The Language of Flowers

During one class period this week, we talked about flowers. We noted that Rose Dear and Violet both have flower names; Dr. Beth pointed out the possibility of the presence of plant symbolism. I decided to take a further look into this.

Violets of different colors have different meanings:

Blue: Love, Faithfulness
White: Candor, Innocence
Yellow: Rural happiness

Roses exist in an even greater variety (which you can leaf through here), but the primary meaning is “beauty.” In terms of color:

Red: Love
Purple: Enchantment
Yellow: Forgive and Forget, Jealousy, Infidelity, Happiness, Affection, Joy
White: I am worthy of you
Pink: Friendship, Grace, Admiration

These two familial women and their thematic similarity of names are in stark contrast with Dorcas, whose name Brianne explored in depth. In short, Dorcas’ name means “gazelle.” In one respect, this is interesting because gazelles eat plants, which implies some sort of taking that Dorcas would enact on Violet. Also, since gazelles are a species of antelopes, I also looked into the etymology of “antelope,” which stems from the Greek antholops. If this is broken down into the Greek anthos and ops, it would mean “flower-eye.” This provides an interesting dynamic between the flower names and Dorcas’ animal name.

In the most recent section of reading in Jazz, we got to see into Joe Trace’s backstory. Joe recounts his “tracking” of Dorcas and his process of wooing her. In a scene where Joe describes meeting Dorcas at a place he refers to as “the very spot,” a place he is returning to, he mentions a few specific flowers (134). I was curious as to their significance and so I delved into research. In this section, he names “rose of Sharon,” which signifies being “consumed by love.” He also mentions lilacs and tulips:

Lilacs, purple: first emotions of love
Lilacs, white: majesty, purity, innocence

These both seem more lighthearted than the outcome of Joe and Dorcas’ romance. His inclusion of tulips, though, interested me more:

Yellow: Hopeless love
Red: Declaration of love
All Colors: Love and Fame
Striped: Beautiful eyes

Is this Morrison giving some sort of churned foreshadowing, since we already know what happens to Dorcas in the end? Those “beautiful eyes” circle back to the description of Dorcas’ eyes earlier in the book and this image of “doe eyes” that we have seen to repeat in the Morrison novels we have read so far.

But to draw back for a moment to violets, I’d like to think about Yellow. Rural happiness. We know that Joe and Violet moved to the City from a rural town in Vesper County. It is here in this city that their relationship has been falling apart. There are not as many flowers in the City, surely, as there are in a rural town. I wonder, then, if Morrison is making a statement about cities versus rural towns through the language of flowers. And if the move itself had any bearing on Joe and Violet’s relationship, separate from Dorcas. Certainly, though, I will be attuned to the presence of flowers for the rest of Jazz.

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