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Literature / Petals on the Wind

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They were such brave children to withstand such suffering. Such clever children to escape such terror!note 

Then the wind came in with Bart and blew the vase of roses from the table. I stood and stared down at the crystal pieces and the petals scattered about. Why was the wind always trying to tell me something? Something I didn't want to hear!

Petals on the Wind, written by V. C. Andrews, published in 1980, is the second book in the Dollanganger Series.

The plot picks up immediately after the events of the first novel after the Dollanganger children escape from the attic. The kids are adopted by Paul Sheffield, a kindly doctor who puts them each through school. Cathy finally fulfills her dream of becoming a world-famous ballerina, using her fame to fuel her revenge against her mother, while becoming embroiled in a series of tempestuous love affairs, including her Will They or Won't They? relationship with her brother Chris. Everyone Has Lots of Sex, until tragedy strikes, hardening Cathy's resolve to expose her mother's murderous lies and claim victory over her own past.

For the 2014 Lifetime Movie of the Week see Petals on the Wind.

Tropes associated with the novel include:

  • A-Cup Angst: Bart admires Cathy's rear as she's dressing. When she asks what he thinks of her front, he says it's "not bad" and she throws a shoe at him. Since the very next paragraph describes her bra as "tiny," and since she frequently compares her slim, petite dancer's figure to that of her taller, curvier mother, we can guess that cup size is a sore point.
  • Agony of the Feet: Julian breaks Cathy's toes after she returns to him. Cruel in the first place, even more so given that she's a ballerina.
  • Ambiguous Situation:
    • When Cathy starts bleeding and is rushed to the hospital, when she gets D & C (dilation and curettage). At the time it's said to be missed periods that clotted. Later, Amanda claims it was an abortion and that there was an embryo. It's not, but it could have been a miscarriage. Given the timing, this would've been her baby with Chris via attic sex. Amanda claimed there was "a two-headed embryo with three legs—twins who didn't separate properly." Scientists still aren't sure what causes Conjoined Twins. It mostly seem to be a random chance event, although inbreeding and exposure to toxins have been suggested as possible risk factors. Regardless of the actual science, in Cathy's mind there's a strong association between incest and misformed babies, and this brings those fears to the forefront.
      Chris: It's short for a procedure in which a woman is dilated, and an instrument called a curette is used to scrape waste material from the lining of the uterus. Those missed periods of yours must have clotted and then broke free. [Held Gaze] That's all it was, Cathy… all, nothing else.
    • Corrine's claims that Malcolm not only knew about the children but putting them in the attic was his idea and he was also regularly degrading and beating Corrine while he was still alive. It's unknown if there's any truth to this. Bart claims he never saw a mark on Corrine and that Malcolm doted on her. Olivia gives Corrine looks that Cathy interprets as either dispute to her claims or as Olivia simply keeping Cathy's attention off her. Compounding it further is how Corrine tended to play the victim through Attic whenever Cathy called her out for Moving the Goalposts and several times it's mentioned that Corrine's hands go for her neck as though to fiddle with her pearls. It's also worth considering that Corrine's story is being told through Cathy's biases which may have altered her recollection of the event. In the end, Cathy isn't sure what she believes regarding Corrine's story.
  • Angsty Surviving Twin: Carrie never fully recovers from losing her twin. She chooses to commit suicide via the same means that killed Cory, and states in her suicide note that no one ever really needed her more than he did.
  • Artistic License – Biology:
    • Carrie's health problems should not have lingered on as long as they have. Being so young, she would have thrived after treatment for her sunlight deprivation, malnutrition, and arsenic poisoning compared to her older siblings. Instead, however, her growth is stunted and she's forever dainty and pale.
    • Cathy and Chris should have been in worse health than Carrie was with the arsenic poisoning, especially with all of Cathy's dancing causing her to burn more calories than she consumed. Instead Cathy and Chris are both regarded as being incredibly beautiful and good-looking with their health flourishing compared to Carrie's.
    • Cathy's medical emergency during her audition
      • During a D&C procedure, the embryo or fetus is dismembered. It results in a bloody mess of sometimes-visually-identifiable body parts, but not an intact specimen like the one Paul has preserved in a jar. If VC Anderews knew this, Paul could've put Cathy's accusations to rest by telling her so.
      • The plausibly of the "missed periods" explanation of Cathy's medical energy has been debated amongst fans for years. Can missed or delayed periods cause sudden bleeding later on? Then, alongside the real medical plausibly, there's a second, slightly different question: Is this supposed to be considered a plausible idea in-universe?
  • Awful Wedded Life: Paul and Julia. She hated sex and rebuffed all his attempts at helping her get over her fears, resulting in their only sex life being when he would force himself on her. After they had their son, she cut him off, and the marriage was apparently not very good outside of the bedroom either, worsening even more once she found out about his adultery—"She stopped speaking to me at all, unless Scotty was around"—culminating in her killing their son and herself to get back at him.
  • Babies Make Everything Better:
    • Paul notes that the time of Julia's pregnancy was probably the only time in their marriage when they were genuinely happy and that whatever problems they had afterwards, she was always a loving and devoted mother to their son.
    • Cathy sees her pregnancy as a chance to reconcile with Julian; it doesn't work, he still kills himself after finding out. She sees her second pregnancy as the final thing to ensure Bart leaving her mother for her; it also doesn't work, as though while he might have done this, he's killed before he can.
  • The Baby Trap: Cathy with Bart
    Bart: Cathy, you told me there was no need for precautions!
    Cathy: There was no need. I want your baby.
    Bart: What the hell are you trying to do to me, Cathy? You know I can't marry you! I never lied and said I would. You're playing a game with me. [covers his face with his hands] I love you. God help me but I do. I want you near me always, and I want my child too. What kind of game are you playing now?
    Cathy: Just a woman's game. The only game she can play and be sure of winning.
  • Beauty Is Bad:
    • Trampy and bitchy Yolanda is—in Cathy's own words—one of the most beautiful women she's ever seen.
    • Though older now, Cathy's mother remains very beautiful. Cathy despises looking so much like the woman who imprisoned them.
  • Betty and Veronica:
    • Cathy plays the innocent blonde Betty to Yolanda's sultry raven-haired Veronica when it comes to Julian, and to a lesser extent, Chris.
    • Cathy's other roommate, April, is also a "Betty"-type to Yolanda, even though they never explicitly vie for the same man. Cathy mentions that the boys ignore the virginal April in favor of the promiscuous Yolanda.
    • As for Cathy's men:
      • First, Chris is the Betty and Paul is the Veronica.
      • Once Cathy lands Paul, he becomes the Betty and Julian becomes the Veronica.
      • After Julian dies, both Chris and Paul become the Betty, and Bart Winslow becomes the Veronica.
    • For Bart Winslow, Corrine is the Betty and Cathy is the Veronica.
  • Bitch Alert:
    • Yolanda is introduced with the information that even her breasts look bitchy.
    • Paul's sister Amanda flies to New York City armed with photographs and grotesque stories about two-headed babies for no apparent reason other than that she enjoyed ruining lives. Throughout her only scene, she coos backhanded compliments at Cathy and gloats at her distress.
  • Big Applesauce: Cathy's first professional ballet job is with Madame Zolta's troupe in New York City.
  • Birth-Death Juxtaposition: Julia murders Scotty on his birthday. Later, Cathy discovers she's pregnant with Julian and Bart's children shortly before each man is killed.
  • Blatant Lies: What Julian tells Cathy about Madame Zolta
    Julian: You're going to adore Madame Zolta! She's Russian and the sweetest, kindest, most gentle little old lady you ever met.
  • Boarding School of Horrors: Carrie's private boarding school turns out to be a hellhole where her fellow students torment and very nearly kill her.
  • Break His Heart to Save Him: Cathy to Chris.
  • Brother–Sister Incest: Cathy continues to struggle against Chris' advances, which eventually grow strong enough to drive her to other men.
  • Call-Back:
    • Cathy's Character Catchphrase
      Oh, golly-lolly! I used my little-girl exclamation of delight, of surprise, of dismay or frustration, though I had better and more accurate words at my disposal now.
    • Several times in the first book, Cathy expresses concern about what would happen to them in the attic if a fire broke out in Foxworth Hall. This never happens in Flowers in the Attic, but it ultimately comes to fruition when Corrine sets the place on fire.
  • Calling the Old Man Out/Roaring Rampage of Revenge: Cathy's main goal is to get revenge on her mother for what she did to her children.
  • Cartwright Curse: Cathy, and how. Julian, Bart, Paul. She even bitterly lampshades this at the end of the book, wondering why Chris isn't afraid to get together with her, given that "behind me lay a trail of dead men."
  • The Chew Toy: Carrie, Carrie, Carrie. She's disastrously ill at the start and her health problems stunt her growth. Every school she goes to has the other students mock her for her size. Her brother in law, Julian, molests her and makes her feel impure the rest of her life. When she has a chance at happiness with her fiance, he wants to become a minister without knowing of her fear of religious people and it makes her doubt the relationship. And then she sees her mother and is Driven to Suicide when she pretends not to know her. The worst thing of all is that Carrie as a character never develops; she's just there to be Cathy and Chris's Morality Pet and her mentality at twenty is the same as when she's eight.
  • Cock Fight: In a downplayed, comedic, and unusually innocent version, Paul and Chris vie for the position of Cathy's next husband by being good stepfathers to her son Jory and buying him lots of stuffed animals.
  • Cold-Blooded Torture: As tortures go, it's pretty light, but Cathy finally does get to inflict some physical pain on the now-senile and disabled grandmother. She is a bit horrified by herself for it.
  • Dainty Little Ballet Dancers: Thoroughly subverted. Cathy goes through grueling hours of practice and rehearsal in order to become a prima ballerina, describing bruises from her partner's lifts, how her armpits are rubbed raw from being lifted, and working on a single routine until she's wringing wet from sweat.
  • Delicate and Sickly: Carrie is especially frail and weak from arsenic poisoning. Not only that, she is miles behind her peers in weight and height, not getting much taller than 4.5 feet tall when she's an adult.
  • Destroy the Abusive Home: When Corrine sets fire to Foxworth Hall, she starts it in the room where the children were imprisoned.
  • Didn't Think This Through: After Paul's venomous sister visits Cathy and tells her horrible things about Paul—namely, that Julia is still alive—she runs off and impulsively marries Julian. Only afterward does she confront Paul and learn that his sister was lying (or at least, putting a spin on things), meaning she's now trapped in a loveless marriage to an abusive cheat.
  • Died on Their Birthday: Julia kills Scotty on his 3rd birthday as part of a Murder-Suicide. They both drown.
  • Discretion Shot: Cathy tells us about the beginning and end of her marriage to Julian, but largely brushes over the middle. This gives a sense that even when she's writing a memoir about the most traumatic parts of her life—and describing some parts of it in great detail—her abusive 5-year marriage is still something she does not want to dwell on.
  • Disposing of a Body/Dead Man's Chest: Implied Trope. Cathy reveals she found a room connected to the attic and the main stairway with a strange smell in it. When Corrine runs away to start the fire, she chose that room specifically to start it in.
  • The Dog Bites Back: Cathy has sworn revenge upon her mother, resulting in several good examples of revenge tropes. The victim of Cathy's Misplaced Retribution is Bart Winslow. With whom she sleeps with and who is the father of her second son, Bart. All of this without ever telling Winslow the truth until it's too late. Later, Cathy attempts a Reunion Revenge at Foxworth Hall.
  • Domestic Abuse:
    • Julian (whose pickup line is "What are you worried about? I won't rape you") is emotionally, physically and sexually abusive toward Cathy, including a memorable scene where, in a fit of rage, he breaks several of her toes. During their marriage, he follows the classic cycle of explosions, regret and apologies, honeymoon phase, growing tension, and then another explosion.
      Chris: Damn him to hell! How many times has he vented his rage on you? How many black eyes—I've seen one—but how many others?
      Cathy: Please don't. He never hit me that he didn't cry afterward, and he'd say he was sorry.
    • Paul Sheffield was emotionally abusive toward his late wife Julia and raped her on several occasions.
  • Domestic Abuser: Cathy's love interests tend to have unsavory characteristics.
    • Julian's a Jerkass domestic abuser with few redeeming qualities who rapes Cathy.
    • Paul was unfaithful to his wife and raped her, eventually driving her to drown their son and kill herself.
    • Bart Winslow has many Jerkass moments, which also include raping Cathy.
  • Driven to Suicide:
    • Paul's late wife
    • Julian after an accident leaves him paralyzed and unlikely to even walk again, much less dance
    • Carrie, after her mother rejects her
  • Dude Magnet: Cathy has four love interests in the course of this book. However, it's subtly deconstructed. Not a one of them are classically good partner material — for example, all four raped a woman a some point. The fact that Cathy is consistently pulling the attention of these guys is not a flex, it's not a sign of how hot or enigmatic she is. It's the Birds of a Feather principle: Cathy consistently attracts the attention of messed up men because she herself is messed up.
  • Everyone Can See It: Cathy and Chris have a lot of Held Gazes and Longing Looks, and other people notice.
    • Paul
      Paul: Catherine, I'm going to ask you something now that is none of my business, but I must ask. Just what is there between you and your brother?
    • Julian. He says it in a moment of anger, designed to be cruel, so it's not clear if he actually believes it's a serious thing occurring—but at the very least he noticed the undertones.
      Julian: You think I'm blind and stupid, don't you? But I'm not blind, I'm not stupid and I've seen the way you look at that doctor—and so help me God if I haven't seen you look at your own brother in the same way! So don't go getting up on your high horse of morals, Catherine Dahl, for I've never seen a brother and sister so fascinated with each other before!
    • Even Carrie tells Cathy that she's picked up on it. Once again, it's because of the way they look at each other.
      Carrie: I'm not dumb, Cathy. I know you and Chris look at each other in the way Alex and I look at each other.
  • Ephebophile:
    • Paul, given that Cathy's 15 when he begins lusting after her, and 17 when they consummate their relationship. His sister Amanda claims this is a pattern, although it's hard to know what to believe with Amanda.
    • Cathy is well-aware that Julian is attracted to very young girls, enough to even need to get him to promise to leave Carrie alone. Years later, after Julian's death, she learns that he didn't keep that promise, and molested Carrie when she was 15.
  • Feminine Women Can Cook: Played with.
    • Cathy is always fighting against expectations of her to be a stereotypical housewife. When Paul asks if she can cook, she responds that they didn't even have a toaster for three years. She then goes on to say when she's a famous ballerina she will hire someone to do the cooking and cleaning.
    • Played straight with Carrie, whose stated goal in life is to become a housewife and mother. She learns to cook as a way to help Dr. Paul and Henny. By the time she moves out of his house, she's a better cook than Cathy.
  • First Girl Wins: Chris eventually outlives all of Cathy's other love interests, and becomes her third husband.
  • Follow in My Footsteps: The Rosencoffs are a long line of Russian ballet stars.
    • Madame Marisha claims she tried not to do this with Julian, but she ultimately did.
      Madame Marisha: I tell myself we didn't force the dance upon our son, but we did keep him with us, so the ballet became part of his world, the most important part. [sighs]
    • By the time Jory comes along, Madame Marisha is over any such qualms about forcing dance onto kids. Cathy, on the other hand, does not want her son forced into dance.
      Cathy: Well, Madame… you are not doing that to my son! My son will have the chance to choose for himself what kind of life he wants—and I hope to God it is not the ballet!
  • Foreshadowing: Paul awakens from a nap and tells Cathy that he was dreaming about Julia and Scotty. He dies very shortly after this conversation, with the implication being that they were waiting for him so that they could be Together in Death as a family.
  • Generation Xerox: Cathy consciously struggles not to be like her mother.
  • Give the Baby a Father: Chris is eager to do this, although Cathy turns him down. Years later, she takes him up on it.
    Chris: Come away and let me be the father to that child! Julian isn't fit!
  • Good Adultery, Bad Adultery: There are quite a few affairs, and—while it's not quite clear where the book falls on this mortally—the characters take multiple stances.
    • Paul admits to cheating on his late wife, but excuses himself because she was mentally ill and sexually unresponsive. Cathy actually sympathizes with this story, although this later exchange may indicate that the book is more critical of him.
      Cathy: I know about Julia. He's told me. If she drove him to others, I don't blame him; she wasn't a real wife; she was a housekeeper, a cook—not a wife!
      Amanda: [laughs] Fool girl! That's the same old line every married man passes on to his newest conquest.
    • Cathy is well-aware that Julian is attracted to very young girls, but doesn't hold it against him—until she learns he molested her little sister. He also cheats on her with women their same age, like Yolanda. He is portrayed as a dick.
    • Cathy justifies having an affair with her mother's husband Bart as part of her revenge. This is seen as vaguely sympathetic because it's from Cathy's POV, although the book is not entirely uncritical of her, giving voice to other characters criticizing her behavior.
  • Grand Staircase Entrance: An Invoked Trope, Cathy makes her presence known at Bart and Corrine's Christmas party.
  • Hand Wave: Paul gaining custody over the kids looks as if it's going to end in a confrontational Courtroom Episode... but in the end, Corrine turns out to be too rich to subpoena and the scene ends with "and then he adopted us."
  • Heel–Face Turn: Corrine, she secretly attends Carrie's funeral and reveals her father is the one who ordered her to kill her children. Though whether this is true or not is left ambiguous.
  • Held Gaze: Chris and Cathy share a lot of these, sometimes without even realizing it, allowing numerous people to pick up on their feelings for each other (see Everyone Can See It).
    Chris: You can run from me and marry twelve other men, but your heart is in your eyes when you look at me—
  • Holier Than Thou: When Carrie finds out her boyfriend Alex wants to be a minister, she jumps to the assumption he'll be like this because of her past experience with Religious Stereotype characters. There's no evidence Alex actually is or would be, though.
    Carrie: He's gonna be a minister. Religious people think everything is bad, just like grandmother. When he told me he was going to give up the idea of being an electrical engineer, I knew it was all over between us.
  • I'm a Man; I Can't Help It: Nearly every male character in the book.
    • Paul admits to raping his first wife Julia because she was too beautiful for him to resist. Julia told him he was never to touch her again and insisted on a Sexless Marriage, and he then used the same logic to explain away his numerous extramarital affairs. Finally, he is unable to resist the beautiful now-17-year-old Cathy, even though he has legally adopted her.
    • Chris claims that he only had sex with Cathy's roommate because Cathy wouldn't put out. To be fair, she was explicitly telling him he should go find someone else.
    • Bart has an affair with Cathy since his wife has become increasingly distant from him.
    • Julian's mother blames Cathy for his frequent cheating, claiming that he does it in the first place because she doesn't show him enough love, then keeps doing it because her uncaring reaction even further cements his belief that she doesn't love him.
  • Immediate Sequel: Picks up right where the first book ended.
  • Incest Subtext:
    • In addition to the textual incest with each other, the subtext of Chris and Cathy's relationships with their parents remains ever-present.
      Cathy: [about her father] Was it so terrible what our mother did, to marry her half-uncle when he was only three years older than she? No woman with a heart could have resisted him. I know I couldn't have.
    • Averted once, actually! Jory—age 3—tells Cathy that a boy in his preschool class was slapped by his mother for touching her breast. Cathy says it's no big deal, and Jory can touch her breast if he wants. Cathy's internal moment of "They're small children, stop making this incestuous and weird!" is both hilarious and refreshing.
  • Insane Troll Logic: Cathy blames her mother for Julian's suicide, deciding that had her mother not imprisoned them in the attic, she and Chris would never have had an incestuous relationship. If they had never had an incestuous relationship, she wouldn't have started a relationship with Paul to escape Chris, meaning that she would have been the untouched virgin Julian seemed to need, which would have somehow allowed her to love him completely, thus preventing him from drinking and womanizing out of despondency. If he hadn't been drunk and out with another woman, he wouldn't have gotten into the car accident that paralyzed him, thus driving him to kill himself out of despair that he could never dance again. See? It's all your fault, Momma!
  • Insecure Love Interest: Carrie is this to Alex.
  • I Owe You My Life/Rescue Sex/Sexual Extortion: Downplayed Trope. Cathy at multiple points states that she feels like she owes Paul for taking in her and her siblings when they were so desperately in need. For his part, Paul insists that they do not owe him anything.
    Cathy: You accuse me of seducing you. That's what you're doing; you sit and you watch every move I make! You undress me with your eyes. You take me to bed with you with your eyes. You talk about ballet classes, and sending my brother to college and medical school, and all the while you imply that sooner or later you are going to demand your payment, and I know what kind of payment you want!
    Paul: Now get this straight in your pretty head—you don't owe me, not anything! What I do for you, for your brother and sister, I do willingly, gladly, without expecting any repayment—of any kind—do you understand? […] I've made so many mistakes in my life, and you three give me an opportunity to redeem myself.
  • Irony:
    • Cathy dislikes Yolanda instantly, even though they both have hatred for their parents.
    • As noted several times, Cathy jumps through a lot of mental hoops to pin Julian's death on Corrine. However, the same logic could tie Cathy to Carrie's death. Had Cathy left Carrie with Paul she wouldn't have fallen in love with a minister and may never have seen Corrine again.
  • It's All About Me: Cathy is extremely self-involved. She'll use anything terrible that happens to anyone else including Julian and Carrie's suicides to have her needs met and exact her revenge against her mother.
  • I Want My Beloved to Be Happy: Near the end of his life, Paul encourages Cathy to go be happy with Chris.
  • I Was Quite a Looker: Madame Zolta shows Cathy a photograph of an extraordinarily beautiful young ballerina, and Cathy is shocked to learn that the photo is of Zolta herself at the beginning of her career.
    Madame Zolta: Beautiful faces don't usually go with great dancers. Beauty thinks it needs no talent and can feed on itself, so it soon dies. Look at me. Once I was young and a great beauty. What do you see now?
  • Jar of the Bizarre: There's an Ambiguous Situation where Cathy spontaneously begins bleeding heavily from the vagina. It may or may not be a miscarriage. An extremely Unreliable Expositor claims there was a "two-headed embryo with three legs — twins who didn't separate properly." Complicating matters, Paul (Cathy's guardian and also the doctor who oversaw her treatment) apparently does have such an artifact, preserved in a glass jar, leading her to believe that he kept and preserved the malformed fetus.
    Cathy: She said you kept the embryo, one with two heads. I've seen that thing in your office in a bottle. Paul, how could you keep it? Why didn't you have it buried? [...] There is a bottle in your office with a baby like that inside! I saw it! Paul, how could you? You, of all people, to save something like that!
    Paul: No! That thing was given to me years ago when I was in med school — a joke, really — med students play all sorts of jokes you'd find gruesome.
  • Jerkass Has a Point:
    • Chris' disapproval of Cathy's relationships with both Paul and Julian are no doubt mostly born of Love Triangle romantic jealousy. But he's absolutely right about Julian's many flaws, and the impropriety of Cathy and Paul's relationship given their age difference and that Paul was their guardian for several years.
    • While the way he ultimately handled it was dreadful, it seems Paul made numerous legitimate attempts at helping Julia get over her sexual fears—buying books on seduction techniques, suggesting she see a therapist—all of which she rebuffed or refused without even trying.
      • She does seem a good bit justified in refusing these attempts, because did he expect these techniques would convince a woman to stop hating her rapist and submit to regular sex with him? Honestly, the best decision at that point would have been to divorce or annul their marriage, as scandalous as it would have been.
  • Jerk With A Heart Of Jerk: Cathy sometimes thinks there's more to Julian—he has a Freudian Excuse after all! But ultimately no. He's just a dick who is also a gifted dancer.
  • Kids Are Cruel: All the girls in Carrie's boarding school gang up to bully her. The only girl that tried to defend her ends up being punched in the face. Her main bully faces karma a few short years later by drowning at the age of twelve.
  • Knitting Pregnancy Announcement: Cathy tells Bart she's pregnant while knitting a baby bunting. He's mad that she deliberately got pregnant without consulting him, and grabs the knitting from her, causing it to unravel.
  • Lack of Empathy: The other bus passengers, except Henrietta, when Carrie gets violently ill. They really don't like the idea of delaying their schedules long enough to take a child to the hospital. The bus driver shows some concern, but he's worried about losing his job if he holds up the rest of the passengers.
  • Like Parent, Like Spouse: More prominent here than in the last book is the implication that this is a motive for both Chris and Cathy's attraction to each other.
    Chris: Cathy, you're awfully pretty. Maybe too pretty. I look at you and see our mother all over again, the way you move your hands, and the way you tilt your head to the side.
  • The Littlest Cancer Patient: Poisoning rather than cancer, but Carrie conveniently holds back from death just long enough to tell Cathy the one final thing that will send her spiraling uncontrollably toward confronting her mother.
  • Love Mother, Love Daughter: Cathy very deliberately sets out to seduce her mother's husband.
  • Love Will Lead You Back: Chris—the eternal optimist—spends the better part of the duration of Petals holding out hope Cathy will come back to him at some point. There are points at which he tries dating other people, but that only serves to solidify his certainly that Cathy is the only one for him.
    Chris: Angel, saint, Devil's spawn, good or evil, you've got me pinned to the wall and labeled as yours until the day I die.
  • Loving a Shadow:
    • We know that Julian put Cathy on a pedestal very early on, and that his conceptualization of her had little to do with who she really was. What did he imagine her to be? That's somewhat less clear. Cathy herself says she never really understood Julian's internal life. We know there's some inner conflict going on there, and we get parts of it, but we never get the full picture—and that's the point.
    • Cathy had a literal one of these: a dark-haired imaginary partner with whom she used to dance in the attic, his face always hidden in shadow. Every time she sees a dark-haired man in real life, she wonders if he could be her imaginary lover, and is almost invariably disappointed when they turn out to be complicated, unsatisfactory real men.
      Cathy: I used to [dance] in the attic, and always just ahead a dark-haired man danced with me. We never touched, though we tried to. I never saw his face, though I wanted to. I said his name once, but when I woke up I couldn't remember what it was. So, I guess I'm really in love with him, whoever he is. Every time I see a man with dark hair who moves gracefully I suspect he's the one.
  • Mammy: Henny personifies this trope. She's a huge Southern black lady who cares for her white charges with no complaints—possibly because she's mute.
  • Marital Rape License:
    • Paul with Julia, although he admits it was wrong.
    • Julian to Cathy, along with some other forms of domestic abuse to round it out.
    • Implied with Bart and Corrine—after he assaults Cathy and she calls him a rapist, he dismissively tells her:
      Bart: My wife often says the same thing. But she enjoys it, just like you did.
  • Master of the Mixed Message: Cathy is adamant she and Chris cannot be together, but somehow she often "finds herself" kissing him, and won't hold to any of the boundaries that are classically conducive to getting over someone. For example:
    Cathy: [goes to Chris's room]
    Chris: You'll never be free of me, Cathy, never. As long as you live, it will be me and you.
    Cathy: No!
    Chris: Yes!
    Cathy: No! [kisses him, then jumps from the bed and races back to her room, slamming and locking the door behind her]
  • May–December Romance: Cathy and Paul hook up when she's 17 and he's 42. He specifically refers to them as "April and September." These slightly closer months are more true of their actual ages, and they're also their birth months respectively.
    Paul: Twenty-five years my junior.
    Cathy: Twenty-four and seven months your junior, and my maternal grandmother married a man of fifty-five, when she was only sixteen.
  • Meaningful Echo:
    • Chris and Paul say strikingly similar things to Cathy just a few chapters apart. If multiple people in your life—both of whom know you well—are telling you the same thing, they might have a point. The parallelism serves to highlight this.
      Chris: You're lying to yourself. I see you watching me before you turn your eyes his way. You want me, and you want him [Paul]. You want everyone, and everything!
      Paul: You're all mixed up, Cathy... You want me, you want him [Julian], you want security, you want adventure. You think you can have everything, and you can't.
    • At the end, when they're married, Chris comes home to his family at the end of the day and says—just like their father used to say—"Come greet me with kisses if you love me."
  • Model Couple: Madame Marisha wants Cathy and Chris as one.
    Madame Marisha: You too are a dancer?
    Chris: [embarrassed] No! I don't dance.
    Madame Marisha: Ah, the pity of that. What a glorious pair the two of you would make on stage. People would flock to stare at beauty such as you and your sister possess.
  • Motive Rant: Corrine finally snaps in front of Cathy and Bart, revealing why she imprisoned her children.
  • Mr. Fanservice: Even after several years of abusive marriage, Cathy will freely admit that Julian is really hot and great in bed, if nothing else.
  • Murder Makes You Crazy: Implied Trope
  • Murder-Suicide: Enraged upon learning of Paul's infidelity, Julia drowns herself and their son.
  • No Guy Wants to Be Chased: Bart at times claims he's put off by Cathy's pointed pursuit of him. But—as she demonstrates—he's also annoyed when she makes no effort. What he really wants is for her to pursue him without seeming like it.
    Bart: At least you look honest and ready to let me do the pursuing. If there is one thing I despise, it's women who come on strong, like you did last night. I expected better from you than that kind of sleazy dress that showed everything to take the thrill from discovering for myself. […] I am not weak or meek or anything but a man who likes to feel a man, not to be used for your own purposes. And as for passive women I despise them as much as I do aggressive ones. I just don't like the feeling of being the victim of a huntress leading me into a trap.
  • No Name Given: After years of referring to her as "the Grandmother," it becomes a Subverted Trope when Cathy realizes she's never heard her real name, and in morbid curiosity, asks.
    Cathy: Do you call her Mrs. Foxworth?
    Bart: Olivia, that's what I call her!
  • Obfuscating Stupidity: Cathy believes her mother is only feigning insanity at the end of the novel to avoid being convicted for her murder of Cory. Whether this is actually the case or not is never confirmed.
  • Omnidisciplinary Lawyer: Bart is the same lawyer who drew up Malcolm Foxworth's will, indicating he's a probate attorney. But Cathy hires him to handle her late husband's reluctant life insurance company, implying he's a claims attorney. (Possibly Truth in Television, as it's not uncommon for some attorneys to have a side hustle handling day-to-day issues like claims or probate to tide them over between cases in their major discipline—except that Bart's a millionaire playboy who clearly isn't in this for the money. Man, he must love probate.)
  • One-Shot Character: Carrie's fiance Alex gives one impassioned speech at her deathbed and is never mentioned again, not even at her funeral.
  • On the Rebound:
    • Cathy jumps into a relationship with Paul to escape her feelings for Chris. Chris is aware of this early on and very specifically tells her not to. She assures him she won't, and then does anyways.
      Chris: Don't rush into anything trying to escape what you feel for me. I mean it, Cathy.
    • Cathy then married Julian to escape the situation with Paul.
  • Out with a Bang: Downplayed. Toward the end of the novel, Cathy marries Paul, who has suffered a major heart attack. They have sex exactly once after that, and take it easy. Paul dies a day later. This is treated as a coincidence.
  • Paralyzing Fear of Sexuality: Julia, thanks to whatever happened to her as a child.
    Paul: I talked to her mother about our problem, and her mother hinted at some dark secret in Julia's past, a cousin of hers who'd done something to Julia when she was only four. I never learned just what he'd done, but whatever it was, it spoiled sex forever for my wife.
  • Parental Substitute: Downplayed Trope, but Madame Zolta to Cathy.
  • Remarrying for Your Kids: Downplayed. Cathy wants a husband for herself for all the usual reasons—love, support, companionship, sex, etc—but she also wants a father for her son Jory, and this is a factor she considers in her suitors. And to their credit, Paul, Chris, and Bart are all pretty good to her son.
    Jory: Why don't I have a daddy?
    Cathy: You did have a daddy, Jory, but he went away to heaven. And maybe someday Mommy will find you a new daddy.
  • Replacement Goldfish:
    • Julian and Paul are demoted to this after Bart dies, when Cathy claims to have fallen in Love at First Sight with him and that a large part of her attraction to Julian and Paul was because of their resemblance to him.
    • Cathy and her siblings may have been this to Paul regarding his first wife and son.
  • Romance on the Set: Cathy and Julian have amazing onstage chemistry. Julian tries to Invoke this, believing they would actually be a good couple. Cathy is not so convinced, but they give it a try. Deconstructed hard: it's a horrible mess of a relationship, and the fallout falls directly onto their careers.
  • Satellite Character: Because Petals spans 15 years, it becomes most evident in this book that Cathy kind of treats everyone in her life like this. There are moments when we get glimpses into the interiority of other characters, but this is the exception rather than the rule. Particularly apparent with Chris and Carrie. They were main characters in Flowers, but in Petals each of them is mostly living their own life. We get periodic updates on Chris and Carrie, but it's not their story, it's Cathy's, and we tend to only hear about them when it relates to her. Within the Framing Device of this being Cathy's memoir, and Cathy being something of an Unreliable Narrator, this actually makes a lot of sense: in real life, most people do perceive themselves this way to some extent.
  • The Scapegoat: Corrine. While Corrine is legitimately at the root of many of her children's current issues, Cathy also performs some serious mental gymnastics to blame her for anything and everything that goes wrong with their lives. One example is that Cathy blames Corrine for her attraction to Chris, since she locked them in an attic, setting up the Situational Sexuality and A Shared Suffering that bonded them together. But at the end, when Cathy and Chris get married, Cathy flips this around and says it's Corrine's fault she didn't see they were endgame for so long, because Corrine once told her, "Marry a man with dark, dark eyes, Cathy. Dark eyes feel so terribly intense about everything."
  • Seduction as One-Upmanship: Cathy spends over a decade planning her Roaring Rampage of Revenge against her mother, the capstone of which is seducing her mother's husband and Baby Traping him.
  • Sex Is Evil:
    • Julia's response whenever Paul made advances to her was to weep and wail, "Why does it have to be so ugly?" One gets the feeling she would have hated sex even without having been abused as a child.
    • Unbeknownst to Cathy, the Grandmother managed to drill this trope into Carrie's head. Carrie seems to view perfectly normal sexual desire as evil and herself as bad because Julian molested her and she liked it.
  • Sexless Marriage:
    • Julia cut Paul off after she had Scotty.
      Paul: After Scotty's birth Julia told me flatly she'd done her duty and given me a son, and that from now on I was to leave her alone.
    • Paul and Cathy after they finally get married, due to his weak heart. When they finally do have sex, they have to take it very slow and easy.
  • Sex Signals Death: Trampy Yolanda dies in the car accident that crippled Julian, not long after taunting Cathy about how she has replaced her in their bed. The womanizing Julian dies too, although that's suicide due to despondency over his injuries.
  • Shed the Family Name:
    • Julian changed his name to distance himself from his parents both in a professional and personal capacity.
      Cathy: Why do you call yourself Marquet when your father's name is Rosencoff?
      Julian: […] My father sees me as an extension of himself. If I become a great dancer, it won't be to my credit; it will be just because I am his son and bear his name. So I put an end to that idea by changing my name. I made it up, just like any performer does when he wants to change his name.
    • Chris is proud to be adopted by Paul and uses the surname Sheffield for the rest of his life; he's more than happy to be rid of both Dollanganger and Foxworth, considering the former a lie and the second a blight. Much later, when they finally marry, Cathy and Chris take the name Sheffield as part of their disguise.
  • Someone to Remember Him By: Jory and Bart Jr. to Cathy after Julian and Bart's deaths, respectively.
  • The Speechless:
    • Henny
    • Later, the Grandmother
  • Stern Teacher: Both Madame Marisha and Madame Zolta—stern, Russian dancing mistresses.
  • Stage Names: As a young girl, Cathy decided to use Catherine Doll as her stage name. When Cathy actually gets to a performing level of ballet, her teacher says that Catherine Doll is a bad stage name. In a reluctant compromise, they agrees to use Catherine Dahl as her professional name.
  • Straight to the Pointe: If Chris is to be believed.
    Chris: Cathy was a beginner when she went upstairs to live. But something wonderful happened to her in the attic—the ghost of Anna Pavlova came and took over her body. And Cathy taught herself how to go on pointe.
  • Teach Him Anger: Madame Zolta deliberately provokes Cathy into screaming her at her that she quits, because she wants to see if Cathy has claws.
    Madame Zolta: You will wither away and die!
    Cathy: You're a fool if you think that! I can live my life without dancing, and happily too—so go to hell, Madame Zolta!
    Madame Zolta: [suddenly smiles] Ah… you have spirit. I was wondering if you did. Tell me to go to hell, it is nice to hear. […] I only needed to know what you are made of. A dancer without fire is no dancer at all.
  • There Are No Therapists: Julia refused to see one to help her get over her sexual fears—to the point of laughing in Paul's face when he suggested it—and none of the kids see one despite how clearly screwed up they are from their ordeal.
  • Thoroughly Mistaken Identity: When they confront Corrine at the very end, she speaks to her son Chris as if he's her late husband who he so much resembles.
  • Unreliable Narrator:
    • Many people deride this book for shoddy writing, not seeming to realize the story is being told from the perspective of a screwed-up and deeply traumatized woman. Cathy's actions aren't always justifiable—but she portrays them as justified. She portrays men as enraptured with her beauty and falling in love with her instantly—but she seems to solely attract abusive scumbags. She portrays Chris as obsessed with her and constantly making unwanted advances towards her—but often "finds herself" kissing Chris, weeps when he leaves after a visit, and stares at him so often several other people comment on it, making it clear she has her own lingering feelings for him too.
    • Corrine claims that Malcolm knew of her children's existence and knew they were in the attic, but also that he was always lording that fact over Corrine's head, making snide comments that the children should be dead, or even beating her. Cathy isn't sure if she believes this, knowing full well that Corrine has a talent for making her problems seem greater than the children's. Bart adds a bit more ambiguity to this, saying that Malcolm doted on Corrine when he was still alive and that he never saw any hint that he beat her as punishment. It doesn't help that Corrine spends most of the scene on the edge of a nervous breakdown.
  • The Vamp: Yolanda. When she finally gets Julian, she dies in a car accident.
  • Vanity Is Feminine: Type A. It is heavily implied that part of Corrine's evil is her obsession with her beauty. Her long absence to a plastic surgeon and a weight-loss spa allows Cathy to move in on Bart.
  • Villainous Breakdown: After her Motive Rant, Corrine burns down Foxworth Hall.
  • "Well Done, Son" Guy:
    • All Carrie wants is for her mother to acknowledge her when she meets the latter on the street. She doesn't get her wish.
    • A lot of Julian's emotional issues seem to stem from trying to get his parents' approval. Cathy nips that in the bud when Madam starts taking an interest in Jory's prospective ballet career.
  • Wife Husbandry:
    • Cathy is 15 when Paul becomes their guardian. He lusts after her from the start, they have an affair when she's 17, and eventually, she marries him when she's 27.
    • Enraged when Cathy dumps Paul to marry Julian, Carrie declares that she will marry Paul. It never happens though, and there's no indication that Paul was thinking this way.