The Charged Image in Katherine Anne Porter's 'Flowering Judas'

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Author: David Madden
Editor: Anna J. Sheets
Date: 1999
From: Short Story Criticism(Vol. 31)
Publisher: Gale
Document Type: Critical essay
Length: 5,406 words

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[In the essay below, Madden discusses symbolism and imagery in “Flowering Judas,” arguing that this story succeeds because it contains the “charged image” structure in which “a created, transcendent image [has] ... an organic life of its own.”]

In Writers at Work, Second Series [1965], the interviewer asked Katherine Anne Porter whether “Flowering Judas” began as a visual impression that grew into a narrative. “All my senses were very keen,” Miss Porter replied. “Things came to me through my eyes, through all my pores. Everything hit me at once....” Without words or images, her stories began to form. Then she starts thinking “directly in words. Abstractly. Then the words transform themselves into images.” On several occasions Miss Porter has testified to the potency of the real-life image that generated “Flowering Judas.”

She chose this story for inclusion in an anthology called This Is My Best (1942). Commenting on the story at that time, she said: “All the characters and episodes are based on real persons and events, but naturally, as my memory worked upon them and time passed, all assumed different shapes and colors, formed gradually around a central idea, that of self-delusion....” In the Paris Review interview some twenty years later, she elaborated:

That story had been on my mind for years, growing out of this one little thing that happened in Mexico.... Something I saw as I passed a window one evening. A girl I knew had asked me to come and sit with her, because a man was coming to see her, and she was a little afraid of him. And as I went through the courtyard, past the flowering judas tree, I glanced in the window and there she was sitting with an open book on her lap, and there was this great big fat man sitting beside her. Now Mary and I were friends, both American girls living in this revolutionary situation. She was teaching at an Indian school, and I was teaching dancing at a girls' technical school in Mexico City. And we were having a very strange time of it (1965).

. . . . .

I had a brief glimpse of her sitting with an open book in her lap, but not reading, with a fixed look of painted melancholy and confusion in her face.

The fat man I call Braggioni was playing the guitar and singing to her [1942].

. . . . .

And when I looked through that window that evening, I saw something in Mary's face, something in her pose, something in the whole situation, that set up a commotion in my mind [1965].

. . . . .

In that glimpse, no more than a flash, I though I understood, or perceived, for the first time, the desperate complications of her mind and feelings, and I knew a story; perhaps not her true story, not even the real story of the whole situation, but all the same a story that seemed symbolic truth to me. If I had not seen her face at that very moment, I should never have written...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|H1420017629