Death is a unique part of life, and loss is an unavoidable result of death. In Alice Walker’s 1973 short story “The Flowers”, childhood loss of innocence and death are illuminated through the experience of a child and her encounter with a dead man in post-slavery America. Louise Erdrich’s 1984 short story “The Red Convertible” is a story of loss in the face of death, set in Vietnam era America. Walker and Erdrich both use strong imagery and symbolism to effectively portray the impact of the common themes of loss and death in both short stories, albeit in different ways.
It is important to note the progression of the plots of both stories, and how imagery and symbolism play an integral role in the development of death and loss as themes. In “The Flowers”, Walker writes a short, nine paragraph account of Myop, a ten year old black girl whose day begins carefree and full of life. In the very first paragraph, Walker sets a tone of wonder and happiness, stating that each day is “a golden surprise” and “the days had never been as beautiful as these” (Walker 20). As Myop sets out on her adventure across the familiar terrain behind her home collecting the flowers alluded to within the title of the story, the imagery begins to shift in subtle ways that foreshadow a looming event. Walker writes,
She had often been as far before, but the strangeness of the land made it not as pleasant as her usual haunts. It seemed gloomy in the little cove in which she found herself. The air was damp, the silence close and deep (Walker 21).
In these three short sentences, Walker completely transforms the story. The powerful and persuasive phrasing launches the story forward into the unfortunate conclusion wherein Myop steps on the face of the decomposing corpse of a man who appears to have been lynched. This foreboding scene is especially surreal in its description. Walker shifts from the delightful imagery used earlier in the text into macabre and straightforward details. “His head lay beside him”, she writes, further stating “he'd had large white teeth, all of them cracked or broken” (Walker 21). The impact on Myop of this situation is palpable because of Walker’s effective use of imagery. Although Walker never outright answers how the man’s teeth were broken or why a rotting noose is found lying next to the body, it is clear what the circumstances of death must have been. The explanation of what has happened to this man lies within what is not explained at all. In other words, the imagery provided is explanation enough. In the end, however, Walker does not digress in her usage of symbolism or imagery. She reserves the most significant symbol of the story for the final two sentences by writing about Myop’s response to her traumatic encounter with death that “Myop laid down her flowers. And the summer was over” which further drives the plot to conclusion (Walker, 21).
Erdrich aligns the plot in “The Red Convertible” into a chronological progression of events...