“It never occurred to either of us that the earth itself might have been unyielding. 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.”
This quotation is from the second prologue to the novel, in which Claudia anticipates the events that the novel will recount, most notably Pecola’s pregnancy by incest. Here, she remembers that she and Frieda blamed each other for the failure of the marigolds to grow one summer, but now she wonders if the earth itself was hostile to them—a darker, more radical possibility. The idea of blame is important because the book continually raises the question of who is to blame for Pecola’s suffering. Are Claudia and Frieda at fault for not doing more to help Pecola? To some degree, we can blame Pecola’s suffering on her parents and on racism; but Cholly and Pauline have themselves suffered, and the causes of suffering seem so diffuse and prevalent that it seems possible that life on earth itself is hostile to human happiness. This hostility is what the earth’s hostility to the marigolds represents. The complexity of the question of blame increases when Claudia makes the stunning parallel between the healing action of their planting of the marigold seeds and Cholly’s hurtful action of raping Pecola. Claudia suggests that the impulse that drove her and her sister and the impulse that drove Cholly might not be so different after all. Motives of innocence and faith seem to be no more effective than motives of lust and despair in the universe of the novel.