In Australia,the chrysanthemum is sometimes given to mothers for Mother’s Day. Men may sometimes also wear it in their lapels to honour mothers.
Elizabeth tucked a bunch into her apron much to her daughter’s surprise and delight. However the first time Walter comes home drunk, he bears a browned chrysanthemum in his lapel as if he is dishonouring the two women in his life – his mother and his wife.
Throughout the story, Elizabeth is constantly listening for footsteps because they usually announce the arrival of a family member. For example, at the beginning of the story, they announce the arrival of Annie, her daughter: ‘Directly, gratefully, came quick young steps to the door’. As Elizabeth becomes more anxious about the whereabouts of Walter, she sees the footsteps as a sign he’s coming. The footsteps started as happy sounds (when Annie comes home) but later symbolise Walter’s absence and become the indicator of his death.
Walter’s mouse-trap like death, reflects the hierarchy of the mining system, referring to Walter and the other miners as vermin, the lowest of the low and something people want to get rid of. It also reflects how easy it is to die in the mines and be caught unawares by the instability of mining. the vermin idea could also be linked to how Elizabeth sees him, an unwanted pest that is making her life a living hell.
The chrysanthemums are a symbol of the mixed feelings Elizabeth has when it comes to the chrysanthemums and what they mean to her. At the beginning of the story she seems to like them ‘broke off a twig with three or four wan flowers and held them against her face’ and she also kept them rather than throwing them away, so she clearly doesn’t only link the flowers to unhappiness. However, when then Annie says they ‘smell beautiful’, Elizabeth disagrees and says they don’t smell beautiful to her, later on in the story she relates the smells to death ‘There was a cold, deathly smell of chrysanthemums.’ She then mentions several points in her life she associates the chrysanthemums with ‘It was chrysanthemums when I married him, the chrysanthemums when you were born and the first time they ever brought him home drunk’, she had good and bad associations with the chrysanthemums. This creates mixed feelings towards the flowers and the points in her life they signify to her.
Light and dark:
Lawrence uses contrast in the play of light and dark throughout the story which begins as the sun sets into afternoon. The characters constantly draw attention to the quality of light, with Elizabeth reprimanding Annie when she comes in after dark, and with John complaining repeatedly that he can’t see his food, craving more light and warmth- just like his father, who goes to seek light at the brightly lit pubs. All the characters are constantly trying to escape darkness which represents death and solitude even though it inevitably takes over as the story progresses from late afternoon to late evening, just as Walter’s death takes over the course of the story and as Elizabeth realises, death always takes over life.
The significance and symbolism of chrysanthemums in the story is unavoidable due to their presence in the title. Near to the beginning of the story, the quote “hung dishevelled pink chrysanthemums” is used and it is the first (but certainly not last) reference to chrysanthemums. Normally, chrysanthemums are bright, vibrant flowers full of life. However, these particular ones, situated on the Bates’ property, are “dishevelled”. This suggests that the life has been sucked out of the flowers, leaving them a sorry assemblage of petals. Therefore, I think that the chrysanthemums, in this instance, are a metaphor for the effect of industrialism. Before the colliery arrived in this town, it would have been full of life and people would have been much more positive and centrifugal to the existence of the town. However, in the aftermath of being struck by industrialism and the mining industry, the people are almost disposable due to their becoming machines in some senses. Their sole purpose is to work in the mines. This has come at the sacrifice of their individuality of livelihoods, hence why the chrysanthemums are dishevelled and lacking life. Also, Walter’s life was literally sucked out of him in the mines. He became detached from his family and existing only to work in the mines. Then, he reached the end of his usability and he was expendable: the mine no longer needed him. Thus, like the chrysanthemums, he was disposed of.
Although throughout the story the chrysanthemums are used as a symbol of unhappiness, Elizabeth still keeps them in her garden, and has a vase of them in the parlour, which gives the impression that she has mixed emotions about the flowers and the memories they bring to mind. The chrysanthemums may be used to symbolise Elizabeth’s relationship with Walter, and how she is uncertain about her feelings towards him. For example, “It was chrysanthemums when I married him, and chrysanthemums when you were born, and the first time they ever brought him home drunk he’d got brown chrysanthemums in his button-hole”. The chrysanthemums were also there when they brought in Walter’s dead body, which is another negative moment in Elizabeth’s life that stands out to her. Her uncertainty of her own feelings may explain why she doesn’t show her feelings to others, and how she has quite a “cold” personality. This may also relate to the fact that “there had been nothing between them” and how she felt that “in the next world he would be a stranger to her”, which shows that there was nothing between them but sexual interactions, and even then, “each time he had taken her, they had been two isolated beings.”
Traditionally, chrysanthemums are used to represent happiness, optimism and joy however, in ‘Odour of Chrysanthemums’, they are used to highlight the fearful and grieving moments in Elizabeth’s life, such as her marriage to Walter and his death. I think that the chrysanthemums could symbolise her relief when Walter dies, that she no longer has to struggle to keep the marriage alive. This is prominent when “Elizabeth did not look at her husband. As soon as she could get in the room she went and picked up the broken vase and the flowers.” She doesn’t look at her husband which makes you think that she has already processed the fact that he is dead and she did not grieve much showing her lack of initial attachment to him. When she clears away the broken vase of chrysanthemums she is clearing away that part of her life all together.
The symbolism of Chrysanthemums – Disillusionment and dreams
When her son finds some flowers and drops the leaves, Elizabeth tells him to stop because they look nasty. Yet, she places the flowers against her face. This gesture shows a soft side of Elizabeth. She then puts the flower branch in her apron rather than throw it away.
The chrysanthemums represent a dual meaning for Elizabeth. She loves the flowers, but they only last briefly. The flowers are beautiful for a time. Elizabeth keeps them in vases in her house. True beauty is fleeting in Elizabeth‘s life because it has not gone the way that she planned. She had dreams about her marriage and her life.
Disillusionment finds its way into her heart and mind. The town is filled with rats and dirt, her husband goes to the pub rather than come home and she is pregnant with a third child. Nothing is as she thought it would be.
When her daughter asks to smell the flowers, Elizabeth is short with her. The daughter thinks that the flowers smell wonderful. To the mother, the chrysanthemums represent the small amount of good in her life and the dramatically bad times that have doused her dreams. Chrysanthemums were in her wedding bouquet, and Walter gave her chrysanthemums when her daughter was born. Those were the good times.
On the other hand, the first time that Walter was brought home drunk, he had a brown chrysanthemum in his button hole. Bitterly, she thinks to herself that this is what her life has come: Waiting on a drunken stranger.
By referring to chrysanthemums throughout the story, D. H. Lawrence symbolizes ordinary life being taken over by the industrial revolution. The Greek prefix ‘chrys’, meaning golden, is the original colour of all chrysanthemums. Traditionally perceived as good and pure, this is taken over by a new colour, the one the flower will die with. Not only is the village taken over by this, but similarly, Walter’s life was taken over by the industrialization and in turn, he too died both as a result and without his freedom. Despite this, years of artful cultivation have produced a range of colours. Perhaps this is an unintended implication of the good that the industrial revolution will bring.
Fire and heat-
There are a lot of references to heat and fire in the story, this is contrasting with the protagonist’s personality and she is described as cold hearted. However the author has described their house as “small and full of fire light, red coals piled…” Also when Walters’s dead body is brung home he is covered in coal dust (ash), this is like the final reminder to hotter things. While Elizabeth is reflecting on her life with Walter she mentions that the parlour, in which his body lays, is chilly. This contrasting with how the house was described earlier in the story. This could also symbolise Walters’s personality and how he doesn’t really have much care for his family
“The kitchen was small and full of firelight”
“all grimed with coal- dust”
I believe that the chrysanthemums resembles Walter and his life. Elizabeth says “it was chrysanthemums when I married him,” which was at the start of their life together. She also says how they where there when their children where born and also the first time he was brought home drunk. This shows how his life was at the beginning and how he had nothing better to do but get drunk up to the end. Nearing the end of his life Walter always went out drinking therefore Elizabeth felt he didn’t act gentlemanly, yet the flowers are renowned as one of the Four Gentleman in Chinese and Asian art. When he was dying the chrysanthemums got knocked over, when the vase was broken it symbolised the end of Walters life.
The chrysanthemums symbolize the relationship between Walter and Elizabeth. They appear in many happy moments between the two from their marriage, the birth of their first child, the first time Walter was brought home drunk, and finally, at Walter’s death. Throughout the Chrysanthemums are seen as unpleasant and Elizabeth can’t look at or smell them.
At home, waiting for Walter to return, Elizabeth remembers bitterly the first time Walter came home drunk, sporting brown chrysanthemums in his buttonhole. The Chrysanthemums symbolize their relationship, their ups and downs, leading up to when Walter died and how they become a quite a depressing flower to her.
In the contrary the flowers appear differently to the daughter Annie. Annie wonders at their beauty, while Elizabeth associates their scent with the cool odour of death. The chrysanthemums themselves also undergo change and disturbance, at the beginning of the story they are alive and healthy, wilting as it progresses and finally getting knocked over with the arrival of Walters dead body.
Elizabeth says that Walter will be brought home drunk to her child and symbolises his drunkenness through nature to Annie. She says “They’ll bring him home when he does come- like a log”. Elizabeth describes her husband like a log representing that he will be so drunk that he will not be able to stand. Elizabeth says it in a bitter way as if intended for an insult showing her disgust for his dependence on alcohol. The simile “like a log” relates to nature; however logs are dead trees which could be foreshadowing Walter’s death later in the story. Logs are also heavy which could symbolise that Elizabeth finds him a burden. Walter is a miner and I think that this simile shows the author’s opinion on the mining industry as the log symbolises the dying nature and the death of it symbolises the dangers of mining.
Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:
You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. ( Log Out / Change )
You are commenting using your Twitter account. ( Log Out / Change )
You are commenting using your Facebook account. ( Log Out / Change )
You are commenting using your Google+ account. ( Log Out / Change )
Connecting to %s
Notify me of new posts via email.
Receive notifications of new posts by email. Enter your email below: