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Odour Of Chrysanthemums | Analysis Of Themes

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 1006 words Published: 18th May 2017

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“Odour of Chrysanthemums,” by D. H. Lawrence, once again is full of themes and motifs. One could study this text and come up with many different interpretations.

Lawrence also seems to reference rolls of sex in his story. Lawrence stresses the essential separation of all people, particularly the separation of men and women. This is indicated by Elizabeth Bates’s emotional distance from all those around her, with the exception of her daughter, Annie, and with the way in which characters talk at, rather than engage in dialogue with, each other. Recognition of the separation of all people and particularly of men and women, for Lawrence, must take place in the dark, through the sensual channels of dimmed sight, muffled odors, and touch rather than through intellectual understanding. Elizabeth Bates recognizes the apartness of her husband by gazing on and touching his still-warm body. She recognizes that he is now apart from her in the world of death, just as during his life he was apart from her in his sexual difference, his masculinity. Similarly, his son John, who resembles his father, is described as being separate from his mother in his shadowy darkness and even in his ”play-world.” Finally aware of the ”infinite” separation between herself and her husband whom ”she had known falsely,” Elizabeth will submit to life, her new ”master,” as she had not submitted to her husband by acknowledging his essential otherness.

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Death also plays a big role in “Odour of Chrysanthemums.” The delivery of Walter Bates’s dead body at the Bates’s home introduces the story’s climactic final phase. This phase addresses the relationship between death and life, in light of a consideration of the relationship between men and women. From the beginning, darkness and gloom and a sense of dread seem to hang over Elizabeth Bates. In the first paragraph, the mine and its train are presented as life-destroying forces which startle animals and cramp human lives. Knowing the dangers of underground work, Elizabeth Bates and her neighbors seem to be aware that Walter Bates may have died in the mine. These different elements foreshadow the focus on death at the conclusion of the story and the way it will inform the future life of Elizabeth Bates.

While Walter Bates has probably been dead for the first part of the story, a period coinciding with Elizabeth Bates’s anxious anticipation of his arrival, the story shifts into a mythic dimension with the stark presence of his half-naked body. The two women kneeling by the untouched and still body conjure up images of the scene of the Virgin Mary holding the body of the crucified Christ. Encountering the dignity and finality of death, she realizes that she has been misguided in her futile attempts to criticize and change her husband. The story implies that she will spend the rest of her life attempting to incorporate this realization, achieved through an encounter with death, into her life. She will live, the story implies, anticipating a meeting with her husband in the realm of the dead.

Lawrence also writes about the difference in social class. ”Odour of Chrysanthemums” is set in a rural mining village, and there are strong indications that Elizabeth Bates considers herself socially superior to her husband and his working-class friends who labor underground; however, by the end of the story, through her mythic encounter with his dead body, she comes to value her husband, and by implication, to ignore his class position. Elizabeth Bates is described as a woman of ”imperious mien,” who scolds her son when he tears up the flowers because it looks ”nasty” and appears to censure her father’s decision to remarry soon after being widowed because it violates social propriety. Unlike her neighbors, she does not use the local dialect, an indication of class position, but she is not above criticizing one neighbor’s unkempt house. Unlike other miners’ wives in the community, she refuses to demean herself by entering the local pubs to entice her husband home. She is distressed when her children mimic their father’s habits and preferences.

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Most significantly, however, Elizabeth Bates indicates her disdain for the social position of her community by fighting against her husband and his values. Probably lulled into marrying him by his good looks and his lust for life, she now resents him for making her feel like a ”fool” living in ”this dirty hole.” She seems to despise the manual nature of her husband’s work, indicated by her unwillingness to wash the residue of pit-dirt from his body when he emerges from his shift in the mine. Awaiting his return, she angrily says she will force him to sleep on the floor. However, her attitude dramatically shifts when she learns about the accident. She even entertains a fleeting, deluded notion that she may transform her husband morally while nursing him back to health, but her illusions disappear when the dead body of her husband is carried into her home by miners supervised by the pit manager. Viewing the body ”lying in the naive dignity of death,” she is appalled and humbled at what appears to be her husband’s new distance from her, but she slowly comprehends that their former connection was based solely on an unnamed attraction above and beyond the conditioning of social class, and the lure of compatible personality, common interest, or shared experience. She now acknowledges that their relationship was part of a different order of experience, which belonged to a mythic dimension. It is a dimension which includes the physical work of the dark mine, the sexual attraction of the body, and the mysterious world of the dead. The story ends with the laws of this new mythic dimension overriding Elizabeth Bates’s former concerns about social class.


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