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 Frieda) believe that the flowers did not bloom because Pecola had been raped by her father, Cholly, and was pregnant with his baby. Although the community believes the baby would be better off dead, the narrator and her sister pray the baby will live. As a sacrifice for the unborn baby, they bury their money and plant marigold seeds, hoping that if they say the right words over them, the flowers would bloom and the baby would live. When the marigolds don't sprout and Pecola's baby dies, the girls believe it is their fault for not planting the marigolds correctly.
The community's wish for the death of Pecola's baby shows the extent to which racial, sexual, and social oppression negatively affects the novel's characters. For the community, the birth of Pecola's baby would symbolize and reveal the racial self-hatred and self-perceived ugliness that exist, but remain hidden, within the community. The narrator and her sister, however, have not been damaged to the extent that other community members have, and remain unaware of the baby's significance. As a result, they have enough compassion to desire the baby's survival.
For years, the narrator believes that she had planted the seeds too deep in the earth, and felt guilty about the baby's death. Eventually, however, she comes to believe that the earth itself was unyielding, and that their hopes of saving the baby were just as futile as Cholly's lust for his own child. In the end of the passage, the narrator states that it would be too difficult to understand why all of this happened, so instead, she decides to share how it occurred.
As a child, the narrator believed she could change the outcome of Pecola's pregnancy, but as a woman, she comes to understand her own powerlessness. The unyielding earth is a metaphor for the social realities of black women in 1941. The narrator and her sister were completely powerless over the conditions that allowed this atrocity to occur, and had no control over the outcome. Through telling how it happened, however, the narrative reveals the reasons why it occurred.