Study Guide

Seedfolks Death

By Paul Fleischman

Death

I thought about how my mother and sisters remembered my father, how they knew his face from every angle and held in their fingers the feel of his hands. I had no such memories to cry over. I'd been born eight months after he'd died. Worse, he had no memories of me. When his spirit hovered over our altar, did it even know who I was? (1.6)

Kim never got to meet her dad. In fact, her whole story is about dealing with her dad's death and trying to find a way to connect with him. So right from the get-go, we know that death is going to be a major player in Seedfolks.

All his life in Vietnam my father had been a farmer. Here our apartment house had no yard. But in that vacant lot he would see me. He would watch my beans break ground and spread, and would notice with pleasure their pods growing plump. He would see my patience and my hard work. I would show him that I could raise plants, as he had. I would show him that I was his daughter. (1.7)

Kim wants to connect with her dad, and she's decided that growing lima beans is a good way to keep his spirit alive. Why do you think growing lima beans help Kim feel closer to her dad?

My phone doesn't ring much, which suits me fine. That's how I got the news about our boy, shot dead like a dog in the street. And the world, last year, about my wife's car wreck. I can't hear a phone and not jerk inside. (3.1)

Wendell has experienced some tough stuff in his life. Has Wendell healed from these losses? What gives you clues that he's still struggling, or that he's finding a way to move forward?

She drank down a big cup of goldenrod tea every morning, with a nutmeg floating in it, and declared she didn't need no other medicine. Dr. Bates tried to sell her his iron pills and told her straight out that that tea of hers would raise her blood pressure and burst her heart. He passed away that very same summer. Next doctor said it would give her brain fever. He died on his fiftieth birthday, I believe, right during the party. Had him a real nice funeral, later. Granny lived to ninety-nine, by her count. She kept a scrapbook with the obituaries of all the doctors she outlived and could recite the list of names by heart, like a chapter out of Genesis. We took to going to their funerals right regular over the years. She always laid some goldenrod on their graves. (5.1)

Leona's grandmother certainly has her own opinions about warding off death. And she actually ends up living a long time. We're thinking it's kind of creepy that Granny kept a scrapbook of people she outlived. Plus, it's not really clear how old Leona's grandmother was when she died. Did you notice how Leona says "Granny lived to ninety-nine, by her count"? Hmmm, now that's a little fishy. We're left wondering if Leona sides with her grandmother or agrees with the doctors. What do you think?

The minute it came up, it started to wilt. […] Then the heat came. The leaves shriveled up. Some turned yellow. That lettuce was dying. (7.16)

Virgil's lettuce just can't weather the summer heat. In fact, it's barely got a chance to live before it starts fading away. People aren't the only ones to face death in this boo—and for Virgil, it looks like finding the right time to grow plants is a life or death situation.

Then my husband die. Heart attack. Thirty-seven years old. Now all alone, except for friends. (8.1)

Sae Young is in for a rough ride, and she isn't the only one in Seedfolks who has lost a loved one. How does she remind you of the other characters who experience the death of someone they love? Are there ways that Sae Young is different from these characters?

So shoot me and get it over with. I wouldn't actually care if you did. In a way I'm already dead. I used to be really, really hot. Because of the baby I'm as fat as a wrestler. I dropped out, I've been to exactly zero parties, and I've been asked out exactly zero times, including by the scum who got me pregnant. (11.1-2)

Maricela compares being left out of the social events to being "already dead." That's a pretty hefty comment. What do you think of this metaphor?

And for just that minute I stopped wishing my baby would die. (11.8)

Maricela sure does have a complex relationship with death. When she gets pregnant, she isn't happy about it at all. And she's pretty honest with us about how she wishes she would have a miscarriage. But by the end of her story, Maricela might be changing her tune a bit. What's with the shift in attitude?

We both planted carrots. When her hundreds of seedlings came up in a row, I was very surprised that she did not thin them—pulling out all but one healthy-looking plant each few inches, to give them room to grow. I asked her. She looked down at them and said she knew she ought to do it, but that this task reminded her too closely of her concentration camp, where the prisoners were inspected each morning and divided into two lines—the healthy to live and the others to die. (12.5)

Amir's Polish friend doesn't want to kill any of her growing carrots. You see, she associates thinning out the carrots with her terrible experiences in a concentration camp. We've seen characters think about people and plants dying before, but the Polish woman's past makes this comparison extra excruciating.

It's sad every fall, seeing it turn brown. Fewer and fewer people there. That very first year was the hardest. […]The green drained away. Then the frost hit. You'd pass and hear those dry cornstalks shaking in the wind as if they were shivering. […] By November the cats were the only ones there. (13.5)

Florence sure does paint a bleak picture of the garden. Once fall and eventually winter hits Cleveland, all the plants die off and no one comes by anymore. Take a look at the changed setting: it's colorless, there are shaking cornstalks, and the only occupants are lonely cats. Can you say creepy? Plus, how different is this dead landscape compared to the life of the summer plants. Yowza.