Lawrence is known for his use of impassioned language, which is entirely appropriate to his exploration of the strong emotional nature of his characters. He successfully holds his authorial comments to a minimum in this story, presenting the experiences from Elizabeth Bates’s perspective. The story is realistic in approach, but like all great realistic stories, it goes beyond surface particulars to suggest the spiritual lives of its characters.
In going beyond the surface details, Lawrence employs the symbol of the chrysanthemums to suggest the complex life that Elizabeth has lived with Walter. The pungent odor of the flowers has accompanied the significant events in Elizabeth’s life, as she tells her children: her marriage, the birth of her children, and her disillusionment with Walter—he wears them the first time he comes home drunk. Now the chrysanthemums, which are a common funeral flower, will be present for Walter’s funeral, another significant event in Elizabeth’s life.
One of Lawrence’s most effective strategies in this story is his use of time: After the miners carry in Walter’s body, the reader realizes that while the domestic events of the evening were unfolding for Elizabeth, Walter was suffocating in the pit. Time thus operates in a dual framework, which suggests the dual nature of the marriage. Time merges into one focus in the final laying-out scene, which enables Lawrence to create much of the power of the final paragraphs wherein Elizabeth achieves her clarity of vision.
Some readers view Lawrence’s style in his novels as flawed because of his use of repetition and abstract terms in exploring the inner, emotional lives of his characters. However, the demanding limitations of the short-story form forced Lawrence to keep such repetition and abstract language to a minimum; consequently, he is viewed as one of the most powerful and accomplished writers in the history of short fiction.