“Out of nowhere the words from the Bible came into my head: 'And a little child shall lead them.' I didn’t know why at first. Then I did. There’s plenty about my life I can’t change. Can’t bring the dead back to life on this earth. Can’t make the world loving and kind. Can’t change myself into a millionaire. But a patch of ground in this trashy lot—I can change that. Can change it big. Better to put my time into that than moaning about the other all day.”
Here, the narrator Wendell conveys the theme of the power of individuals and groups to make positive change through small acts. Wendell has faced a rough lot in life and he feels downtrodden. He is heartbroken by the deaths of his son and wife. He works hard and doesn’t earn much money as a school janitor. He is powerless to make major changes such as bringing back his family or turn around his economic fortunes. However, Kim’s small act of planting beans reminds Wendell that he does have the power to make changes on a different scale. Wendell realizes that he can change a small “patch of ground in this trashy lot….Can change it big.” This makes him feel empowered to take action, and he goes out and buys a shovel.
“The older you are, the younger you get when you move to the United States.”
Through the narrator Gonzalo, Fleischman looks at the day-to-day consequences and contradictions of a central theme in the novella: immigration to the United States. Gonzalo’s family immigrated from Guatemala to Cleveland. Gonzalo was just a young kid and he learned English quickly. In contrast, his father and uncle are older men with a lot of experience and knowledge. However, in the United States, because they are unable to speak English, they rely on others for simple tasks like buying food and interacting with their landlady. Gonzalo reflects that while his uncle was the oldest man in his village, in Cleveland “he became a little baby,” since he is unable to work or communicate with others. The younger they become, the older Gonzalo grows, since he must take on the responsibilities of helping them out and looking after them. The community garden flips this logic, since Tío Juan’s knowledge once again becomes valued and useful.
“You can’t measure the distance between my block and City Hall in miles.”
Leona’s remarks bring home the themes of inequality and injustice. While Gibb Street and City Hall may be physically close, they are worlds away in terms of access to services, infrastructure, and opportunities. This is because it is one of the most disadvantaged neighborhoods, which Cleveland’s governing officials avoid and ignore at all costs. For this reason, the only way Leona manages to get authorities from the Public Health Department to remove the trash from the Gibb Street lot is by bringing the difficult realities they face right under their noses in a way that it is painfully impossible to ignore.
“God, who made Eden, also wrecked the Tower of Babel, by dividing people. From Paradise, the garden was turning back into Cleveland.”
In this quote Fleischman uses the biblical metaphors of the Garden of Eden and the Tower of Babel to explore both the possibilities and the challenges that the Gibb Street garden faces. At first, the narrator Sam feels that the garden is like a paradise, “a small Garden of Eden,” especially in comparison to the depressed neighborhood that surrounds it. However, the beauty and potential of the garden are linked to the difficulties it confronts. These include the lack of water, conflict with neighbors who fill the lot with trash, and tensions between gardeners divided along lines of race, ethnicity, and national origin. In this way, the garden begins to bear more resemblance to the Tower of Babel, which God destroyed by erecting language barriers between its builders so that they failed to cooperate.
“She talked on, how plants don’t run on electricity or clock time, how none of nature did. How nature ran on sunlight and rain and the seasons, and how I was part of that system. The words sort of put me into a daze. My body was part of nature. I was related to bears, to dinosaurs, to plants, to things that were a million years old. It hit me that this system was much older and stronger than the other. She said how it wasn’t some disgrace to be part of it. She said it was an honor. I stared at the squash plants. It was a world in there. It seemed like I could actually see the leaves and flowers growing and changing. I was in that weird daze. And for just that minute I stopped wishing my baby would die.”
In this quote, Fleischman explores the theme of nature as a great equalizer with the capacity to heal and liberate. As Leona speaks to Maricela, the neighborhood experiences a blackout. All of the lights, TVs, and radios stop working. However, “the garden just keeps going,” since “plants don’t run on electricity or clock time.” Leona helps Maricela to see that she and her body are part of nature, which is far older and more powerful than the system of the city, with its power grids, indifferent governors, and highly unequal infrastructure and services. Under the system of humans’ day-to-day life in the city, Maricela faces many injustices, and she is unable to make decisions about her own life and her body. She feels powerless. However, Leona helps Maricela to feel empowered by connecting with the older and more powerful system that nature represents.
“I think of them when I see any of the people who started the garden on Gibb Street. They’re seedfolks too. I’m talking about that first year, before there were spigots and hoses, and the toolshed, and new soil. And before the landlords started charging more for apartments that look on the garden."
This quote is significant because the reader discovers the story that gives the novella its title. Florence’s family traveled by foot from Louisiana to Colorado, becoming the first Black family to settle in the county. Her father called these ancestors their “seedfolks,” since they were the first to lay down their family’s roots in the region. Florence refers to the original planters on Gibb Street as the seedfolks of the garden, since they were the pioneers who made the garden possible, even in the most adverse of conditions. Just as they planted physical seeds that grew into a garden, Fleischman represents the gardeners as figurative seeds of the vibrant community space that develops on Gibb Street.
Seedfolks Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Seedfolks is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.
Gonzalo is a teenager, thus, he worries about what other people think. When he first discovers his uncle in the garden he is embarrassed, but he quickly comes to see that his uncle knows what he is doing, and those feelings of embarrassment become...