Odour of Chrysanthemums Analysis
by D. H. Lawrence

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Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

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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.

Historical Context

(Short Stories for Students)

The British Empire and Industrialism
‘‘Odour of Chrysanthemums’’ was written between the end of the Victorian period in 1901, and the beginning of World War I in 1914. It was a time when England was still a powerful international force, and the head of a huge empire that extended from India to Nigeria, which demonstrated England’s political power and also provided a vast market for its manufactured goods. During the nineteenth century, England’s industrial machine had developed the factory system, which produced surplus goods for export. The colonies provided a captive market for such products and the powerful factories, located mostly in England’s north, distributed their goods through a complex transportation system of canals, railways, and ships.

One of the major sources for the energy which drove this industrial machine was coal. However, as Lawrence shows in this story, the sites where coal was extracted were dreary and the people involved in this labor often led bleak, despairing lives. Like their living quarters located near the coal pits, people’s personal lives were coated with the dust and grime of mineral extraction. Human labor was needed for this work and the exhaustion it produced coupled with the anxiety of working in life-threatening conditions was often relieved in pubs, a type of working men’s social club. Unfortunately, as Lawrence shows, the comforts of the pub were paid for at a high price in alcoholism and the disruption of home life.

The comforts of the pubs numbed the miners’ awareness of the injustices of the laborers’ lot, and their wives were burdened with the care of large, unregulated families on their husband’s meager wages. At the same time, the writings of Karl Marx and the socialist Fabians were encouraging many to re-examine their political and social rights. In just eight years, such dissatisfactions with a much more oppressive imperial system would lead to violent revolution in Russia. Early twentieth-century class divisions were largely established in England as a...

(The entire section is 2,284 words.)