It is an undisputedly common occurrence throughout many literary and cultural mediums to employ certain elements of the decrepit and dreadful in order to convey a message or describe in detail a metaphor. This is often done so that the topic of discussion will remain singed within the reader or viewer not unlike the white-hot intensity of a ghost chili pepper. While The Blood of Flowers by Anita Amirrezvani may not be the first book that comes to mind on the subject of shock value, there is one particular scene that utilizes grotesque imagery in order to display a sense of fear from the story’s unnamed protagonist: That night I dreamed that the butcher had led me into a small, dark room and broke all my bones with his thick hands. He put me on display on one of his bloody hooks, naked, and when someone wanted meat, he carved me while I was still alive. I screamed and screamed in horror… (324)
To provide some context, our main character, who is female, is in dire straits and encounters a local butcher to whom she is ready to sell her body in exchange for some meat. Upon her return home, the above passage describes a vicious nightmare had by our main character in regards to her experience. What caught my eye about this piece in particular was the implementation of butchering as a storytelling mechanic to describe a disturbingly ravishing nightmare about vulnerability and uncomfortable sexual situations. This is referred to throughout literature as symbolism, which is commonly described as the association of symbols with ideas.
A more specific instance of symbolism in the above passage occurs when our main character is describing being put “…on one of [the butcher’s] bloody hooks, naked…” (Anmirrezvani 324). Here Amirrezvani is attempting to connect an unsound sense of vulnerability with the rawness and malleability that comes in the form of a piece of meat. Our lead character see herself as not much more than that considering she’s left hopeless, destitute, and hung on a hook for a vile man to do with whatever he wishes. Sociologists would refer to this specific artifice as an instance of looking-glass self theory, which insinuates that we base our opinion of ourselves on the perception of others. Further symbolism can be found in the form of our lead character detailing how “…when someone wanted meat, [the butcher] carved [her] while [she] was still alive” (Amirrezvani 324). The act of carving meat could perhaps be perceived as the societal and sexual carving away of one’s dignity for the sake of another’s gratification by way of a malevolent man.
Perhaps what intrigues me the most about this passage is how Amirrezvani incorporates a butcher both within the nightmare passage as well as the surrounding text. My best guess would be that such a character would be incorporated as butchers are commonly portrayed in an almost beastly manner throughout literature, movies, and so forth. The domineering presence of a butcher should invoke within the reader a sense of intimidation much like the way one typically feels upon being pulled over by a police officer. As a longtime aficionado of horror movies and novels, the concept of butchers as brutal villains is a concept with which I am confidently familiar.
With mentions of exploitative brutality aside, The Blood of Flowers goes considerably deeper than mere shock value. Referring back to my earlier mention of butchering and the nightmare scene being used as a grisly metaphor for fear of lecherous intent, I don’t see how it would be too far-fetched for the reader to assume the butcher as a personification of anxiety. Our character describes the butcher as having “…broke all [her] bones with his thick hands” (Amirrezvani 324). On the surface, this may read as merely the gory details of a nightmare best forgotten. However, digging a little deeper might reveal that perhaps having all of one’s bones broken draws brutal comparison to the paralytic feeling one endures in the midst of a bout with anxiety. This aforementioned anxiety is touched on briefly where “If [the character] eluded the butcher, he would come…and degrade [her] in front of everyone” (Amirrezvani 323). Here our character has made a deal with the butcher that promises sexual favors in exchange for meat, however she now harbors doubt. Perhaps her doubt manifests itself as the broken bones she experiences within her nightmare. Whatever the case, the fact that a butcher is detailed in The Blood of Flowers as a butcher of safe thoughts and dignity as well as a mere butcher of meats is genuinely provocative and should cause the reader to dig below the surface of conventional portrayal.
Sometimes elements of brutality are inserted into stories for the simple sake of shock value and filling the reader with a cringe-worthy sense of disgust. Other times, such as in the case of The Blood of Flowers, this aforementioned brutal imagery is utilized to simultaneously imprint upon the reader while conceivably causing them to think outside the box. Anita Amirrezvani has designed a beautiful disaster of a nightmare scene ripe with possibilities for interpretation. We have a girl desperate enough for food to resort to selling her body to barter and a butcher who is shown as lecherous within the story and barbaric within the nightmare. In order to garner a clearer understanding of literature and culture, one must examine a story from multiple perspectives and apply appropriate terms for further clarification. I would hope that my writing here contributes to this understanding by providing a concise examination and discussion of the use of macabre imagery as a storytelling mechanic in addition to the application of related literary and sociological terminology.
Amirrezvani, Anita. The Blood of Flowers. USA: Back Bay, 2007. Print.