“Flowering Judas” is a short story by American author Katherine Anne Porter, first published in 1930 in the collection Flowering Judas and Other Stories
. Supposedly written by Porter in a single evening in December 1929, it is the story of Laura, an alienated young American woman who travels to Mexico where she is courted by Braggioni, a corrupt but charismatic leader in the Mexican revolution. The two of them have vastly different worldviews—Laura’s traditional background clashing with Braggioni’s fiery socialism. Laura becomes increasingly isolated and faces a crisis of faith. The story focuses heavily on Christian themes and symbolism, as the characters in the story are seen to reflect versions of iconic Christian figures. It also explores themes of idealism, class struggle, and revolution. “Flowering Judas” is considered one of the best examples of the American short story; its complex symbolism has allowed it to endure and be studied and analyzed today. One of Porter’s most enduring works, it won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction as part of Porter’s larger anthology The Collected Stories
“Flowering Judas” begins as Laura, a young American woman, arrives in Mexico City in the aftermath of the Mexican Revolution, looking to work for the revolutionary cause in support of the socialists. A schoolteacher, she meets with the local revolutionary leader, Braggioni, and his workers. Braggioni is intrigued by Laura, whom he finds beautiful but cold; he pays nightly visits to her, seeking to seduce her. In the opening scene, Braggioni is paying one of his visits to Laura’s room and is singing Mexican folk songs to her. Laura is tired, but she makes an effort to be polite to Braggioni, not wanting to offend the powerful and ruthless man. Braggioni is not a good singer, and his attempts at banter make Laura think about her next move. She knows that Braggioni would like to seduce her, and reminds herself to resist tenaciously without appearing to resist. Although she finds him gross and corrupt, Braggioni is a local hero despite being a hypocrite when it comes to the ideals of socialism. She wants to flee from him and from the growing cynicism and hypocrisy of the revolutionaries, but believes in the cause and sees no other way than to continue on her current path. Braggioni likes to flaunt his elegant clothing and style, comparing his garb to Laura’s American clothing.
Laura realizes that Braggioni is a deeply unsatisfied man, seeking carnal pleasures because he is spiritually unfulfilled. She wonders if her duties will be satisfying for her, including teaching English to native children, organizing union meetings, and delivering packages to political prisoners. She acknowledges that she herself is not an ideal socialist. While most revolutionaries are atheists, Laura is still a Catholic and sometimes goes to church to pray despite having some issues with Catholic orthodoxy. She also knows she has a secret love of luxury, including handmade lace, while most hardcore revolutionaries favor plain dress. As Braggioni continues to flirt with Laura, she thinks back to the other suitors she’s had in Mexico. She rebuffed the seduction attempts of a former soldier from another revolutionary faction, seeing a parallel between this man and the children she teaches, who like to playfully flirt with her. Another suitor is a young union activist who serenades her in the Mexican tradition. Her maid encouraged her to toss him a flower from the Judas tree to stop him from singing, but this was actually a sign of encouragement. He continues to court her, and while she ignores him and maintains her trademark stoicism, this young man does not repel her.
Braggioni tells Laura about the battle planned tomorrow in Morelia, where the socialists plan to disrupt a Catholic festival with a labor protest. He predicts violence and asks her to clean and oil his weapons. She obeys, handing him his weapons back. Impulsively, she tells him to go and kill someone in the battle and he will be happier. She tells him that a prisoner, one of Braggioni’s followers whom she had visited the previous night, committed suicide by taking an overdose of sleeping pills. Braggioni pretends not to care, but he leaves quickly and goes home to his wife, seeking to reconcile with her. Laura goes to bed filled with oppressive thoughts of guilt and alienation. She falls asleep and has a nightmare that the prisoner who committed suicide is calling her from the house. She says she will only follow him if she can hold his hand, but he refuses and calls her a murderer. Despite her fear, she follows him, and he offers her flowers from the Judas tree to eat. She eats them, and he calls her a murderer and a cannibal. She wakes up crying out, No! She is too afraid to fall asleep again.
Katherine Anne Porter was an American author, journalist, essayist, and political activist. She is best known for the popular novel Ship of Fools
, published in 1962, but received the most critical acclaim for her short stories. In her life, she published six short story collections and a novel, as well as two nonfiction books; six additional books of her work were published after her death. She received a Pulitzer Prize, a National Book Award, a Gold Medal Award for Fiction from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and three nominations for the Nobel Prize in literature. A Recorded Texas Historic Landmark was placed in Brown County, Texas to honor her life and work.