Jesus with a kiss, guilt took over and Judas Iscariot hanged himself from
a tree. Christians today believe that the tree
Judas selected has scarlet blossoms to symbolize all the blood shed. The title to Katherine Anne Porter’s short story,
“Flowering Judas,” refers to this biblical event and immediately suggests
ideas of mental anguish, betrayal, denial, and murder.
As Ray B. West, JR. acknowledges, the Judas tree symbolizes the
betrayer of Christ. When Porter describes Laura
eating the buds of the Flowering Judas, Laura is participating in an act
of betrayal (92). The main character, Laura,
is unable to connect with the people or institutions that would bring her
happiness. Her self-imposed isolation and missed
opportunities are represented by images of clay-mask strangers, crumbling
stone, and flowers.
Some may argue that Laura is a victim of circumstances and her depressing situation is not self-imposed. Leon Gottfried writes a few statements in support of this view, “Within the frame of reference of what her world could offer her, she seems to have done her best” (118). He continues with an example, “she could no more overlook the failure of her church to meet the social injustice of the society in which she found herself than she could overlook the vanity and cruelty of the revolutionary leaders” (118). However, time and time again she willfully walks away from people and institutions that could bring her joy. Laura realizes the emptiness she feels inside, after endless hours of self-reflection, and starts to welcome death. She can no longer imagine an escape to a new world. She believes “she has been betrayed irreparably by the disunion between her way of living and her feeling of what life should be, and at times she is almost contented to rest in this sense of grievance as a private store of consolation. Sometimes she wishes to run away, but she stays” (35). Again, Porter suggests the possibility of change but Laura actively decides to remain and do nothing. Laura will not better her situation by moving away from
Surrounded by people, Laura still leads a solitary life because she never allows anyone to get too close. Daily, she interacts with Indian children at school and adults secretly involved in the Revolution in
Just as Laura destroys any opportunity to be involved with people, she ruins her relationship with the church. The idea of destruction, or crumbling stone, symbolizes Laura’s spiritual foundations being demolished over time. For instance, Laura is of Roman Catholic descent but she tries to hide this fact so as not to create a huge stir among revolutionists. People in
Furthermore, Laura turns her back on all emotional involvement. Flowers are woven in throughout the progression of the story to represent hopeful moments that Laura ignores: lost chances for love. West outlines that “Laura [is] unable to participate in love upon any of the levels suggested: …a divine lover… a professional lover… an erotic lover” (93). A young scholar sung like a “lost soul” beneath Laura’s bedroom window and all she could concentrate on were dull purple blossoms and his dark shadow (41). Laura threw him a flower so that he would leave, not because she appreciated his affection. She filled him with false hopes and he followed her “with the flower withering in his hat,” symbolizing the end to a love that was never returned (41). Eventually, Laura confuses the children that bring her flowers for her desk with the prisoners she visits and thinks to herself, “the poor prisoners who come every day bringing flowers to their jailors” (48). She feels guilty that she cannot do more for the children but stand in front of class and lecture. Instead of a warm mentor, she feels like a cold jailor towards the children. Gottfried summarizes the meaning behind the different flowers present in the story well when he writes, “the ‘fresh garden flowers’ left on her desk each day by the adoring children in her classroom represent immaculate love, the ‘warm bleeding flowers’ of her dream represent a perversion of spiritual love, and the flower that she heedlessly tossed to her anonymous young suitor… represents a failure of human love” (118). When flowers appear in the story, Laura has the opportunity to gain a lover or a friend but she never acknowledges the hopeful moment and chooses to linger in despair instead.
Laura is not one of the prisoners that she visits, trapped behind bars and confined to a small cell. She is free to act on her intuitions. She cannot claim to be a victim because she had the opportunity to change or escape. Laura is the destructive force behind her own undoing. In reality, she has no close friends, no spiritual connection, and no lover to share an embrace. As West writes, Laura’s character supports that “[m] an cannot live divided by materialistic and spiritual values, nor can he live in the modern world by either without faith and love” (96). Laura is void of happiness and allows herself to just act out the motions of daily living. Everything would fall into place if only Laura allowed herself to love.
Leon. “Death’s Other Kingdom: Dantesque and Theological Symbolism in ‘Flowering
Flowering Judas. Ed. Virginia Spencer Carr. New Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 1993. 99-120.
Katherine Anne. “Flowering Judas.” Flowering Judas. Ed. Virginia Spencer
Carr. New Brunswick,
New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 1993. 31-49.
Ray B., JR. “Katherine Anne Porter: Symbol and Theme in ‘Flowering Judas.’”
Ed. Virginia Spencer Carr. New Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 1993. 89-97.