Seedfolks Essay Questions

  1. 1

    Leona says, “You ever watch a sax player close? They push down a key and way at the other end of the instrument something moves.” What does this quote mean in the context of Seedfolks?

    This quote from Leona speaks to the whole premise of Seedfolks: that one small act can spark a chain reaction, leading to significant changes far beyond one's original intentions. Leona poetically compares this to the effect of a sax player. We can describe the way a saxophone player makes music literally, as moving a finger to push down on a key. Yet this description hardly captures the beautiful, even magical, sound that emerges from the other end of the instrument. This same logic relates to the first act that started the Gibb Street community garden. When Kim planted a few lima beans, she did not imagine sparking a whole movement that would transform her neighborhood for the better. Yet her small act made something move in diverse parts of her neighborhood, inspiring actions that led to transformative change.

  2. 2

    The author ends Seedfolks with the same action that started the story. What is the name of this literary device, and what is its effect?

    Fleischman uses parallelism to solidify a central theme in the novella: hope. Seedfolks begins with a young girl of Vietnamese origin, Kim, planting a few lima beans in a vacant lot. This act eventually leads to the creation of a vibrant community garden that unites and improves Kim's run-down neighborhood. After the first, successful year of the community garden, it is hard for residents to watch the lot stand lonely and quiet through a long, cold winter. Some worry the garden may not make a comeback. But the garden returns in the very same way it began: with Kim planting lima beans. This parallelism emphasizes that once again it is the small act of a brave pioneer that keeps the garden alive and thriving, and gives both Gibb Street residents and the reader hope for the future.

  3. 3

    The story of Seedfolks is told by many different first-person narrators, each with his or her own style of speech and storytelling. Why does Fleischman use this type of narration?

    Fleischman writes Seedfolks from the point of view of thirteen different narrators to bring home central themes in the novella: cultural diversity, immigration, and unity. The author chose not to try to capture the diversity of the Gibb Street neighborhood and the community garden from the point of view of an omniscient, neutral narrator. Rather, the reader must inhabit the diverse points of view of thirteen different characters, each of whom tells the story from their own unique perspective. This style of narration highlights that each character has a different reality, experience, and view of the garden. At the same time, the points of view of the different narrators come together to form a whole story, just as each diverse character forms a part of the community garden.

  4. 4

    The narrator Sam makes biblical allusions. What stories does he refer to and why?

    Sam compares the Gibb Street garden to Paradise, "a small Garden of Eden." This is because at the garden, the atmosphere is cool and pleasant, the plants growing are beautiful, and neighbors chat in a friendly manner. In comparison with the surrounding neighborhood, which is desolate, filled with trash, and plagued by robberies, unemployment, and alcoholism, the garden stands out as a paradise. However, Sam emphasizes that God created not only the paradise and unity of the Garden of Eden but also the complexity and division of the Tower of Babel. In this way, Sam uses another biblical metaphor to demonstrate the difficulties the garden faces. In the story of the Tower of Babel, God prevents the construction of a tower so tall it could reach the heavens by confounding the builders' speech so that they can no longer understand each other, and scattering them around the world. Ultimately, the Gibb Street garden is not immune to the social, economic, and political problems the rest of the neighborhood faces, and the gardeners must work hard together to meet these challenges.

  5. 5

    Where does the title of Seedfolks come from, and what is the significance of the term?

    Paul Fleischman writes that seedfolks is an old term for ancestors. In the novella, the narrator of the final chapter, Florence, explains that her family migrated from Louisiana to Colorado, becoming the first Black family to settle there. Her father called these ancestors their seedfolks, since they planted the seeds of their family in that region. In this way, the title shines a light on a metaphor that is central to the novella: people as seeds. Many of the characters in Seedfolks are immigrants to the United States. They are thus seedfolks, since they left their countries for diverse reasons in order to plant the seeds of their families in America. The title is also a reference to the literal seeds that the characters plant in the Gibb Street garden, as well as to the figurative seeds of community, belonging, and unity that the garden enables them to plant in their neighborhood more broadly.