Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

In a story noted for its symbolism, the major symbolic patterns involve sex and religion. The sexual emphasis is used primarily to show how Laura is victimized by Braggioni. Under his domination, she yields to a fatalistic view of life in which events are beyond her control. The religious symbolism reveals the self-betrayal of this surrender.

Braggioni represents the potential of sexual violation. His fat body, encased in expensive clothes, calls attention to the power he has over Laura. As he strokes the guitar and the pistol and sings his love songs, his amorous intentions are made clear to Laura. His name, resembling “braggadocio,” further suggests his boasting, macho behavior. Laura’s aloofness and her attempt to hide her body in heavy material merely add to the challenge that she represents to the rebel leader. His great bulk threatens her physically just as his corruption destroys her romantic illusions. In resisting him physically, however, she yields to him intellectually and morally.

The title of the story suggests its religious symbolism. Judas, the betrayer, supposedly hanged himself from a redbud tree. In Laura’s dream, Eugenio offers the flowers of the Judas tree, which she readily devours. The dream indicates the guilt she feels as a result of her amoral activity. The guilt, suppressed during her conscious hours, comes forth in a parody of religious ritual, much like the washing of Braggioni’s feet by his wife. Laura’s dream thus embodies the story’s themes in a highly charged symbolic language.

Form and Content

(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

Flowering Judas, and Other Stories, Katherine Anne Porter’s first collection of short stories, includes among its twelve pieces several of her most significant works. As in all of her fiction, most of the protagonists are women. Writing out of her own experiences and memories shaped by imagination, Porter creates characters who confront and attempt to cope with a chaotic world. Caught in a world without a center, torn between an old order and a new, they often find themselves paralyzed, hopelessly alone in a modern wasteland.

Half of the stories, including the initial one, “María Concepcíon” (1922), grew out of Porter’s experiences in Mexico. In “María Concepcíon,” the title character finds her life disordered when her husband, Juan, runs off to war and takes his young lover, María Rosa, with him. Soon weary of fighting, however, Juan returns with María Rosa to the village in time for her to give birth to a son. A few hours later, María Concepcíon kills María Rosa and, having earlier lost her own child two days after its birth, takes María Rosa’s child for her own. The villagers all know the truth, but they—especially Juan and Lupe, María Rosa’s godmother and also the medicine woman of the village—support María Concepcíon, who is thus left free to go home with her husband and child to a restored order. “María Concepcíon” is a rare example of a Porter story in which the old order prevails, but it does so in a primitive society and ironically only through murder.

More typically, the other Mexican stories—“The Martyr” (1923), “Virgin Violeta” (1924), “Flowering Judas” (1930), “Hacienda” (1932, rev. 1934), and “That Tree” (1934)—end in disillusionment and isolation, the protagonist’s feelings often mirroring directly or indirectly Porter’s growing disillusionment with the revolution in Mexico. Old values are rejected, but the protagonist finds nothing to replace them.

Unquestionably the best of Porter’s Mexican stories and, according to many critics, her masterpiece, “Flowering Judas” depicts a paralyzed female in a modern wasteland. Laura, a young American expatriate teaching in Mexico, envisions herself a revolutionist, a supporter of an ideal cause although her experiences invalidate her belief. As her contribution to the cause, she runs errands for Braggiono, a fat, corrupt revolutionary leader who seeks to seduce her. On one such errand, Laura delivers drugs to Eugenio in jail, and he commits suicide with an overdose. Subsequently, Laura’s dream, in which he calls her a murderer, forces her to acknowledge...

(The entire section is 1072 words.)


(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

Highly praised following its initial publication by such critics as Allen Tate and Yvor Winters, Flowering Judas, and Other Stories, as well as Porter’s subsequent fiction, has continued to receive almost universal critical acclaim. Porter’s stories were soon included in the canon of American literature, and her stories were frequently anthologized at a time when only a handful of women were included. By the time of her death, one or more of her stories appeared in virtually every anthology of American literature and of the short story, ranking her among the most widely acclaimed American women writers of the twentieth century.

Critically successful before the days of feminism, Porter disdained being called a feminist despite ample evidence of the appropriateness of such a designation. Her rejection of the identification was likely tied to her individualism, her refusal to be linked to any group. Nevertheless, her work clearly contains some of the most psychologically realistic portraits ever created of twentieth century women caught between the old and new order, struggling for the integration of self. In quantity, the overall body of Porter’s fiction is relatively slight, but its overall quality, especially Flowering Judas, and Other Stories, ensures Porter a significant place in American literature.

Historical Context

(Short Stories for Students)

The Mexican Revolution
Porter based the story on events she experienced and observed in Mexico during 1920 and 1921, in the...

(The entire section is 839 words.)

Literary Style

(Short Stories for Students)

Symbolism is the most important stylistic feature of ‘‘Flowering Judas.’’ The most important thing to...

(The entire section is 802 words.)

Literary Techniques

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

A symbolic texture gives the story depth and power. Laura's deadened emotions are symbolized by the narcotics she delivers. The only time her...

(The entire section is 107 words.)

Compare and Contrast

(Short Stories for Students)

1920s: In 1920 Mexico's Partido Nacional Revolucionario (PNR), the National Revolutionary Party, is founded out of a coalition...

(The entire section is 412 words.)

Topics for Further Study

(Short Stories for Students)

At one point in the story Braggioni tells Laura, ‘‘We are more alike than you realize in some things.’’ Are these two contrasting...

(The entire section is 178 words.)

Literary Precedents

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

In later years Porter said that James Joyce's The Dubliners (1914) was a "revelation" to her during her literary apprenticeship. In...

(The entire section is 89 words.)

Related Titles

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

The collection The Old Order brings together stories about the changing South and Porter's autobiographical persona, Miranda....

(The entire section is 54 words.)

Media Adaptations

(Short Stories for Students)

"Flowering Judas’’ is included on an audiotape read by Sioban McKenna, The Collected Stories of Katherine Anne Porter, recorded in...

(The entire section is 24 words.)

What Do I Read Next?

(Short Stories for Students)

Pale Horse, Pale Rider (1939) is a set of three short novels based on Porter's autobiographical protagonist Miranda. The acclaimed...

(The entire section is 211 words.)

Bibliography and Further Reading

(Short Stories for Students)

Bogan, Louise, In The New Republic, Vol. 64, No. 829, October 22, 1930, pp. 277-78.

Cowley, Malcolm,...

(The entire section is 300 words.)


(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Carr, Virginia Spencer, ed. “Flowering Judas”: Katherine Anne Porter. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1993. An indispensable casebook of the title story “Flowering Judas.” Among the seven essays is Ray B. West’s “Katherine Anne Porter: Symbol and Theme in ‘Flowering Judas,’ ” the first and still one of the most influential criticisms of the work. West groups the symbols into three major areas—religion, secular life, and love—and concludes that Laura is lost because of her failure to recognize the necessity of love.

DeMouy, Jane. Katherine Anne Porter’s Women: The Eye of Her Fiction....

(The entire section is 349 words.)