In “Marigolds”, what does the root “mal-” mean?

Updated 21 March, 2023
In "Marigolds," the root "mal-" means "bad" or "evil." This root is used to describe both the town's poverty and the characters' difficult circumstances. Lizabeth, the protagonist, describes the town as a "place of unpainted frame houses, small muddy yards, and the smell of poverty" and sees the marigolds as a way to escape the malaise of her life.
Detailed answer:

In the short story "Marigolds," the root "mal-" is used to suggest negative feelings and actions. Specifically, the word "malice" is used by the narrator to describe the children's cruel behavior toward Miss Lottie and her marigolds. The narrator says, "we destroyed her marigolds. We had pounded at the barren dirt with sticks until it was void of imagination, barren of feeling. It was the only time I ever saw Miss Lottie cry. That was the beginning of the end for Miss Lottie's marigolds, and the end of her relationship with us" (lines 63-68). The root "mal-" is also used in the word "malicious," which is how the narrator describes her own actions when she participates in the destruction of the marigolds.

Furthermore, the use of the root "mal-" can be seen as a reflection of the difficult circumstances the characters are facing. The story takes place during the Great Depression in rural Maryland, and the characters are struggling with poverty and hopelessness. The narrator's father is out of work, and the family is barely able to make ends meet. The destruction of the marigolds can be seen as an outlet for the characters' frustrations and despair.

Overall, the use of the root "mal-" in "Marigolds" serves to highlight the negative emotions and actions of the characters, as well as the difficult circumstances they are facing. It also underscores the destructive power of poverty and hopelessness, and the importance of empathy and compassion in difficult times.

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