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Literature / Flowers in the Attic

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Such wonderful children. Such a beautiful mother. Such a lovely house. Such endless terror!note 

It is so appropriate to color hope yellow, like that sun we seldom saw. And as I begin to copy from the old memorandum journals that I kept for so long, a title comes as if inspired. Open the Window and Stand in the Sunshine. Yet, I hesitate to name our story that. For I think of us more as flowers in the attic. Paper flowers. Born so brightly colored, and fading duller through all those long, grim, dreary, nightmarish days when we were held prisoners of hope, and kept captives by greed. But, we were never to color even one of our paper blossoms yellow.

Flowers in the Attic is a novel by V. C. Andrews first published in 1979. The first in the Dollanganger Series.

A lurid tale of lies, secrets, betrayal, and child abuse, Flowers in the Attic is the story of Cathy Dollanganger, her older brother Christopher, and their younger siblings Carrie and Cory. Following the death of their father, their mother Corrine takes her children to live with their rich grandparents, who had previously disowned her for Dating What Daddy Hates. Now her father is dying, and Corrine is determined to get back into his good graces in time to inherit his estate. What the children do not know until they arrive is that their grandfather does not know they exist, and that their mother must keep them a secret until she can break the news to her father.

Upon arrival at Foxworth Hall, the four children are locked in one room under the care of their grandmother, who soon reveals the shocking truth about their mother's disinheritance. All too quickly, the children learn that they will be forced to remain in the attic until their grandfather dies. But as the wait drags from weeks to years, Cathy realizes that their only chance to survive is to escape.


Tropes associated with the novel include:

  • Abusive Parents:
    • The Grandmother, who not only beats and starves her grandchildren, but is the one called upon to whip her adult daughter Corrine.
    • Later, Corrine becomes abusive toward her own children.
  • Affectionate Nickname:
    • Christopher, Sr. refers to his children as his four little buttercups, in reference to their blond hair. Meanwhile the neighborhood refers to the entire Dollanganger clan as "the Dresden Dolls," since they resemble a set of perfect porcelain figurines.
    • Chris half-teasingly, half-affectionately, refers to his sister as "my lady Cath-er-ine," playing up their pretend roles as a princess in a tower and the white knight who will rescue her.
  • All for Nothing: Corrine's efforts to get back into her father's good graces are rendered moot with the revelation that she'll still be disinherited if it turns out that she had children from her first marriage. And when he finally dies, an addendum to his will reaffirms this.
  • Alliterative Family: The Dollangangers all have names that start with a C: Christopher, Corrine, Christopher Jr, Cathy, Cory and Carrie.
  • Angsty Surviving Twin: Carrie, who goes completely mute after her twin dies. She remains so until the end of the book, and never fully recovers.
  • Armor-Piercing Response: Of the Insult Backfire flavor:
    Grandmother: Did you read a page from the Bible yesterday?
    Chris: No, we don't read a page—we read chapters. If you consider reading the Bible a form of punishment, then forget it. We find it fascinating reading. It's bloodier and lustier than any movie we ever saw, and talks more about sin than any book we ever read.
  • Artistic License – Biology:
    • Arsenic does not work the way the book claims it does.
    • Sunlight deprivation would not produce the dramatic effects seen in the twins. Moreover, the recovery rates for diseases caused by lack of sunlight and malnutrition are very positive once the person returns to regular sunlight and a healthy diet—especially when the person is as young as the twins.
    • The only reason that Cathy and Chris are not as stunted as their younger siblings is supposedly because they get out on the roof to sunbathe, while the twins are too afraid of the roof to go out... but unless Cathy and Chris were spending every daylight hour on the roof, they should still be in worse condition than the twins and take longer to recover from their vitamin deficiencies.
    • All of the children are regularly malnourished, undernourished, and in one instance starved for nearly two weeks. But Cathy spends hours on end practicing ballet, a high-intensity exercise that can burn 300+ calories per hour. She should be more than merely thin; she should be too weak to function. (Cathy herself points out how much dancers must eat to avoid being "skin and bones" but doesn't otherwise seem to realize the connection between her caloric input and her physical output, while Future Medical Doctor Christopher never attempts to either warn Cathy about the health risks or to stop her from burning calories he knows she can't afford to lose.)
  • Artistic License – Law : Yeah, pretty sure someone dead can't dictate whether or not the recipient of their estate has or doesn't have children.
  • As the Good Book Says...: Used by the Grandmother in her sermons and lectures, proclaiming the children the "Devil's Spawn."
  • Author Avatar: Andrews acknowledged that, while the book's storyline wasn't at all autobiographical, Cathy was very much based on her younger self, as a Naïve Everygirl with a love of reading. Andrews flat-out told acquaintances that "Cathy is me."
  • Beauty Equals Goodness:
    • Initially played straight with the Dollanganger family, but eventually subverted as the family breaks down.
    • Cathy believes this early on, refusing to believe Oliva was once beautiful after seeing how cruel she is. For better or worse she starts realizing how manipulative beauty can be through Corrine.
  • Beauty Is Never Tarnished:
    • Corrine is whipped on her first night back in the house and has nasty cuts on her back. But pretty soon there is mention of her playing tennis, and wearing strapless dresses. So she must heal pretty fast!
    • Even after years of malnourishment and lack of sunlight, Cathy remains eerily beautiful. Even when half of her hair falls out after the tarring, what's left is even more delicate and golden.
    • It's also pointed out that in spite of living in the same undernourished confinement, the twins are still adorable and doll-like and Chris is a buff blond Adonis.
  • Bedsheet Ladder: Cathy chooses this as the kids' escape plan if a fire should start. They also use it to sneak out for a swim.
  • Berserk Button: Cory doesn't take it well when his twin sister is threatened.
  • Big Bad Duumvirate: The grandmother is physically and emotionally abusive to the kids...but it's Corrine who actually tries to murder them.
  • Big Fancy House: Foxworth Hall is enormous to the point of labyrinthine and every detail we hear about it is the height of luxury—silk wallpaper, marble staircases. Even the closed-off room the kids call home is filled with antique furniture and rugs.
  • Big, Screwed-Up Family: The Foxworths are working on three generations of sexual abuse, incest, greed, religious fundamentalism, child abuse, lies, blackmail, and murder... with more to come!
  • Broke Episode: Corrine is terrible with money, and has run up her credit cards to the point where once her husband's income is gone, everything the family has—including their home—is repossessed. While any normal person would get a job, Corrine isn't cut out for any type of work, so she has to marry rich or get back in her family's good graces.
  • Broken Pedestal: Corrine to Chris after he realizes that she's completely abandoned them and their grandfather has been dead almost a year and she's been lying to them for months
  • Brother–Sister Incest: Chris and Cathy, although the story deliberately muddies the waters on Cathy's consent.
  • Building of Adventure: Except for the beginning and ending, the entire book takes place in the three rooms the children are allotted: a bedroom, bathroom, and attic.
  • The Cake Is a Lie: Corinne keeps promising her children that they will only have to stay in the attic until their grandfather finally dies, stringing them along with promises of how wonderful their lives will be after. When the children have been in the attic for nearly three years, Chris finds out that their grandfather has been dead for nearly a year, and Corinne never intended to let them out. Alive, that is—those powdered donuts she was giving them every day were laced with tiny doses of arsenic powder.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The old stained, smelly mattress in the attic. If a mattress is stated to exist early on, someone must use it before the story is over.
  • Conditioned to Accept Horror: The poor twins. During one of the darkest points of their imprisonment, when starved to the point where Chris slits his wrist to provide them nourishment:
    The two of them, who wouldn’t eat anything lumpy, bumpy, grainy, too tough, too stringy, or just plain “funny looking,” drank of their older brother’s blood and stared up at him with dull, wide, accepting eyes.
  • Creepy Twins: As time passes and Cory and Carrie get sicker, they become more and more like this.
  • Daddy's Girl:
    • Cathy, whose father once promised that he would always love Cathy just a smidge more than any of his other children. When he dies, Cathy is the child who takes his death the hardest.
    • Corrine was once her father's princess. When she returns as an adult, he lavishes her with gifts and a large allowance (though it's ambiguous how nice he really is behind the scenes).
  • Dances and Balls: The lavish Christmas party to welcome Corrine back into "honorable" society.
  • Dark Secret: This family is made of them. Perhaps the most interesting case is the children themselves as an Inverted Trope:
    He came closer to whisper in a sly and conspiratorial stage whisper, "I'll be back soon, my fair beauty, and when I'm back, I shall bring with me all the dark and mysterious secrets of this huge, huge, old, old house." And suddenly, he caught me by surprise, and swooped to plant a kiss on my cheek.
    Secrets? And he said I was given to exaggerations! What was the matter with him? Didn't he know that we were the secrets?
  • Dead All Along: By the time the children escape from the attic, their grandfather has been dead for almost a year.
  • Dedication: The book is dedicated to V.C. Andrews' mother.
  • Died on Their Birthday: At the beginning of the story, Chris Sr. is killed in a car crash while driving to his 36th birthday party.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: Just about everything on the grandmother's list of rules, including looking at a member of the opposite sex, is punishable by a beating.
    • When Cathy refuses to cut her hair, the grandmother cuts off food for all the children for over ten days.
    • When Chris sneaks out of the room to explore, Corrine threatens to whip him, Cathy, and the twins.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: As has been pointed out many times, the plot is like a Southern Gothic riff on the story of Anne Frank, which would put the Foxworths into A Nazi by Any Other Name territory.
  • Don't Split Us Up: One of the principal reasons Cathy, Chris, and Carrie don't go to the authorities after escaping the attic is the fear of this.
  • Dramatically Missing the Point: Cathy is so upset over their mother's abandonment that she doesn't hear Chris when he tells her that their grandfather has been dead almost a year. She is then so happy to hear this that she completely forgets how angry she is at their mother and can only think of how wonderful it is that they can now be free, before suddenly realizing that their mother has been lying to them all this time and never intended to let them out.
  • Everyone Calls Him "Barkeep": Everyone calls the Grandmother "The Grandmother," including her daughter (who at most amends it to "your grandmother"). Her name's revealed to be Olivia in the next book.
  • Even Evil Has Standards:
    • Chris doesn't believe that the grandmother was the one that poisoned them, calling her evil but pointing out that technically, she warned them all along. It's revealed later in the book that he's right: it's their mother poisoning them.
    • It's also the grandmother who quietly, but firmly declares in response to Cathy's rant at her mother, "The girl is right, Corinne. [Cory] must go to a hospital."
  • Evil Matriarch: The Grandmother's become this since her husband became too ill to be seen in public. Not only does she dominate her daughter and grandchildren, but she lords it over the servants, too, according to their gossip.
  • Face–Heel Turn: Corrine turns from loving mother to uncaring shrew.
  • Fallen Princess: Deconstructed Trope. Corrine comes from vast wealth and gave it all up to marry her husband, but once he's dead she won't work and returns to her family, hoping to be rich again. She ends up trying to kill off her own children just to get her inheritance.
  • Fauxshadow: Several times while in the attic Cathy expresses concern about what would happen to them if a fire ever broke out in Foxworth Hall. Eventually, Chris and Cathy make a Bedsheet Ladder to help them if such a thing ever does happen. It doesn't. The sequel however...
  • Fictional Document: All of the books they read in the attic are real books, with one exception: the story about Raymond, Lily, and the purple grass—probably. The book's name is not mentioned, but the author is: T.M. Ellis. There was a real Victorian novelist and poet named Thomas Mullett Ellis who published books under the name T.M. Ellis. Not much is known about him, and finding his books these days is difficult, so it's at least possible that he did actually write a story that matches the one described.
  • Foreshadowing: The kids' baby-sitter jokes about Christopher Sr. and Corrine saying they look more like siblings than husband and wife.
  • Four-Temperament Ensemble: The four Dollanganger kids.
    • Cathy: A self-described Melancholic pessimist who always suspects the worst of things, is frequently grumpy and moody, and is the most passionate and romantic-minded of the group.
    • Chris: The sociable, know-it-all Sanguine who takes charge of the small group, makes all the important decisions, and keeps things under control.
    • Cory: A passive, easy-going, and thoughtful Phlegmatic who rarely causes trouble.
    • Carrie: A Choleric little girl who assertively speaks for both herself and Cory, has very strong and unchangeable likes and dislikes, and throws screaming temper tantrums, she's also outgoing, chatty, and self-assured.
  • The Fundamentalist: The Grandmother attempts to drill the notion of sin and guilt into the children's skulls by insisting that God is always watching them even when she can't. She also clearly believes that God punishes children for their parents' sins—a very Old Testament mindset.
  • Generation Xerox: Chris and Cathy not only resemble their parents physically and in temperament (Chris is a loving optimist, just like their father, while Cathy can be as vain and self-involved as their mother), they find themselves unconsciously taking on their parents' roles with the twins.
  • The Ghost: Malcolm, Corrine's father, who is only seen once, at a great distance, yet his presence overshadows every action in the book.
  • Hair of Gold, Heart of Gold / Innocent Blue Eyes: Initially played straight with the Dollanganger family, but eventually subverted as the family breaks down.
  • He Will Not Cry, so I Cry for Him: Screaming rather than crying—although actually, there might be some crying going on too. When the grandmother whips Chris, he stubbornly remains silent in an act of defiance. Cathy, on the other hand, screams throughout the whole thing. Afterward, Chris thanks Cathy for it, saying it helped him endure the pain and not cry out himself.
    Chris: When she was lashing me, I heard you screaming—and I didn't have to. You did it for me, Cathy, and it helped; I didn't feel any pain but yours.
  • Heroic BSoD: Having sneaked out one last time to steal as much money as possible, Chris returns to the room in this state, having learned that their mother has completely abandoned them (her rooms are empty) and their grandfather has been dead almost a year and their mother has been lying to them for months.
  • Hulk Speak: Cory and Carrie don't talk good 'cause Momma don't like them no more.
  • Hypocrite: The Grandmother uses her fundamentalist faith as an excuse to starve, abuse, lie, blackmail, and commit outright murder, among other things. It is also mentioned that the grandfather thinks he is entitled to do whatever he pleases because he's been regularly funding a church.
  • I Want My Mommy!: In certain moments, the twins cry out for their real mother.
  • Infant Sibling Jealousy: Cathy is wildly jealous when she finds out her mother is pregnant, and that she's going to have a new little sibling who will displace her as "the baby of the family." She gets over it soon enough after they're actually born, and before long she adores Cory and Carrie.
  • In the Blood: The Grandmother believes incest runs in the Dollanganger family. On one hand, it's a Self-Fulfilling Prophecy, but on the other hand, she's not wrong.
  • Incest Subtext: The textual incest only the tip of the iceberg. Basically every parent-child relationship the story takes a look at has some undertones (or overtones).
    • It's basically textual that Christopher is sexually attracted to—or at least very confused by—his mother Corrine. Corrine definitely plays into it a bit, what with her spinning around in negligees and constantly cradling him to her breast, and—in one very memorable moment—kissing him full on the lips. From Corrine's end, is this just more of her general need for male attention? Is she trying to keep Chris wrapped around her little finger? Is there some actual attraction because her son looks so much like her late husband?
    • This is cut short by Chris Sr.'s death, but him and his daughter Cathy have undertones to their relationship as well. Cathy often has a sense of competing with her mother for her father's attention.
      Chris Sr.: [giving Cathy a little ring] And with this ring, I do vow to forever love my Cathy just a little bit more than any other daughter [I might have]—as long as she never says that to anyone but herself.
    • Corrine and her father Malcolm certainly give off this impression (which is impressive considering we never really see them interact on-page). Their relationship—prior to Corrine's exile—was both possessive and adoring.
      Corrine: My father adored me when I was young. He wanted to keep me always for himself. He never wanted me to marry anyone. I recall when I was only twelve, he said he'd leave me his entire estate if I stayed with him until he died of old age.
  • Insufferable Genius: Christopher wants to be a doctor, which apparently involves knowing everything there is to know about everything in the world. It gets to the point where Cathy snaps and screams at him.
  • Intimate Haircut: Cathy gives Chris one, all the while thinking to herself how handsome her brother really is.
  • Ironic Echo: Several months after they're imprisoned in the attic, the twins become ill. Corrine is frantic with worry, tends to them, and insists on taking them to a doctor. The grandmother snaps that's she's talking nonsense and insists that they'll be fine. Three years later, Corrine is coldly unmoved by Cory's sickness and it's the grandmother who firmly declares that he needs to go to the hospital.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: While hitting Christopher and threatening to whip him was completely uncalled for, Corrine is rightfully angry with Christopher for not returning to the attic after allowing them to hide and watch the Christmas party for a while, and instead exploring the house where he could easily be caught.
  • Karma Houdini: None of the people responsible for the children's imprisonment and Cory's death receive any punishment.
  • Kick the Dog: Grandmother silently rejecting the Christmas present that the four children worked so hard to make for her. When she sees it, she walks away without a word and closes the door.
  • Knitting Pregnancy Announcement: Corrie tells her Cathy and Christopher that she's pregnant with the twins while knitting a little baby sweater.
  • Loser Son of Loser Dad: The Grandmother has a particular hatred for Chris Jr., believing he is just as bad as his dead father, of whom he's almost a carbon copy physically.
  • Mama Bear: Cathy becomes one as she gradually turns into a surrogate mother to the twins, ultimately culminating in lashing out at her real mother for not taking the dying Cory to a hospital.
  • Meaningful Echo: Early in the story, Cathy tells Chris that she'll respect him when pigs fly.
    Chris: Speak respectfully when you speak to me.
    Cathy: La-dee-da, and ho-ho-ho! The day I speak respectfully to you, Christopher, will be the day you earn my respect—and that will be the day you stand twelve feet high, and the moon is at noon, and a blizzard blows in a unicorn ridden by a gallant knight wearing pure white shining armor, with a green dragon's head perched on the point of his lance!
Later—when things are getting flirty—it is repeated, this time in the context of them playing at Chivalric Romance, where they re-frame it as something of an Engagement Challenge, perhaps in the vein of No Man of Woman Born.
Cathy: Christopher, all you need is a white horse and a shield.
Chris: No, a unicorn, and a lance with a green dragon's head upon its point, and back I'll gallop in my shining white armor while the blizzard blows in the month of August and the sun is mid-sky, and when I dismount you'll be looking up at someone who stands twelve feet high, so speak respectfully when you speak to me, my lady Cath-er-ine.
Cathy: Yes, my lord. Go forth and slay yonder dragon—but take not overlong, for I could be undone by all that menaces me and mine in this stone-cold castle, where all the drawbridges are up, and the portcullises are down.
  • Meaningful Name: The similarity of Dollanganger to Doppelgänger can't be a coincidence, but the exact symbolic meaning of it can be interpreted in several ways, particularly related to the theme of children echoing the behavior of their parents. Or it might just be Faux Symbolism.
  • Momma's Boy: Christopher. He refuses to admit that Corrine has grown cold to them and continues to believe that she will free them after the grandfather dies right up until the moment he realizes that their grandfather has been dead for months and that Corrine has remarried and left the house for good.
  • Morality Chain Beyond the Grave: Cathy has a moment of realizing she loves Chris, and that incest with him would be a great way to strike back at her mother and grandparents—but their dad is in heaven watching over them, and that makes her feel ashamed enough to not go for it. Until it happens.
  • Moustache de Plume: Chris and Cathy read a romance by the author T. M. Ellis. Chris assumes that as the author of a romance novel, T. M. Ellis was a woman. Inverted when Cathy argues that T. M. Ellis could just as easily be a man.note  Cathy also converses on this trope in general.
    Chris: I'll bet you a hundred to one a woman wrote that junky romantic trash!
    Cathy: T. M. Ellis could very well have been a man! Though I doubt any woman writer in the nineteenth century had much chance of being published, unless she used her initials, or a man's name And why is it all men think everything a woman writes is trivial or trashy—or just plain silly drivel? Don't men have romantic notions? Don't men dream of finding the perfect love? And it seems to me, that Raymond was far more mushy-minded than Lily!
    • The meta layer of this is interesting. Flowers itself was also published under Only Known by Initials Moustache de Plume "V.C. Andrews" thanks to the publisher. In an interview, Virginia Andrews says she didn't like this pen name—but she also didn't know it was going to happen until very late in the publishing process, which would've been well after this scene was written.
  • Moving the Goalposts: Corrine, with regards to when the children can leave the attic. First she tells them it will only be for a night, then a few days, then as soon as she gets back into her father's good graces, before finally admitting that not until her father dies will they be allowed to come out. But between how long this is taking and Corrine's growing detachment from her children, the fed up Cathy and Chris begin making plans to escape.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Chris' immediate reaction to realizing he'd just raped his sister. Cathy tries to assuage his guilt and doesn't hold anything against him but he is clearly unconvinced and tormented by guilt ever after.
    Chris: I swear there won't be another time no matter what! I'll castrate myself before I'll let it happen again! Don't hate me, Cathy, please don't hate me. I didn't mean to rape you, I swear to God.
  • Never My Fault: There's an incident in the attic where Cathy, having entered puberty, strips down to see her body for herself. And then Chris admires her as well. When Cathy reaches for her dress, Chris tells her not to, and by the time they're aware that Olivia's coming, Cathy doesn't have enough time to put her dress on. Olivia catches them, goes to get scissors to cut Cathy's hair... and then Chris asks Cathy why she was stripped down as though he wasn't the one who prevented her from dressing sooner.
  • No Periods, Period: Subverted, in that it's actually used to demonstrate Corrine's growing disconnect from her kids (see Not Allowed to Grow Up below). She actually has to be reminded that Cathy is now a teenager who will probably be getting her period any day now. Cathy's periods are also noted as being extremely irregular due to malnutrition. This all culminates in a Chekhov's Boomerang in a later book.
  • Not Allowed to Grow Up:
    • Corrine may be in denial of just how long her children have been locked up, as she continues to buy them games and books not only meant for much younger children, but that they already own. In particular, she keeps buying Cathy clothing meant for younger girls without realizing that Cathy has sprouted breasts and can no longer fit into them, as well as continually forgetting to buy Cathy bras no matter how many times she asks her for them.
    • Conversely, Corrine has not noticed how the twins have failed to grow up—they're still the same size as when they first came to the attic.
  • Of Corset Hurts: When they find a picture of a woman in a corset in the attic, Chris remarks that Of Corsets Sexy, and Cathy tells him off for it.
    Chris: Now, that is what you call an hourglass figure. See the wasp waist, the ballooning hips, the swelling bosom? Inherit a shape like that, Cathy, and you will make a fortune.
    Cathy: [disgusted] Really, you don't know very much. That is not a woman's natural form. She's wearing a corset, cinched in at the waist so much her flesh is squeezed out at the top and the bottom. And that is exactly why women used to faint so much and then call for smelling salts.
  • Offing the Offspring: Corrine attempts to do this to the children with arsenic-laced desserts when her father reveals that her inheritance will be reclaimed if it is ever proven she lied to him about not having children. It seems to work only for Cory, though.
  • Old, Dark House: Most of Foxworth Hall is beautiful, but the attic definitely falls under this trope.
  • Only Sane Man: Cathy realizes almost immediately that something's not right with this situation, but Chris dismisses her as irrational until, one by one, her predictions come true.
  • On One Condition: The codicil for the grandfather's will. This drives Corinne to start Offing the Offspring without looking back on her actions.
  • O.O.C. Is Serious Business: When Chris admits to Cathy that yes of course he has doubts.
    Chris: Do you think I don't know that you are more a mother to Cory and Carrie than she is? Do you think I failed to see the twins only stared at their mother, like she was a stranger? Cathy, I'm not blind or stupid. I know Momma takes care of herself first, and us next.
  • Parental Abandonment: What Corrine does, both physically and emotionally.
  • Parental Favoritism:
    • Perhaps it's just to calm Cathy's fears about having a little sister, but her father promises to love her a little more than any other girls he may have.
    • Chris is very much Corrine's favorite child. She is much more affectionate with him than with any of the others because he looks like a miniature version of her beloved husband.
    • Corrine was once her father's favorite.
  • Parental Neglect: Corrine's visits become fewer and fewer as she gets caught up with high society, and she continually ignores all her children's very reasonable complaints about living at Foxworth Hall. When she returns from a long trip, the twins don't even recognize her nor does she acknowledge them.
  • Perfect Poison: The arsenic-laced sugar powder. In small amounts it can't be detected and kills them slowly enough that even the children don't notice.
  • Pet the Dog:
    • After learning of the children's efforts to turn the attic into a playground, the grandmother gives them "some real flowers for your fake garden." Cathy is speechless.
    • The gifts Corrine brings are an attempt at this, as well as to assuage her own guilt.
  • Polar Opposite Twins: Cory is quiet, polite and gentle. Carrie is loud, adamant and forceful. When Cory dies, Carrie becomes even quieter than he was.
  • Posthumous Villain Victory: The codicil in Malcolm's will that states that Corrine is to be disinherited if it's ever discovered that she had children from her first marriage shows that all of his supposed forgiveness meant nothing and it's what completes Corrine's Face–Heel Turn and leads her to start poisoning her children.
  • Promotion to Parent: Chris and Cathy become surrogate parents for their much younger twin siblings Cory and Carrie, largely to keep the twins happy when their real mother all but disappears from their lives. It becomes more serious when the older children realize that there is no way to summon an adult in an emergency.
    Cory: Cathy, I don’t like not having a momma anymore.
    Cathy: You do have a momma—you have me.
    Cory: Are you as good as a real momma?
    Cathy: Yes, I think I am. I love you very much, Cory, and that's what makes a real mother.
  • Proud Papa Passes Out the Cigars: Corrine tells a story of her husband doing this after the birth of their firstborn.
    Corrine: Your grandfather predicted our children would be born with horns, humped backs, forked tails, hooves for feet—he was like a crazy man, trying to curse us, and make our children deformed, because he wanted us cursed! Did any of his dire predictions come true? No! Your father and I did worry some when I was pregnant the first time. He paced the hospital corridors all night, until nearly dawn, when a nurse came up and told him he had a son, perfect in every way. Then he had to run to the nursery to see for himself. You should have been there to see the joy on his face when he entered my room, bearing in his arms two dozen red roses, and tears were in his eyes when he kissed me. He was so proud of you, Christopher, so proud. He gave away six boxes of cigars, and went right out and bought you a plastic baseball bat, and a catcher's mitt, and a football, too.
  • Questionable Consent: Chris and Cathy have sex once, and the consent is deliberately unclear. In the moment right before, no consent was communicated, which puts it pretty firmly in the rape category. The characters' subjective experiences of the event, on the other hand, are rather more nuanced and murky. Almost as soon as it's over, Chris has an My God, What Have I Done? moment and explicitly calls it rape when he apologizes. Cathy insists that it was not rape and she does not hold it against him. She's very firm on this point, saying it again twice in the night that follows. There definitely isn't "Not If They Enjoyed It" Rationalization going on here: It hurts, Cathy doesn't come, and when Cory is sick Cathy begs God not to punish him for her and Chris's actions, saying, "And it wasn't any pleasure, God, not really, not any." Chris says he didn't mean to, that he had fought off the same urge many times before, but that this time it swept over him and felt out of his control. This is a terrible justification for rape, but it's interesting in that it means both of their experiences of the event are strikingly similar: They wanted it, but also they struggled against it—though perhaps not hard enough—and when it finally happened, it felt more like an outside doing than a deliberate choice of theirs.
  • Rage Breaking Point: Cathy, when Corrine hesitates to take the ill Cory to the hospital instead of rushing him off immediately. Even then, it's not until Corinne slaps her for yelling at her about it —"You! Always it's you!"—that Cathy finally loses her temper and not only slaps her back, but blasts her for her uncaring attitude and everything she's done to them for the past 3 years.
  • Red Baron: The kids' grandmother isn't "Grandmother", she's "the grandmother".
  • Red Oni, Blue Oni:
    • Cathy is the Red Oni (The Cynic), tending to be more hot-headed, rash, intuitive, and prone to expressing herself in dramatic absolutes, while Chris is the Blue Oni (The Idealist): calm, rational, and level-headed. Cathy often thinks Chris is a "prisoner of hope," but she also loves him for this and depends on him as her counterbalance.
    • Carrie and Cory have this dynamic, too, with Carrie as the more assertive, stubborn Red Oni and Cory the passive, quiet Blue Oni. It's even Color-Coded for Your Convenience: Carrie's favorite colors are red and purple in combination, while Cory is more frequently associated with blue.
  • Revenge by Proxy: Cathy realizes that Chris' sexual assault upon her is motivated by this. He had been closest to their mother, and thus the most hurt by realizing her betrayal and remarriage, at which point his love, trust, and attraction (cultivated by Corrine) was transferred to Cathy (the mirror image of a young Corrine). Learning that Cathy has "betrayed" him too - by endangering their escape in kissing, while he's semi-conscious, the same man Corrine abandoned them for - causes Chris to lose control.
  • Rich Bitch: Corrine becomes noticeably more self-involved and impatient with her children the more she enjoys her restored wealth... and then guilt-trips them about being "ungrateful" when they call her out on it.
  • Self-Fulfilling Prophecy: The whole point of Olivia's impossibly strict rules is to prevent incest from happening again, even though her determination to imprison the children is precisely what allows the incest to take place.
  • Sex Is Evil: Total abstinence is the only proper attitude about sexuality in Foxworth Hall. Naturally, Sex Is Evil, and I Am Horny is the result of that kind of repressed upbringing.
  • She Cleans Up Nicely: Cathy and Chris are shocked to see their grim grandmother in ruby-red formalwear at the Christmas party, wearing jewels and with her hair styled. Much as they despise her, they admit that she looks impressive.
  • Situational Sexuality: Cathy attributes her and Chris's attraction to this.
  • Skinny Dipping: Technically, they go swimming in their undies, but Cathy doesn't own a bra. Plus it's noted that water + moonlight = practically translucent when it comes to white briefs.
  • Spoiled Brat: Corrine quickly becomes this when she gets a taste of the good life again.
  • Suicide for Others' Happiness: In her lowest moment in the whole book, Cathy contemplates suicide, wondering if her death would force her mother to free her siblings. Subverted, because—knowing that's a long shot, and that her siblings need her—Cathy talks herself back from the edge.
  • Sweets of Temptation: Literally. Corinne poisons her children in order to make sure that nobody finds out about them (because it would cause her to be disinherited) with arsenic-laced sugar powder in the desserts they eat.
  • A Taste of the Lash:
    • When she returns to her parents' house, Corrine is whipped to atone for her time spent "living in sin" — thirty-three times, one for each year of her life, and fifteen more, one for each year she spent in her "unholy marriage" with her husband. The grandmother makes it a point to show Corrine's welts to her children to make it clear what will happen if they misbehave.
    • For looking out the window, and then speaking out against their grandmother, Christopher and Cathy get whipped with a willow switch.
  • Team Pet: Mickey the mouse is Cory's pet.
  • The Tease: Corrine kind of flirts with everyone as her default setting. As she gets older and tries to emulate her mother as a woman, Cathy takes this on as well.
  • There Is Only One Bed: Defied Trope. The room has 2 beds in it, and there are 4 kids. On the day they arrive, Carrie and Cory are half-asleep already and so they are put to sleep in one of the beds. It would follow, then, that Christopher and Cathy would share the other bed. In a moment of Genre Savvy, the Grandmother declares that this must not happen! She demands that Christopher and Cory share one bed, and Cathy and Carrie share the other.
  • Time Skip: Whereas the children's first year in captivity is well documented, the second is glossed over with only one line that describes it as "much as the first" and that "Momma came less and less".
  • Together in Death: Shortly after Cory dies, Cathy has a dream of the two of them walking through a meadow before being greeted by their father, who lifts him in his arms. From then on, she has a sense of peace, knowing that he's not alone.
  • Traumatic Haircut: The grandmother tries to Invoke this with Cathy. When Cathy refuses, the grandmother first threatens to starve and beat the children, then attempts to force Cathy into the haircut by pouring hot tar over her head. Cathy and Chris work very hard to Defy the trope.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story:
    • In her pitch letter for Flowers in the Attic, Andrews insisted that the book was based on real events. Later, family members stated that during her adolescent hospital stays, Andrews had become enamored with a handsome young doctor and that he had confided that he and his siblings had been locked in an attic for many years in order to gain an inheritance. No other evidence has come forth to confirm this claim (and Andrews and her publishers distanced themselves from the story over the years) but it occasionally surfaces as an urban legend.
    • To a lesser extent, the incident where the grandmother puts tar in Cathy's hair may have really happened, in a roundabout way, to Andrews herself. After the tarring, Cathy tells a story about how she and a friend once overturned a bucket of tar from a road repaving and played in it, getting completely filthy and ending up with tar in their hair. An apocryphal anecdote from one of Andrews' relatives claims that this happened to Andrews as a young girl: while playing in some tar at a road paving, young Andrews got the muck in her hair and had to have it cut boyishly short to remove it. The relative claimed that Andrews—who prided herself on her long golden hair—was traumatized by the incident.
  • Wham Line:
    • In and out universe, as it's what finally shatters any remaining illusions Chris still had.
      Chris: Our grandfather is dead! He's been dead almost a year!
    • Later, after they've escaped, Chris tells Cathy one last thing—that he read the grandfather's will, which stipulated that Corrine would be disinherited if she had any children from her marriage. Cathy is floored at the realization that she was the one poisoning them.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Cathy keeps demanding this of Chris whenever he capitulates to their mother, even after she's abandoned them for several weeks. Chris later does the same to Cathy when he learns she kissed their stepfather.
  • Why Couldn't You Be Different?: Malcolm, to his sons Mal and Joel.
    Corrine: Both my brothers were musicians. The pity of it was my father had no patience for the arts, or the type of men who were artists—not only those who were musicians, but painters, poets, and so forth. He thought them weak and effeminate. He forced this older brother to work in a bank he owned, not caring if his son detested the job that didn't suit him at all.
  • Wig, Dress, Accent: Chris's disguise when he sneaks out to explore. Cathy compares him to Groucho Marx.
  • Women Are Wiser: Cathy realizes that something fishy is going on almost as soon as they're taken to the attic. She's also the first one to lose her faith in Corrine and suggest the siblings simply get themselves out of the attic and run away. Chris on the other hand, despite admitting to wavering faith allows a lot of suffering to happen before he finally agrees that they need to take the initiative.
    • Cathy appears to believe this, based on a psychology article she read claiming that girls mature emotionally much faster than boys. Chris remains skeptical.
    Chris: The author of that article was judging all mankind by his own immaturity.
  • Worst Aid: When Cory nearly suffocates and freezes to death, one of the first things Chris and Cathy do after they're sure he's breathing is put him in a bath. Giving him a hot bath while Cory's condition was bad enough to change the color of his skin could have caused him to go into shock. However, Chris and Cathy also do the right thing by trying to get his blood moving to warm him.