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 did not sprout; nobody’s did…For years I thought my sister was right; it was my fault. I had planted them too far down in the earth. It never occurred to either of us that the earth itself might have been unyielding…What is clear now is that of all that hope, fear, lust, love, and grief, nothing remains but Pecola and the unyielding earth.
There is nothing more to say—except why. But since why is difficult to handle, one must take refuge in how.
In these lines, right up front, Toni Morrison links the relationship between Pecola and her father to that of the earth and its yielding (of marigolds). Morrison establishes a metaphysical condition as the underlying condition of each relationship, one in the other. What is more, Morrison is telling us, up front, that analyzing Pecola and her situation existentially—that is, analyzing her situation in terms of concepts such as, “hope, fear, lust, love or grief”; or, the more traditional existential cognates of anguish, abandonment, and despair—is not her primary concern; rather, what is of concern, what remains, is the metaphysical connection between “Pecola and the unyielding earth.” What we are left with is not the psychoanalytic explanation of why any of “this life” occurs—the psyche or ego individuated making sense of the world—but the voice of a child engaged with existence connecting the seemingly disparate elements of life—a little girl and the hard black dirt. “We had dropped our seeds in our own little plot of black dirt just as Pecola’s father had dropped his seeds in his own plot of black dirt. Our innocence and faith were no more productive than his lust or despair.”
What is left when the traditional ‘existential philosophy’ has failed is the metaphysical question: not why, but how—how does anything, anyone come to be who or what they are?