Symbolism is the most important stylistic feature of “Flowering Judas.” The most important thing to understand about Porter’s use of symbolism is that it is multi-faceted and ambiguous. Indeed, symbols that Porter employs often refer to one idea and also its opposite. The story’s central symbol, the flower from the Judas tree, is a example. The flower first appears when Laura tosses it out the window, which misleads her suitor. She uses the flower, an encouraging sign, in order to say “No” to her suitor—the “holy talismanic word” from which Laura draws her strength. The exotic flower is a sensuous image, and the fact that she uses it to reject the man suggests Laura’s sexual ambivalence and repression. When the flower appears later in Laura’s nightmare it is again a sensual image—she eats it greedily—but this time it doubles as a symbol of the Eucharist, wherein the body and blood she consumes belong not to Christ but to Eugenic. The flower is thus simultaneously a sign of purification and corruption.
The flower’s name refers to Judas Iscariot, Christ’s betrayer. The tree is named for Judas because, according to mythology, it is the tree from which he hanged himself out of repentance for his deed. The flower is a symbol of the betrayal of Christ, reflecting Laura’s alienation from the Catholicism of her girlhood and also from the revolutionary cause. She is, in this way, like Judas.
Yet she also sees those around her—most exaggeratedly, Braggioni—as betrayers and hypocrites themselves, which is one source of her loss of faith. Braggioni and Eugenic represent contrasting Christ figures, with Braggioni serving as a grotesque perversion of Christ’s self-sacrifice and “love of humanity” while Eugenic represents Christ’s martyrdom. Braggioni’s self-aggrandizement and Eugenie’s self-negation are connected through this figure.
The central matrix of Christian symbolism is only one example of how Porter’s use of symbolism gives the story meaning. On a simpler level, Braggioni’s opulent, garish clothes represent his hypocrisy and sensuality. They serve as a contrast to Laura’s severe high-necked dress, but the hand-made lace collar that is her secret luxury suggests an underlying similarity to Braggioni’s self-indulgence. Thus, again, things that seem like opposites are revealed as similar. The “monstrous” confusion between opposites that Laura refers to as she drifts off into her nightmare characterizes Porter’s use of symbolism throughout. Laura longs for clear distinctions and purity, but the very language which Porter uses to tell her story reveals this as impossible.
Porter sets “Flowering Judas” in Mexico City in the aftermath of the Mexican Revolution. The dramatic foreign setting and the loaded historical moment are evoked in an oblique way, described only in relation to the ideas and feelings they trigger in Laura as she sits in the upper room of her house listening to Braggioni’s singing and conversation. Eudora Welly’s description of Porter’s style suggests that one may understand “Flowering Judas” as actually being set inside of Laura’s distressed mind. “Most good stories are about the interior of our lives, but Katherine Anne Porter’s take place there,” Welty writes in The Eye of the Story. “They show surface only at her choosing. Her use of the physical world is enough to meet her needs and no more.”
For example, Porter offers exquisitely detailed physical descriptions of the exterior world only as they reflect Laura’s inner conflicts, such as the “battered doll-shape of some male saint whose white, lace-trimmed drawers hang around his ankles below the dignity of his velvet robe” that she observes as she furtively visits a Mexican church. But the larger social and physical environs are, for the most part, characterized in abstract or subjective terms. For example, Porter’s description of Laura’s duty as a messenger for Braggioni highlights Laura’s state of isolation: “She knocks at unfamiliar doors not knowing whether a friend or a stranger shall answer, and even if a known face emerges from the sour gloom of that unknown interior, still it is the face of a stranger.”
Point of View
“Flowering Judas” is narrated in the third person by an omniscient narrator. That is, the narrator is not an actor in the story, but has access to the thoughts, motivations, and feelings of characters. While a third-person narrator’s omniscience signifies a position of knowledge, often making this a straightforward mode of storytelling, the fact that the narrator in “Flowering Judas” is so tied to Laura’s conflicted perspective makes the narration obscure and disorienting. Indeed, as Welty suggests, the narration is so tied to Laura’s inner experiences that the story creates the effect of taking place within her consciousness. And the fact that she feels so alienated from what is going on around her creates a further barrier between Laura’s thoughts and the reality of the outside world.
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.