I found it interesting in Paradiso how Dante uses a white rose to symbolize the highest “level” of Paradise where the most blessed reside. It struck me at first as an odd comparison because, at least in my experiences, white roses tend to be “funeral roses” associated with death and loss. After making this connection, I decided to do some quick research on exactly why white rose appear at funerals.
One site that I found explained the symbolism behind many different colors of roses in a very simple chart form. White roses are described as symbolizing purity, innocence, reverence, and Heavenly, among others. Reverence (deep respect for someone) and humility are the reason why these roses are often selected to be used at funerals (this link explains funeral flowers and their different meanings). I was interested that the website noted that white roses are associated with brides as well. Personally, I have never seen a bride carry white roses but upon further inspection of the chart, I observed that red and white roses (an arrangement that I have seen at weddings) together signify unity and red, alone, stands for romantic love and beauty.
The white rose stood out to me so much in Paradiso because we have seen white roses previously in Jazz. Although Jazz is supposed to be more connected with Purgatorio, I still thought the two uses of white roses was significant. Dante the poet described the Pilgrim witnessing the most Holy place, “So now, appearing to me in the form of a white rose was Heaven’s sacred host, those whom with His own blood Christ made His bride while the other host…descended all at once on that great bloom of precious petals, and then flew back up to where its source of love forever dwells” (365). The white rose in this section stands for purity and the Heavenly. It is the place where only a few select people, of all of the blessed and saved, are able to reside. Also, the connection to the bride implies “Happy Love” as mentioned on the website. Those who are in the rose showed an unending and unquestioning love for God and thus were rewarded.
In Jazz, we see white roses at the funeral of Alice’s husband. The husband’s mistress was “laying white roses on the coffin, taking away one the color of her dress” (86). The white roses in this scene are being used as irony. The mistress and the husband were impure. From this symbolism of rose color, the mistress could be trying to make up for their sins by “gifting” him with some form of purity or innocence to take with him. An interesting note is that white roses also stand for silence and secrecy. The mistress could be genuinely placing these roses on the coffin to symbolize their affair, even though it was not secret because Alice found out.
The use of white roses in Paradiso and Jazz are significant because of the different interpretations that could be gathered from one symbol. Toni Morrison’s use of the flower as purity but also, potentially secrecy, is an ironic twist on Dante’s representation. I find it interesting that the symbolic nature of the white rose, and other colors of roses, has remained consistent over many centuries.