Flowers at Citrus Valley. Photo by MICAELA PENALOZA
Dandelions at Citrus Valley. Photo by MICAELA PENALOZA
Trees bloom flowers at Redlands East Valley. Photo by DENISHIA MALVEAUX
To many, the coming of a new season signifies a new beginning -- just as the lively sounds of birds chirping awake the previously still, snowy forest, human society places great value on the coming of spring. From Oscar Wilde’s poem “Flower of Love” to The Good Earth’s lotus flowers to even John Steinbeck’s chrysanthemums in East of Eden, authors around the world have found no better way to celebrate said bastion of reincarnation than through a colorful bouquet of flora. This begs the question - why is literature so enamored with flowers?
Originating from the latin word flos, the brilliant blossoming hues of fresh tulips and roses have slowly crept their way into authors’ vocabularies for millennia, their uniqueness and natural beauty lauded by all who see them. Poets like John Keats see flowers as infinite happiness - like the waters near a shore, the constant ebb of winter and flow of summer makes the arrival of euphoria easily predictable:
“Shed no tear - O, shed no tear!
The flower will bloom another year.
Weep no more - O, weep no more!
Young buds sleep in the root's white core.”
Even though Keats is very far from contemporary, his views are shared even today. For example, the flowers that main character Frank McCourt in his memoir Angela’s Ashes dreams about allows him to persevere through his reality of persecution and extreme poverty and eventually blossom into the successful man that he has since become.
When someone thinks of flowers, the connotation is generally in these positive manners: “Flowers are a gift, a token of affection,” claims junior Bryn Batin, “they truly encapsulate what it means to be happy in this time of year." “They remind me of starting over, you know?” Kaylin Choe argues, “They always come back year after year, no matter what. I love them.”
However, while the consensus of public opinion on flowers among high school students is most nearly in favor of their beauty, a distinct dichotomy appears in classic literature, one that attacks the very nature of spring: existentialism. The red poppy of the war-torn Europe, once a peacetime paragon of beauty, became a symbol of the spilled blood of the over 38 million casualties of World War One after John McCrae’s poem “In Flanders Fields” spread like wildfire throughout the globe in the early 1920s. More modern authors question the point of life through the use of flowers, especially after World War Two.
Kurt Vonnegut, author of Slaughterhouse Five, one of the best selling war novels in history, said, “I suppose that flowers, when they’re through blooming, have some sort of awareness of some purpose having been served. Flowers didn’t ask to be flowers and I didn’t ask to be me.” A rather concentrated dose of nihilism, this quote epitomizes the opinions of its author, which reverberate through his expansive oeuvre -- seen through the bloody lenses of war, life is devoid of any purpose.
The Catcher in the Rye also captures this existential crisis perfectly: “I hope to hell when I do die somebody has sense enough to just dump me in the river or something. Anything except sticking me in a … cemetery. People coming and putting a bunch of flowers on your stomach on Sunday, and all that crap. Who wants flowers when you’re dead? Nobody.”
This view completely clashes with Keats’: what’s the point of a new beginning if you’re dead on arrival?
Flowers in literature are both despair’s doorway and heaven’s highway, the key to eternal salvation and the bottomless pit of pointlessness. This disparity in attitudes toward the lowly blossom is what makes them so appealing to literary geniuses of every era, and is what drives modern artists to use them as well. Authors choose every single element of their work with great thoughtfulness, and with the amount of symbolism that flora contains, it’s almost certain they were included for a very specific reason. So, when you happen to come across flowers while reading, just think: Why?