lizabeth’s emerging feminism

The marigolds reflect Lizabeth’s emerging feminism and belief in women’s abilities. During a time period when gender discrimination was the norm, Lizabeth’s devotion to her marigolds represents her conviction that she can succeed at whatever she puts her mind to, even in the face of those who underestimate or dismiss girls and poor minorities. She refuses to accept limitations on her dreams and potential.

The Dividing Line between Childhood and Adulthood

The destruction of the marigolds also symbolizes Lizabeth’s transition from childhood into adulthood. As Lizabeth reaches adolescence, she becomes more aware of the economic and social injustices facing her family and ethnic community. The Anglo children ruthlessly destroying her beloved marigolds represents how the adult world of cruelty and conflict destroys youthful innocence. Lizabeth now realizes that if she wants to continue pursuing her goals and hopes, she cannot remain in her naive childhood bubble – she must engage with harsh realities.

Loss of Innocence

The marigolds’ destruction signifies Lizabeth’s loss of innocence. She discovers that viciousness exists even among children like herself. After the marigold massacre, Lizabeth senses that she cannot shelter herself from life’s ugliness and unfairness. To continue nurturing her ambitions and voice, she must grow up and become stronger, even if it means sacrificing the blissful ignorance of childhood.

The Divisions Between Social/Ethnic Groups

Finally, the marigolds represent the divisions between social and ethnic groups that prevent compassion and community. Lizabeth’s marigolds bridge linguistic, cultural, and class differences in her neighborhood – their beauty transcends such divides. However, the Anglo children violently demolish this connection, showing that prejudice still overpowers human unity. The flowers’ destruction demonstrates how racism and class privilege allow the Anglo children to crush Lizabeth’s labor of love without remorse.

The Power of Working Together

Yet the story also conveys that social barriers can dissolve when people work together towards common goals. Lizabeth’s family and neighbors assist her in planting the marigolds, putting aside their varied backgrounds to collectively nurture the flowers. The marigolds represent how shared human experiences and cooperative work can overcome prejudice.

Symbol Meaning
Hope and beauty The marigolds bring joy and vitality to Lizabeth’s grim surroundings
Lizabeth’s nurturing nature She tenderly cares for the flowers like children
Fragility of life The marigolds show the difficulty of preserving beauty in hardship
Dreams and aspirations The marigolds represent Lizabeth’s ambitions to achieve greatness
Emerging feminism The flowers reflect Lizabeth’s belief in women’s abilities
Loss of innocence Their destruction signifies the loss of Lizabeth’s childhood bliss
Divisions between social groups The marigolds’ ruin shows how prejudice destroys human bonds
Power of cooperation Planting the flowers together shows how teamwork can overcome barriers


In summary, the marigolds take on shifting symbolic meanings over the course of the story. They represent the fragility of hope and beauty in hardship, Lizabeth’s aspirations to rise beyond her social circumstances, her emerging feminist identity, and the divisions as well as potential unity between diverse groups. The flowers’ final destruction signifies Lizabeth’s transition into a more complex, unfair adult world. Through rich symbolism, the marigolds trace Lizabeth’s coming-of-age and the story’s exploration of gender, ethnic, and class dynamics in America.