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What Is the Rising Action of the Short Story "Marigolds"?


To recognize and understand the rising action of Eugenia W. Collier's short story "Marigolds," the reader also needs to identify other plot elements and make inferences as to character motivation. The exposition -- the introductory part of the story introducing the setting and characters -- of "Marigolds" sets the stage by explaining the Depression-era poverty both the narrator and surrounding neighborhood live in. The exposition also hints at possible character motivation, which affects the interpretation of the rising action and the climactic moment.

Inciting Rising Action

After describing the existing poverty and boredom of summer, the narrator's brother suggests they " ... go over to Miss Lottie's." This incites the rising action of the story. The kids torment Miss Lottie ostensibly to alleviate their boredom, but another motivation exists for the narrator although she doesn't understand and is unable to articulate it. Miss Lottie's dazzling array of marigolds stands out in the drabness of their lives, causing the children to have " ... some perverse reason ... for hating those marigolds."

Plot Conflict Heightened

The action rises as the children throw stones at Miss Lottie's marigolds, damaging them. Miss Lottie grows angrier and then the narrator " ... mad with the power of inciting such rage ... " runs out from the bushes and begins a childish chant, calling Miss Lottie an "Old Witch." The other children join in -- adding to the rising action -- until eventually running away. Although the other children laugh at the incident, the narrator begins to feel ashamed.

Rising Action Rarely Rests

A cursory reading of the next section might make it appear as though the rising action has stalled; however, it has simply changed focus. The narrator arrives home, eats dinner and goes to bed. She is awakened in the middle of the night by her parents' voices. Her father has been unable to find work and support his family. For the first time he despairs, and for the first time the narrator hears her father cry.

Rising Action Meets Climax

Because of her father's despair, the narrator sneaks out of the house late that night. Fueled by her emotions of despair, fear and degradation, she runs to Miss Lottie's and destroys all of the marigolds. In the climactic moment, she sits, crying, among the ruined marigolds. She looks up to see Miss Lottie, not as a witch, but as " ... a broken old woman who had dared to create beauty in the midst of ugliness and sterility." This marks the end of the narrator's innocence -- and the story's rising action -- but by recognizing the goodness of Miss Lottie, her compassion is born.

About the Author

William Martin has earned degrees in English/language arts and education. His background includes teaching reading and writing, literature analysis, arts and culture, outdoor recreation, home repair and improvement. His first short story was published as a junior in high school; more years ago than he'd probably care to admit.

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