Study Guide

"Petunias" Characters in You Can't Keep a Good Woman Down

By Alice Walker

"Petunias" Characters

The Narrator

This story is literally five paragraphs long, so there's not really a lot of time for character development. Our narrator is the mom of a son who returns from Vietnam with a load of explosives. While tinkering, he manages to blow up his home—with her in it.

We do know that she's "agitating in the Movement" (Petunias.5)—which means she's a civil rights worker. And she's suffered the consequences of it. When all the chickens of the '60s come home to roost—a battle-damaged son and rising white supremacy are just two ingredients in that bubbling cauldron—she doesn't quite make it through.

The Narrator's Son

Boom Goes the Dynamite

We only know that the narrator's son returns from Vietnam with the intention of making "a big noise in Tranquil, Mississippi" (Petunias.4). Why does he want to do this? We can only guess. He's probably suffering massive PTSD as a result of serving in brutal battles.

And it's more than likely that he's come home to an environment hostile to him because of his status as a soldier and Black man. His mother has already been disrespected by local white supremacists, and probably not for the first time. That would certainly be enough to sharpen his grudge against his not-so-tranquil town.

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