- The hidden use of flower language in storytelling
THE LANGUAGE of flowers, also known as floriography, is a messaging method that presents hidden meanings by linking specific significance to certain flower types. Gifting flowers is a common practice for events like weddings and funerals, to convey a myriad of meanings such as love, appreciation, and even pain. However, the tradition of flower language is not limited there as it spreads throughout human culture via works of storytelling. Plants were used in literature as far back as the Greek Mythology tales and the Hebrew Bible, and the tradition of flower language has further developed worldwide over the ages. In books, movies, and animation, flowers are at times deliberately placed within story elements such as the character’s names and narrative devices. With their amazing aroma and beauty, flowers can similarly imply special messages and narrative points within storytelling.
The Harry Potter series
J.K. Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter franchise, frequently introduces the element of flower language in her writing, such as the wands of wizards having deeper thematic meanings according to their wood material. However, her most famous use of flower language would be the first words Professor Severus Snape says to Harry Potter in the first book, “Potter! What would I get if I added powdered root of asphodel to an infusion of wormwood?” Naturally, this seems nothing more than a mere snarky question from the unlikable potions master, designed to pick on our innocent young wizard. However, there is a heartbreaking backstory behind this single line. The mixture of asphodel, a type of lily that means “my regrets follow you to the grave” and wormwood, which means “absence,” symbolizes that Snape mourned the death of Harry’s mother, also named Lily, and this was where his true loyalties lay until the end*. Even back in the first book when Snape was suspected to be either a villain or an unlikable character, the use of flowers had foreshadowed a deeper meaning to his motive in the entire series.
The Great Gatsby
In both F. Scott Fitzgerald’s original novel and its movie adaptation, the most prominent use of flower language is through the name of Jay Gatsby’s love interest, Daisy Buchannan. The beautiful aristocratic woman that Gatsby adores throughout both the film and novel bears the name of a dainty flower that means humbled beauty and purity of heart.** However, her character is one of stark contrast, as she takes a very materialistic approach to life and believes that money will solve everything. In the end, Daisy’s greed and desire for wealth spark the events that cause Gatsby’s death, despite his sentimental love for her. Even Myrtle Wilson, the mistress of Daisy’s husband Tom, was named after the myrtle flower, which traditionally represented love and immortality even back in Greek Mythology. In contrast to Daisy’s bright and pure namesake, Myrtle Wilson stood for Tom’s disloyal love as well as mortality through her accidental death at the hand of Daisy; Myrtle’s character ironically flips the myrtle flower’s symbolism. Overall, Fitzgerald uses flowers in “The Great Gatsby” to ironically juxtapose the characters’ personalities.
The Hunger Games series
Suzanne Collins’ dystopian novel includes a myriad of flower language, ranging from actual blossoms to character names and are even placed within song lyrics. Contrasting with the technological oppression of the Capitol, the protagonists use flowers as symbols of hope. For instance, the protagonist Katniss Everdeen decorates 12-year-old Rue’s grave with wildflowers when she is killed during the Hunger Game tournament. The flower rue meaning severe regret and innocence implies Katniss’ severe regret for her innocent death. The members of District 12 are also explained to traditionally bear the botanical names of flowers, which in turn, thematically represents their characters. Collins named Katniss after the plant sagittaria (katniss), which comes from the zodiac name Sagittarius the Archer, a pivotal link to Katniss’ choice of weapon.
In contrast, the antagonist President Snow always has a white rose placed on him as a symbol of authoritative and deceptive love, a reverse sign to the protagonists. Katniss’ sister, Primrose Everdeen, also shares her name with a type of rose, yet its symbolism differs significantly to Snow’s. The evening primrose represents a pure and innocent type of love that contrasts with Snow’s gaudy rose, and her eventual death additionally symbolizes the death of innocence and is a turning point in Katniss’ narrative. The botanical names in “The Hunger Games” reinforce the series’ themes of truthfulness and resistance that conflicts with oppression.
Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
Critics had celebrated Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s attention-gathering 2014 film’s unique use of themes and motifs. Flowers were among its myriad of motifs, most notably with the protagonist Riggan Thomson’s preferred lilac flower. Riggan is a retired actor who struggles to make it as a playwright, and the film’s runtime consists of his identity-oriented and existential endeavors. At the beginning of the film, he struggles with his relationship with his daughter, and the audience realizes this when she tries to gift him red roses, the very flower that he hates. Red roses symbolize beauty, but it also stands for authority and vanity, characteristics which Riggan strives to abandon. Riggan’s preference for lilac represents pure love as a stark contrast to the vanity roses symbolize, and this is the flower the daughter gives him after their relationship improves. After Riggan shoots his nose off in a suicide attempt while performing his play, he can no longer smell the flower he loves dearly. Despite mending relationships with his daughter and receiving critical acclaim for his play, Riggan’s inability to enjoy the scent of the lilacs symbolizes how he feels disconnected with his pure self. The lilac flower in Birdman serves as both a symbol of Riggan’s yearning for purity and harbinger of his tragic ending.
Anohana: The Flower We Saw That Day
The story of the Japanese animation series Anohana, created by director Nagai Tatsuyuki, revolves around six childhood friends who drift apart after the accidental death of their childhood friend, Menma. As a ghost, Menma appears five years after the accident to reunite the group so that she may move on into the afterlife. As the show’s title implies, the five teenagers’ journey to send off their childhood friend centers around a particular type of flower; the daisy fleabane, which appears before the openings in every episode, and symbolizes reconciliation in Japan’s traditional flower language. After Menma eventually moves on into the afterlife, the daisy fleabane that was shown withering at the beginning of the series blooms into a lively flower as the teens had rekindle their friendship. Also, the scene displays a new bloom of flowers that appear in the spot where Menma moved on to the afterlife: blue forget-me-nots. These two flowers are used to symbolize two messages; that the group of friends had reconciled after Menma’s death, but that they shall never forget her. The placement of flowers in Anohana provides symbolism to mended friendships and a tear-inducing goodbye.
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Much like the scent they give off, the messages flowers have within storytelling tend to be far more of a subtle method than a direct one. Whether it be Snape’s hidden love or Riggan’s hope for purity, the language of flowers is the hidden gem for authors to develop their stories.
Cho Seung-wan firstname.lastname@example.org
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