29 pages 58 minutes read

Katherine Anne Porter

Flowering Judas

Fiction | Short Story | Adult | Published in 1930

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Summary: “Flowering Judas”

“Flowering Judas” by Katherine Anne Porter was first published in 1930 in her debut collection of stories titled Flowering Judas and Other Stories. The anthology was later expanded in 1935 to include 10 works of short fiction. “Flowering Judas” is set in the Xochimilco borough of Mexico City in 1920, just after the Mexican Revolution, and follows Laura, a young American schoolteacher who travels to Mexico and joins the cause of the Socialists in the city. “Flowering Judas” utilizes symbolism and characterization to explore themes of Female Objectification and Oppression, Faith and Disillusionment, and Betrayal of Self and Others.

In addition to Flowering Judas and Other Stories, Porter’s other short stories garnered her the most critical acclaim. Porter took on several professional roles in her life, working in film, publishing, and political activism. The recipient of multiple awards, including the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award for her 1965 work The Collected Stories of Katherine Anne Porter, Porter often tackled themes of betrayal and the complexities of human nature. Allegedly written in a single evening in the winter of 1929, “Flowering Judas” is still widely regarded as one of the best examples of the American short story.

This guide follows the version of the text available online through Vita Education. Citations from the story refer to paragraph numbers.

Content Warning: The source material includes references to death by suicide.

“Flowering Judas” is narrated in the third-person limited point of view, focusing mostly on Laura’s perspective and thoughts. The short story opens as she returns home in the evening to find Braggioni waiting to serenade her. While Laura is tired, she endures Braggioni’s performances and lacks the courage to risk offending the powerful leader who seeks to seduce her with his conversation and off-key singing. Braggioni is a leader in the Socialist cause of the Mexican Revolution. Laura imagines slapping his face but instead remains trapped in her chair. Braggioni has been visiting Laura since abandoning his wife a month earlier. His wife frequently cried over his infidelities, and he moved into a hotel, complaining that she should weep in private. When not spending her nights crying at home, Mrs. Braggioni is an active Socialist, speaking at meetings and organizing unions for female factory workers.

During the evening, Laura thinks about her experiences as part of the Revolution and grapples with “the disunion between her way of living and her feeling of what life should be” (Paragraph 5). She teaches Indigenous children at a local school during the day, and at night, she smuggles letters from headquarters to recipients around town. In her leisure time, she attends union meetings and visits Socialist prisoners, delivering supplies and messages. Stuck in their cockroach-infested cells, day and night, the prisoners often ask why Braggioni does not help them. Laura is aware of her own contradictions in following the Socialist cause. Raised a Roman Catholic, she sometimes sneaks into a church and says a Hail Mary despite the revolutionary regime’s political opposition to the church. While Laura dresses modestly to show she “has renounced vanities” (Paragraph 6), she secretly buys fine, handmade—rather than machine-produced—lace, which she keeps tucked away in her clothes drawer.

Twenty-two-year-old Laura has many suitors despite giving them no encouragement. When a young captain invited her to jump from her horse into his arms, she spurred on the animal, causing it to bolt. The ploy worked as the captain was forced to chase after her horse and his own. However, Laura has been unable to deter a 19-year-old man who sings to her every night outside her window. Laura’s maid, Lupe, told her that the young man would go away if she threw down a flower from the Judas tree. Laura did so, but the young man now follows her through the city, watching her and wearing the Judas flower in his hat. He also sends her poems. Laura remains detached from events and other people, reluctant to dwell on anything too closely. Nevertheless, she is troubled by a conviction that she will meet a violent end.

Braggioni continues to flirt with Laura, and the narration shifts to his appraisal of her physical beauty and “her notorious virginity” (Paragraph 23). Although Laura’s outfit is “nun-like,” he stares at her breasts lustfully and continues to sing. Braggioni grew up in poverty and was painfully thin. He now has a taste for fine food and drink, reflected in his obesity. He also spends his wealth on luxuries such as expensive clothing, a car, and a comfortable home. He describes his followers as “stupid […], lazy […] [and] treacherous” (Paragraph 28).

Braggioni tells Laura about a May-day conflict that is set to happen in the nearby town of Morelia. Two opposing processions are taking place as the Catholics celebrate the festival of the Blessed Virgin, and the Socialists commemorate their martyrs. He asks Laura to clean and oil his pistols, placing his silver-embellished gun belt in her lap. Laura tells Braggioni that Eugenio, one of the prisoners she visited and provided sleeping pills to, has died by suicide. Laura gave Eugenio the pills as he was struggling to sleep, but he deliberately overdosed and instructed Laura not to inform the prison doctor. She explains to Braggioni that Eugenio grew tired of waiting for his leader to rescue him. Braggioni dismisses Eugenio as “a fool.” He quickly leaves, and the narrative follows him as he returns to his wife. When Mrs. Braggioni greets him lovingly and insists on washing her husband’s feet, Braggioni feels remorse and bursts into tears. He suggests they eat, as he is hungry and tired, and asks for her forgiveness. When Mrs. Braggioni cries, her husband feels “refreshed by the solemn, endless rain of her tears” (Paragraph 39).

Relieved that Braggioni has gone, Laura realizes now is the time to leave and escape him permanently, but she does not go. She prepares for bed, but Eugenio dominates her thoughts. As Laura falls asleep, she dreams that Eugenio’s ghost visits her and beckons her to follow him, claiming he is taking her to death. He gives her flowers from the Judas tree to eat and holds the “warm, bleeding flowers” to her lips (Paragraph 41). As she hungrily consumes the flowers, he calls her a murderer and a cannibal. Laura cries out, “No!” and is awoken by the sound of her own voice. She is too terrified to sleep again.