“Flowers for Marjorie” Summary by Eudora Welty: Real or a Dream?

Flowers for Marjorie Summary by Eudora Welty Real Dream
“Flowers for Marjorie” Summary

“Flowers for Marjorie” is a short story by Eudora Welty from her collection A Curtain of Green and Other Stories. It’s about a couple during the Great Depression with a baby on the way and the man out of work. One of the main questions that arises around the story is whether Marjorie’s death and the subsequent events actually occur or if it’s a vision or dream. After the summary, we’ll look at this question.

“Flowers for Marjorie” Summary

Howard sits on a park bench with other men, looking down at the ground. Closing his eyes, the thought of Marjorie hits him like a wave. He gets up and starts heading back home.

Howard climbs the four flights to their apartment. He shrugs and throws his hat on the bed, not wanting Marjorie to ask about the job at Columbus Circle, because he didn’t go back to inquire. He sees a flower on Marjorie’s coat and laughs despairingly.

She found the bright yellow pansy while out walking. She sits on a trunk by the window, her arm on the sill.

Looking at the yellow pansy again, it seems to grow all out of proportion. Panicked, Howard snatches the flower, tears off the petals and jumps on them. Marjorie doesn’t say anything and Howard realizes he didn’t actually do anything—it was only a vision, and the flower is still in the coat.

Sinking back into the couch, Howard asks Marjorie when she’s due. She’ll give birth in three months. She cries because Howard can never keep track of the schedule and she knows he doesn’t want the baby. She hopes he’ll find work before then.

He gently removes the pansy and takes it to her, sitting on the floor in front of her. The ticks of the alarm clock bother him.

Marjorie talks about him getting paving work. Howard snaps, believing he won’t get work ever again. He moves to the other side of the room.

He explains that just because there’s a baby coming doesn’t mean anything else will change. He’s still out of work and they’re still starving. He swings his empty leather purse and then holds it still. She asks if he’s eaten anything. He throws the purse to the floor, upset that she’s concerned about him.

Howard goes to the kitchen and takes a butcher knife from the shelf. In a flash, he changes his grip and thrusts it under her chest. Her head bows over onto the window sill. There’s blood all over her lap.

“Flowers for Marjorie” Summary, Cont’d

Howard washes his hands. He throws the clock out the window, hearing it hit the courtyard after a while. He picks up his purse and leaves.

On the street, he adjusts his hat, walks through a crowd of playing children, and gets hit with a messenger boy’s bicycle, but it doesn’t hurt. On Sixth Avenue, he continues adjusting his hat in the wind. He looks into store windows and at vendor’s tables. From one, he picks up a round snow globe that makes him smile. A passerby gives him a dime.

Howard rides the subway to a bar where he has a whiskey that he can’t pay for. He uses the nickel he has left from the subway in a slot machine, which pays out a stream of nickels. The others help him pick them up and he buys a round of drinks.

He goes to the W.P.A. office to see Miss Ferguson, who’s talked to him before. She’s busy typing and suggests he sleep it off at home. He leaves, not knowing what to say.

He walks a long way, entering a large arcade through a turnstile. A woman gives him a heavy key and a large bunch of red roses for being the ten millionth person to enter Radio City. He’s surrounded by press members who fire questions at him and take pictures. He runs away.

He runs down Sixth Avenue, wanting to get home. Obstacles seem to recede out of his way. He reaches his courtyard and sees the broken clock.

Howard goes up to his apartment. Marjorie is still on the trunk, with one hand hanging out the window. The fragrance from the roses is strong. He feels everything has stopped. His dream has come true.

He runs down the stairs and stands by a policeman on the street corner. He tells him Marjorie is dead. The officer notices red spots on Howard’s pants. He takes Howard by the arm and they walk up side by side. Howard drops the roses and little girls pick them up and put them in their hair.

I hope this summary of “Flowers for Marjorie” by Eudora Welty was helpful.

Is Marjorie’s Death a Dream?

There seems to be support for both interpretations here, that Howard actually does kill Marjorie and that it’s not real. I don’t know which is correct, but I lean toward a literal interpretation. Here are some supporting details for each view.

In support of the belief that it’s a dream:

  • Howard has a vision of tearing up the pansy and dancing on it, but it takes him a little while to realize he didn’t actually do this.
  • Just before the act, we’re told Howard adjusts his grip on the knife “like a flash of lightning” and does it. There’s a surreal gap here as there’s no indication he covered any ground and Marjorie doesn’t react at all.
  • While out in the city afterward, Howard’s hat is repeatedly mentioned but there’s no indication he took his hat with him before leaving, as it was on the bed. We’re specifically told he picked up his purse, but not his hat.
  • While out, Howard has an unlikely run of luck. He’s given a dime (this is certainly believable), he hits the nickel jackpot on a slot machine (still possible but less likely), and then gets a bunch of roses for being the ten millionth person through the Radio City turnstile (highly unlikely).

In support of the belief that it’s real:

  • Unlike the vision of destroying Marjorie’s flower, Howard doesn’t realize soon after that it didn’t happen. He seems to be uncertain as he enters the apartment at the end, but seeing Marjorie’s body seals the reality of the situation.
  • Marjorie dying fits the story’s themes of change very well. Howard believed nothing would change—he wouldn’t find work ever again—but then in one walk through the city his luck changes significantly as he wins some money and gets flowers for Marjorie, who loves them and would appreciate them.
  • It also fits the theme of time. Marjorie believed “things always happen when they’re supposed to”, while Howard thought she was “the only thing left in the world that hasn’t stopped”. By killing her, Howard literally stops Marjorie while the rest of the world keeps going. He would now realize that she was right.

I hope these details help you decide whether the events of “Flowers for Marjorie” are to be taken literally or not. In either case, it’s a satisfying story and I think the ambiguity adds to its effect.