In this novella from her first collection, Flowering Judas and Other Stories, published in 1930, Katherine Anne Porter creates a totally rootless character, an American expatriate in Mexico with ties to neither the past nor the future. Laura finds no reason to recall her previous life or to think back to her former country. In the opinion of many critics, Laura herself is the Judas of the title—a title that takes its symbolism from the allusion to the biblical Judas, betrayer of Christ. Others see the tale as a Parable of the effects of revolution and renunciation, with several contenders for the role of betrayer. The dreamlike aura of the story adds to the difficulty of interpreting its meaning. The critic Charles E. May points out that Laura is named for the lovely and unattainable—and thus idealistic—heroine of Petrarch’s sonnets (710).
The story opens with Laura paying polite attention to Braggacio, revolutionary hero and the other main character in the story. The disgusting physical description of Braggacio, a coarse, gross, lustful man who embodies the sexist qualities of machismo, contrasts with Laura’s more ethereal qualities. Laura, by refusing to flee, and Braggacio, by revoking his formerly ascetic behavior, have already betrayed the ideals of the revolution. Laura rejects her three suitors, finding none of them attractive; she seems zombielike, unable to act and unable to say yes to anyone who needs her. Indeed, the narrator makes clear that the one word that characterizes Laura is no. The conflicts within Laura are readily apparent: She hides her voluptuous body beneath a shapeless and nunlike dress, she pays lip service to the revolution but sneaks into the Catholic chapel, and she facilitates the suicide of Eugenio, the imprisoned revolutionary to whom she takes poison. In the critic James G. Watson’s summation, Laura is “lovely without love, Catholic without faith, a socialist without ideals” (141).
At the end of the story, Laura dreams of the dead Eugenio, who offers her the fruit of the flowering Judas tree, also known as the redbud tree, into which Judas is supposed to have metamorphosed (Charters 154). In the end, in her refusal to participate in the literal and figurative communion of life and in her passive participation in death, Laura becomes the quintessential modern woman, the counterpart of T. S. Eliot’s Waste Land characters. Porter takes her title from Eliot’s poem “Gerontion” and clearly, in creating Laura, had his paralyzed antiheroes in mind.
Charters, Ann. Resources for Teaching Major Writers of Short Fiction. Boston: St. Martin’s Press, 1993.
May, Charles E. Flowering Judas. In Reference Guide to Short Fiction, edited by Noelle Watson. Detroit: St. James Press, 1994, 710.