The Bluest Eye

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Marigolds Symbol Icon
Marigolds symbolize life, birth, and the natural order in The Bluest Eye. Claudia and Frieda plant marigolds, believing that if the marigolds bloom, Pecola's baby will be born safely. Symbolically, the marigolds represent the continued wellbeing of nature's order, and the possibility of renewal and birth. But the flowers never bloom, and Pecola's baby dies, suggesting that the natural order his been interrupted by the incestuous nature of her pregnancy. Claudia also states that marigolds did not grow anywhere in the nation because the earth was hostile to certain kinds of flowers. Metaphorically, the flowers represent the black population, who are unjustly denied the opportunity to live freely. Racism, therefore, also stands as an interruption in the natural order.

Marigolds Quotes in The Bluest Eye

The The Bluest Eye quotes below all refer to the symbol of Marigolds. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Beauty vs. Ugliness Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Vintage edition of The Bluest Eye published in 2007.
Prologue Section 2 Quotes

Quiet as it's kept, there were no marigolds in the fall of 1941. We thought, at the time, that it was because Pecola was having her father's baby that the marigolds did not grow. A little examination and much less melancholy would have proved to us that our seeds were not the only ones that didn't sprout; nobody's did…It had never occurred to either of us that the earth itself might have been unyielding. We had dropped our seeds in our own little plot of black dirt just as Pecola's father had dropped his seeds into his own plot of black dirt. Our innocence and faith were no more productive than his lust or despair.

Related Characters: Claudia MacTeer (speaker), Pecola Breedlove, Cholly Breedlove
Related Symbols: Marigolds
Page Number: 3-4
Explanation and Analysis:

The opening paragraph of the novel reveals much about the narrative to come. The first phrase, "quiet as it's kept," signals that the story is set and narrated from within a certain community, and suggests that the coming events are not openly discussed within that community for the sake of maintaining respectability. This hints at the pervasive desire among the characters in the novel to disassociate themselves with behaviors they deem degraded and sinful, behaviors that are often linked (in the novel's American setting) to blackness. 

Throughout this passage, there is a tense juxtaposition between the childish naïveté of Claudia, the narrator, and the disturbing mention of rape, incest, and child pregnancy. Claudia at first presents her belief that Pecola's baby caused the marigolds not to grow as unfounded, a matter of childlike "innocence and faith." However, she then suggests that there is a parallel between the marigolds and the baby when she compares Pecola's body to the "unyielding" black dirt where the seeds were planted. This comparison foreshadows Morrison's exploration of the association of blackness, and particularly Pecola's blackness, with undesirability and ugliness. 

The phrases "our own little plot of black dirt" and "his own plot of black dirt" introduce the importance of the home and ownership. While on one level they evoke a pleasant suburban scene reminiscent of the Dick and Jane references threaded throughout the narrative, they also highlight the fact that ownership can have a negative side, particularly in the case of men feeling ownership of women. 

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Chapter 11 Quotes

It was the fault of the earth, the land, of our town. I even think now that the land of the entire country was hostile to the marigolds that year. This soil is bad for certain kinds of flowers. Certain seeds it will not nurture, certain fruit it will not bear, and when the land kills of its own volition, we acquiesce and say the victim had no right to live.

Related Characters: Claudia MacTeer (speaker)
Related Symbols: Marigolds
Page Number: 204
Explanation and Analysis:

In the final paragraph of the novel, Claudia connects Pecola's fate directly to the marigolds. Just as "the soil is bad for certain kinds of flowers," so is society as we know it bad for certain kinds of people, such as poor black girls like Pecola, who are told they are ugly and shunned by their communities. With this analogy, Morrison suggests that no one person is to blame for the fact that the community was a "hostile" environment in which there was no possibility for Pecola to thrive. However, she emphasizes that the people in the community are at fault for refusing to recognize and acknowledge this injustice; instead of sympathizing with Pecola and attempting to help her, they accept her fate as fair, saying that she had "no right to live." 

Although the novel ends on this rather dark and pessimistic note, it is possible to see a glimmer of hope through the characters of Claudia and Frieda, who defy society's demands by sympathizing with Pecola and trying to save her baby by planting the marigolds. While Claudia implicates herself in the community's shunning of Pecola, there is evidence in the narrative that Claudia symbolizes the possibility of change to come by caring about Pecola, maintaining self-love, and refusing to believe that blackness is inherently ugly or inferior.

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Marigolds Symbol Timeline in The Bluest Eye

The timeline below shows where the symbol Marigolds appears in The Bluest Eye. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Prologue Section 2
Beauty vs. Ugliness Theme Icon
Women and Femininity Theme Icon
Race and Racism Theme Icon
Sex and Sexuality Theme Icon
An unnamed narrator (later revealed to be Claudia) explains that no marigolds bloomed in 1941. At that time, the narrator and her sister (later revealed to be... (full context)
Chapter 10
Beauty vs. Ugliness Theme Icon
Women and Femininity Theme Icon
Race and Racism Theme Icon
Sex and Sexuality Theme Icon
The girls sell packets of marigold seeds, planning to use the money they earn to buy a new bike. Their mother... (full context)
...They bury the money they'd been saving for their bicycle by Pecola's house and plant marigold seeds in their back yard. They believe they will know the miracle has occurred when... (full context)