Flowering Judas


Katherine Anne Porter

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Flowering Judas Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Katherine Anne Porter's Flowering Judas. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Katherine Anne Porter

The descendant of frontiersman Daniel Boone and the writer O. Henry (real name William Sidney Porter), Katherine Anne Porter grew up in convents in Texas and Louisiana before running away in 1906 to pursue a career as an actress and singer. Upon returning to Texas in 1914, she joined the staff of the magazine Critic and later Rocky Mountain News out of Denver Colorado, where she wrote book articles and the occasional piece of political analysis. During the 1920s, she traveled to Mexico to aid various left-wing causes, an experience mirrored in “Flowering Judas,” the title story of her first collection of short stories and the winner of a prestigious Guggenheim fellowship. Although more well-reviewed collections followed (including Hacienda in 1934 and Pale Horse, Pale Rider in 1942), Porter was largely ignored by the public until her only novel, the best-selling Ship of Fools, was published in 1962. Just as the stories in Flowering Judas were informed by her experiences in Mexico, Ship of Fools was indebted to her journey by boat to Bremerhaven, Germany, in 1932. Porter continued to fight for social justice and women’s rights and took aim at these subjects in her later works. Porter’s reputation continued to grow, culminating in a Pulitzer Prize for her Collected Stories in 1966. She died in 1980 in Silver Spring, Maryland, leaving behind the correspondence that would later be collected in The Letters of Katherine Anne Porter, as well as her famous recipe for Mole Poblano with chili and chocolate, which she had learned during her time in Mexico.
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Historical Context of Flowering Judas

Although not explicitly stated, Laura has come to Mexico to aid in the Obregón Revolution, so named for Álvaro Obregón Salido, a general in the Mexican Revolution who served as president between 1920 and 1924, and was assassinated in 1928 after winning election to serve a second term. This was a period of enormous upheaval in Mexico, with the Revolution (which lasted from 1910 to 1920) still fresh in the minds of the people. Hence Obregón represented comparative stability, as well as credibility for having served with fellow revolutionaries Pancho Villa and Emiliano Zapata, though he broke with their policies in 1914. During a long clash between the Zapatistas (as Zapata’s followers were known) and Obregón’s own army, Obregón lost his right arm in a blast (the arm was later embalmed and placed in a monument to Obregón at the site of his assassination). Obregón’s election brought huge reforms to Mexico, as well as signaling the end of ten years of near-constant warfare. Education, labor relations, and Mexico-U.S. relations flourished under Obregón and these are largely the causes with which Laura aligns herself in “Flowering Judas.” However, Obregón’s government was perceived as hostile to the Catholic Church in upholding strict separation of church and state, hence Laura’s secrecy regarding her faith. It is possible that the story takes place after Obregón’s assassination and the ensuing power vacuum, as Braggioni mentions “General Ortiz,” which likely refers to Pascual Ortiz Rubio, who succeeded Obregón as President in 1930. Ortiz Rubio had been a brigadier general in the Constitutionalist Army during the Revolution, but his presidency was marked by accusations that he was merely a puppet of another ex-President Plutarco Elías Calles, so he resigned in 1932. Thus the post-Revolutionary Mexico of “Flowering Judas” is one of fragile political stability, marked by cynicism, corruption, and turmoil.

Other Books Related to Flowering Judas

Katherine Anne Porter was among the first wave of female American writers to receive critical praise, though it took time for sales to catch up. Morally complex and sharply detailed, with disillusionment as a central theme, “Flowering Judas” bears some resemblance to work by contemporaries like Willa Cather, whose story “Paul’s Case” also features an idealist’s run-in with reality to disastrous effect. Another near-contemporary, Jean Stafford, won the Pulitzer for her Collected Stories four years after Porter received the same honor for her stories. One of Stafford’s best-remembered stories is “The Interior Castle,” which deals with religion as respite from the world in a manner reminiscent of “Flowering Judas.” The Interior Castle of the title is a phrase coined by the Christian mystic St. Teresa of Avilla, and the story itself deals with a woman immobilized after a car crash who retreats inward as she lies in a bed inside a seedy hospital plagued by mismanagement and misdiagnosis. Other prominent female short story writers of the period were Eudora Welty, whose “A Worn Path” received the O. Henry award in 1941, and Flannery O’Connor who, like Porter, was raised Catholic and incorporated religious themes into stories like “A Good Man is Hard to Find.” Altogether, writers like Porter, Stafford, Welty, and O’Connor went a long way toward redefining the American short story, tackling politics while frequently featuring sensitive characters of immense interiority. Whereas previously the province of magazines, the short story collection as it is known today came about in part due to their Collected Stories, which received attention normally reserved for novels.
Key Facts about Flowering Judas
  • Full Title: Flowering Judas
  • When Written: 1930
  • Where Written: New York
  • When Published: 1930 in Hound and Horn magazine
  • Literary Period: Modernism
  • Genre: Short story, American literature, revolutionary literature
  • Setting: Mexico City, c. 1920s
  • Climax: Laura has a dream about Eugenio, who calls her a murderer.
  • Antagonist: Braggioni
  • Point of View: Third person

Extra Credit for Flowering Judas

Close Call. Porter very nearly died in the 1918 flu pandemic and spent months in the hospital, where she lost most of her hair. When it grew back, it had turned completely white and remained so for the rest of her life, making her highly recognizable in the literary world.

Tinsel Town. Porter’s novel, Ship of Fools, was made into a feature film in 1965, starring Vivien Leigh and Lee Marvin. It wasn’t Porter’s first brush with Hollywood, as she worked frequently as an extra in films beginning in 1915.