Faith and Betrayal
In “Flowering Judas” there is no faith that is not betrayed. The story is structured through a series of contrasts and parallels between religious faith, faith in revolutionary ideals, and romantic-sexual fidelity, all of which are misguided or transgressed. For example, Laura is a Roman Catholic and has been raised in the Catholic tradition. Yet the revolution rejects religion, in particular the Catholic Church. Unable to divorce herself from either her religious beliefs or her political ideals, she ends up feeling as if she has violated both.
Braggioni is a hero who fought for the redistribution of wealth to the masses, only to indulge his every whim for luxury and power when he became part of the new ruling elite. He furthermore expresses his supposed love of humanity through womanizing, betraying his wife’s fanatical devotion. Even Eugenio, a martyr of the revolution whom Laura betrays by enabling his suicide, kills himself out of boredom rather than for any principle.
Ideals and Reality
The contrast between ideals and reality is closely tied to the contrast of faith and betrayal in “Flowering Judas.” Laura has high ideals, but the reality of her situation is very disappointing to her. Her loss of faith is presented as an inevitable part of life. Extremely disillusioned, she feels she has no other choice than to continue with her mission.
The reprehensible Braggioni becomes for Laura “a symbol of her many disillusions.” Despite his corruption, he is a successful leader, representing the pragmatism and self-interest that permeate the political system. Though Laura is herself no longer idealistic about the cause she works for, neither can she adopt the blithe attitude of her cohorts that corruption and betrayal are merely part of reality. Instead, Laura continues her denial, refusing to regret her choices but also declining to truly participate in life. She can no longer say yes to her ideals, but she continues to say no to reality, leaving her radically alienated from those around her.
Laura is a young American woman living in a foreign country and participating in a political struggle that has nothing to do with her own interests or history. The revolutionary ideal that she works for is invested in the unity and cultural pride of Mexican workers and peasants, a population with whom she has little in common. She confronts belief systems and behaviors that are objectionable to her and hard for her to understand. She speaks the language poorly and misreads cultural cues, as when she throws the flower to her suitor. These factors, in addition to her own philosophical crisis in faith, characterize Laura as an alienated individual. She does not belong anywhere or believe in anything. Her condition is more extreme than mere loneliness. Everyone appears as a stranger to her and she is “not at home in the world,” so she has little chance of overcoming her acute isolation.
One way of understanding Laura’s alienation is to attribute it to her inability to love. She is disciplined in her commitment to the cause but she lacks the love for the Mexican people that underlies the revolutionary ideals she professes. She is cold in response to the peasant children’s affection and to her various suitors’ fervent advances. Related to this shortcoming are Laura’s sexual repression and her loss of faith in Catholicism.
She lacks the capacity not only for socialist love of humanity, but divine Christian love and erotic love as well. Braggioni doubts her commitment to the revolution given that she does not love any man who is a fighter in it, which he sees as the only way a woman can participate in revolution. Braggioni, in contrast, is a “professional lover of humanity.” He ‘loves’ the Mexican people, especially women, indiscriminately and selfishly. Braggioni is cruel, but not cold in the sense that Laura is. He abuses the faith of his followers and of his wife, but sees their faith in him as good in itself. In this way, he encourages participation in what he sees as the reality of love and its inevitable counterpart, betrayal, while Laura ignores her appetites and suffers from the despair of self-denial, isolation, and faithlessness.
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.