Braggioni is the most powerful revolutionary leader in town, as well as Laura’s suitor. She also works for him carrying messages to members of the movement who are in prison or in hiding. He comes to her house every night to sit and talk with her and to sing songs he has composed as part of a campaign to seduce her. Braggioni is vain and self-obsessed; Laura is repulsed by him, but she accepts his attention because his is a powerful man. Fat and disgusting, he represents the corruption and cynicism of the revolutionary movement. Some critics note that he embodies all of the Seven Deadly Sins. He personifies the hypocrisy of the movement—he is a ‘ ‘good revolutionist” because “he has the malice, the cleverness, the wickedness, the sharpness of wit, the hardness of heart, stipulated for loving the world profitably.”
Braggioni’s wife is, in her husband’s view, an “instinctively virtuous woman.” She remains faithful to him and to his cause while he indulges his appetites and philandering impulses. During the month preceding the evening when the story takes place, Braggioni has been living separately from his wife and courting Laura. His wife has spent much of this time weeping. After he visits Laura, Braggioni returns home to his wife who greets him by weeping and begging his forgiveness. She washes his feet in an act of obeisance that echoes Mary’s washing of Jesus’s feet, in an ironic reflection of Braggioni’s role as savior of his people. In contrast to Laura, Braggioni’s wife has completely given herself over to love and martyrs herself before the powerful man.
Eugenic is one of Braggioni’s followers, an activist in the revolution who has been imprisoned for political reasons. On the night that the story takes place Laura has just returned from visiting him in prison, where she finds him near death from an overdose of sleeping pills. When Laura tells Braggioni about the suicide Braggioni calls him a fool, but his mood changes and he leaves her. That night, Eugenio comes to Laura in a symbolic dream that serves as the ambiguous resolution of the plot. Eugenio beckons her toward death and offers her flowers from the Judas tree to eat, saying, “This is my body and my blood,” a reference to the Eucharist, thus identifying him as a Christ figure. He then calls her a murderer and a cannibal, to which Laura responds, “No!”
Laura is the protagonist of the story. She is a young American woman living in Mexico and working for the socialist revolution. She is a schoolteacher and also performs tasks, such as running messages, for Braggioni as part of her revolutionary commitment. She is very idealistic but yet cold; thus she is disgusted by Braggioni’s sensuality and corruption. “She cannot help feeling that she has been betrayed irreparably by the disunion between her way of living and her feeling of what life should be.” However, she continues to be loyal to the revolution despite her misgivings. She is a lapsed Catholic but she occasionally enters a church and says a Hail Mary, even though this is against the beliefs of the revolutionary movement. She feels both betrayed by and guilty of betraying her Mexican comrades.
Laura is graceful, womanly, and virginal. She conducts herself with reserve and dresses in nunlike clothes. When she finds herself the unwilling recipient of the romantic interest of several young revolutionaries she rebuffs them, while she skillfully keeps Braggioni at arm’s length while appearing to indulge him. Braggioni comments that he does not understand her commitment to the revolutionary ideal since she does not love a man who is involved. Laura is an isolated and sexually repressed figure, refusing to admit to a need for love. However, the figure of Eugenio—who is both ominous and seductive—suggests that she longs for merging and communion even as she denies it.
Lupe is Laura’s maid. She advises Laura to throw her suitor a flower from the Judas tree outside her window so that he will stop serenading her and tells her not to trust him or any man. But she does not tell her that the flower is encouragement for him to return night after night. Lupe’s familiarity with the culture and its social conventions underscore Laura’s alienation.
The Serenading Youth
A young man who is an organizer of the Typographer’s Union. He courts Laura by singing serenades outside of her window, following the elaborate romantic rituals of his culture. She unintentionally encourages him by tossing him a flower, so he pursues her further. She is ‘ ‘pleasantly disturbed” when she notices him watching her, a phrase signaling her sexual repression and ambivalence.
The Young Captain
A young captain—a hero of the Mexican Revolution—makes a pass at Laura, attempting to embrace her as she dismounts her horse at the end of a ride. She avoids his embrace by covertly spurring her horse. Described as “gentle” and a “rude folk hero,” he represents a model of the kind of man through whom she might express her love of revolution sensually. Instead, she rejects him.
Ira Mark Milne (Editor), Short Stories for Students – Presenting Analysis, Context, and Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, Volume 8, Katherine Anne Porter, Published by Thomson Gale, 2000.