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Odour of Chrysanthemums

"...She was grateful to death..."
Chrysanthemums are beautiful flowers. How could happen that their odour has become a real poison for one’s life? Elizabeth Bates has a hard life. Her husband is a pitman. Every day he spends in a pit. And every evening he spends his earned money in a jerry-shop. And poor Elizabeth waits for her husband every evening, does housekeeping, and brings up children. She also changes water in a vase with chrysanthemums. Every Elizabeth’s day is like the previous one. And every evening the only question occupies her mind: will she do tonight? Will she bring her husband around after one more spree or will he wash his body preparing him for his burial?

That evening their home was as usual loaded with the odour of chrysanthemums. Elizabeth was as usual sitting and waiting for her husband or at least some news about him. The pitman’s mother visited them. They were talking about Walter. Elizabeth’s mother-in-law said that she loved her son, that she had no idea how he had become drunkard. Probably, subconsciously she blamed Elizabeth for this. Elizabeth was sitting, listening and not listening Walter’s mother at the same time. "…Elizabeth’s thoughts were busy elsewhere. If he was killed – would she be able to manage on the little pension and what she could earn? – she counted up rapidly. If he was hurt – they wouldn’t take him to the hospital – how tiresome he would be to nurse! – but perhaps she’d be able to get him away from the drink and his hateful ways. She would – while he was ill. The tears offered to come to her eyes at the picture. But what sentimental luxury was this she was beginning? – She turned to consider the children. At any rate she was absolutely necessary for them. They were her business…”

She seems cynical in her thoughts, but that’s natural. She doesn’t love her husband. She needs him only because of the money. And even in this case she gets them not often.  Walter has become unfamiliar not only for her, but for the children also. Elizabeth’s thoughts were interrupted by the coming of her husband co-workers. They brought the body of her husband. Elizabeth and her mother-in-law were shocked, but their reactions were different. The old woman became crying, and Lizzie stopped her in order not to awake her children. She did things orderly and senselessly. She told men to put the body of her husband into the room. "There was a cold, deathly smell of chrysanthemums in the room.” Then she sent them packing. Leaving one of the co-workers broke the vase with chrysanthemums. And that was the end. The end of Lizzie’s hard life with her husband.

Elizabeth started washing the body of her… husband. She washed his face. The face of the man who had been her husband, the father of her children. But had it been really so? Elizabeth and Walter are absolutely different people. It seems that their marriage was a great mistake, but it happened. At the moment of washing his still warm body Elizabeth realized that she hadn’t loved him. She had just lived with him. "She had denied him what he was – she saw it now. She had refused him as himself. – And this had been her life, and his life. – She was grateful to death, which restored the truth. And she knew she was not dead.” Elizabeth thanked death for getting her out of trouble called "Walter and Elizabeth’s marriage”. This fact is shocking, but so real and clear. Now she is free. She has her children. And only they are her breath of life. She will never let the odour of chrysanthemums to spoil her life and to poison the future of her children, of her family.

(by Seagull)

My View of Odour of Chrysanthemums

In the story the author describes ordinary people and he does not try to show these hard life conditions they live in from any good perspective. But at the same time he shows the English as very hard-working, honest, physically and mentally strong people, they are ready to support each other any time.

The same relationships are described in the family of the Bates. They are proud; they never give up though their life is far from being a bed of roses. Elizabeth Bates is a clever, well-educated woman but her husband is a poor minor so he has to works days and nights in order to bring at least some money to his family. The tragedy of his life is that he dies still being young and leaves his family without any support.

The main conflict though can be seen only at the end of the story. Seeing a dead body of her husband Elizabeth understands that she does not know the man whom she has lived her life together with. She has to wash his body, she realizes that she really loves him and he was a very important man in her life. But at the same time she did not expect it that she will lose him so soon. This is a tragedy for the woman and though he was not a perfect husband for her she cannot stand his death neither physically not emotionally.

So the main conflict is revealed when Elizabeth gets shocking news – her husband is dead. So now she sees his dead body lying on the floor. "An anguish came over her. It was finished then: it has become hopeless between them long before he died. Yet he had been her husband. But how little!” she was desperate. She knew that he was eternally apart from her. "In fear and shame” she looked at her husband. And she got a very strong feeling – what a stranger he was to her. She realized their life together was over. That episode of her life was over.

The Bates seem to be an ordinary English family. But looking deeper into their relations and their family life we can see that these two people belong to two absolutely different social classes. Analyzing the language they speak, we realize that Elizabeth was very clever and I think that her wisdom helped her to maintain the family. She is always silent but worried about her husband. She does not know why he is not home on time – maybe he spends his time in a pub again or maybe something happened to him. She has to live with this feeling for all her life.  But the author kills the minor – and this turns this story into a tragedy. If he was alive, Elizabeth would still sit at the window, thinking about her husband coming home. But he puts Elizabeth into this situation when she has to survive. He was a poor minor and though he was her husband he remained a stranger to her, he was the father of her children, and finally he was the main source of income. But she comes up with all these ideas only after his death.

(by Luck)


"I have been fighting a husband who did not exist..."

The odour of chrysanthemums is a symbol of the main heroine’s place in life. Chrysanthemums are considered almost in every European culture as sepulchral flowers. We are also accustomed to thinking of them as the last withering autumn flowers. They smell nice but there is always bitter taste in their odour. Elizabeth’s life is full of disillusionment and wrong expectations. She made it up with her fate – the drunken stupor of her husband, poverty, desolation of their dwelling, neighbours gossiping about each other – all this makes her life bitter. 

The conflict that happened in the story falls under the category of the difficulty arising in one’s own mind. The main character, Elizabeth, lives in total disharmony with the surrounding people and her inner self. She expects others to understand her inner world while she herself does not understand it to the end. Only after her husband’s tragic death she starts to realize the huge distance that existed between them. Elisabeth did not manage to establish the link between them but she also thinks his attempts were scarce as well.

Facing death the woman is under the strong impression of her realization: what she believed in, what she hoped for, what way she lived turned out to be false. The foreignness of her future child seems natural for her now. The children she has been raising seem to be a mere coincidence happened to her in the inexplicit love. She comes to the conclusion she didn’t have a husband at all – he was a stranger for her with whom she didn’t have anything in common. Looking at the dead body "she seemed to be listening, inquiring, trying to get some connection. But she could not. She was driven away. He was impregnable.” Elizabeth doesn’t weep, does not feel pity for him though she regrets the years wasted in misunderstanding, detachment, estrangement, alienation. Her whole life is saturated with bitterness and the smell of chrysanthemums. And the body lying on the floor is no more human for her; and Lawrence puts it clear: "… she fastened the door of the little parlour, lest the children should see what was lying there”.

Elizabeth is contemplating: "Who am I? What have I been doing? I have been fighting a husband who did not exist. He existed all the time. What wrong have I done? What was that I have been living with?” But she does not find the answers. 

(by MissJane)


"Odour of Chrysanthemums" focuses on a dramatic moment in the life of Mrs. Elizabeth Bates, the accidental death of her husband, Walter Bates. Elizabeth Bates is waiting her husband to come back from coal mine. She is dressed in a shabby clothes. She lives with her children and her husband, John in a miner's cottage near the railroad. Her husband should have been back home for some time. Both the children missed their father and so did Mrs Bates. She went to asked her neighbour about John. He said he had seen John at work but John must have stayed a bit longer. Her heart thumped with fear. What might have happened? She was thinking of her husband. A few hours later some men from the mines came. They had a man on a stretcher. It was John Bates. He was died and it was an accident. At this moment something unusual is happening in Elizabeth's mind. When the woman's fears are realized, she begins to think about her life about her husband who on the one hand was like a stranger, like the direct opposite of her.  We can say that she is not a typical wife. It is clear that on the one hand she loves him, he was her husband and he provided the family with money, but on the other hand she despises him because of his drinking, and because of the emotional effect that it has on her. "And he and she were only channels through which life had flowed to issue in the children”.

We can say that there are some conflicts in this story. But the main conflict here is the difficult relationships between husband and his wife. It is about inner contradictions.  First of all this story is about the fear and pain and suffering Elizabeth  goes through in worrying about her husband, about depending on him, and finally about sadness and surviving him when he is killed in a cave-in. But at the same time she understands that something unusual is happening in your mind, at hart.  We can say that after her husband death, Elisabeth starts to feel and think as a free person, a free woman for the first time. The narrator is also empathic about the woman when her husband dies and she starts to feel and think as a free person, a free woman, for the first time. Lawrence tells this story with the purest empathy for the woman, her suffering, her anger, her grief, and for what may be the beginning of her liberation.

(by Tanya)


  Analysing the Language of the Story

Sometimes when you begin to read a story you feel that you can predict its ending. The same happens with the story "The Odour of Chrysanthemums” - the very descriptions at the beginning hint at certain coming tragedy. The words from the first passage can be subdivided into two classes – those that describe the sounds and those that describe the nature. The first group of words ("clanking, stumbling”, "with loud threats”) disturb the peaceful atmosphere of the narration, they make the reader feel uneasy and are even irritating. Such descriptions as "withered oak leaves dropped noiselessly”, "The fields were dreary and forsaken”, "the fowls had already abandoned their run among the alders” foretoken and foreshadow certain misfortune. From the very beginning we are looking forward to the death coming.

Throughout the story the author shows the growing fear through the children’s perspective. When a boy comes home the first thing he does is going into the darkest room. He tries to hide himself: "At the back, where the lowest stairs protruded into the room, the boy sat struggling with a knife and a piece of whitewood. He was almost hidden in the shadow”. When his sister comes and they both are sitting in the room drinking tea, they feel fear towards their father's home-coming: "...for an hour or more the children played, subduedly intent, fertile of imagination, united in fear of the mother’s wrath, and in dread of their father’s home-coming”. Their dread grows up and reaches its highest point at the night when the children are woken up: "There was silence for a moment, then the men heard the frightened child again”. And finally at the end of the narration this fear is shared by their mother too: "In her womb was ice of fear”, "And her soul died in her for fear”, "In fear and shame she looked at his naked body”, "she winced with fear and shame”.

And the background for this growing and intensifying fear is the colouring of the story, the way it is lightened. So, at first we read "The kitchen was small and full of firelight; red coals piled glowing up the chimney mouth. All the life of the room seemed in the white, warm hearth and the steel fender reflecting the red fire. <…> The garden and fields beyond the brook were closed in uncertain darkness. When she rose with the saucepan, leaving the drain steaming into the night behind her, she saw the yellow lamps were lit along the high road that went up the hill away beyond the space of the railway lines and the field. <…> Indoors the fire was sinking and the room was dark red  So, we see that there is uncertainty, a kind of hope that everything will be all right. But death is foreshadowed by the usage of the red colour, the colour of death. So, we as readers realize that nothing is going to be all right but the main characters still have hope.

We meet the next descriptive piece of narration in the second chapter, when the woman decides to start searching her husband. It is already 8 PM. And her fear is growing with her hopes fading. "The night was very dark. In the great bay of railway lines, bulked with trucks, there was no trace of light, only away back she could see a few yellow lamps at the pit-top, and the red smear of the burning pit-bank on the night.” Again does the author use the red colour in his description. Again is the death crawling.  But this time there is less light. The light is remote. It is getting darker. The climax is approaching.

And then, two men carry her husband, dead husband, home. "Then she lighted a candle and went into the tiny room. The air was cold and damp, but she could not make a fire, there was no fireplace. She set down the candle and looked round. The candle-light glittered on the lustre-glasses, on the two vases that held some of the pink chrysanthemums, and on the dark mahogany. There was a cold, deathly smell of chrysanthemums in the room.” With her husband dead she realizes she has no future. There is no fireplace – nothing will be good from now on. She has no hope, no strength. Her life (though not so easy, but not unbearable) has come to its end. Chrysanthemums are not pink and blossoming any more. She is not happy any more. They smell deathly. It is cold in the room. Her husband’s death is going to ruin her life. So, at the end of the story she clearly realizes that she has loved and needed him. But that life has come to its end. he was the only source of money in the family. How will they live further?!

(By Asya & Rina)


The story tells us about a deep and sorrow conflict of fears, beliefs and the reality. The Bates is a usual coalminer’s family, where the wife brings up the children and the husband works and drinks. But we see that this type of life isn’t what they expected to have. At the beginning of the story Elisabeth, a young mother and wife is waiting for her alcoholic husband Walter to come home. She blames his drinking and indifference for his absence. She is overfilled with pity for herself and with misunderstanding of the present state of affairs; moreover she is pregnant from his husband, from a man who is now strange to her. She says: "what a fool I’ve been, what a fool! And this is what I came here for, to this dirty hole, rats and all, for him to slink past his very door”. And on the other hand we see Walter’s mother, who feels in a different way. She treats his son as the best man in the world, she lives in her memories. "Isn’t he beautiful, the lamb? {…} The lamb, the dear lamb. {…} Eh, but he had a hearty laugh. I loved to hear it. He had the heartiest laugh, Lizzie, as a lad” So, it is he for whom she lives and with his death her soul becomes empty. Elisabeth on the contrary has the aim in life. She has children and their hopes and believes are of great importance for her. She couldn’t regulate her own life, but she wants to make their believes become true. But at the same time she "felt the utter isolation of the human soul”, the child within her was a weight apart from her.

She made her choice when she married him, and it became her burden. It is difficult to judge why she decided to search for him, when he didn’t come. Maybe she still felt responsible for his life or she was just afraid that she couldn’t bring up the children herself, but she went to the bar. She hadn’t enough strength to enter it, that’s why we can say that she just doesn’t want to fight for her marriage. She went to Walter’s friend house and there he found out that no one knew where he is. She returned home and her mother-in-law came to her. At that very moment she realized that something awful had happened. She even could voice her thoughts, though she felt ashamed for it. So she accepted his death. Her life didn’t stop. They were strange towards each other and are towards now.

(By Ayayulia)


The odor of chrysanthemums by Lawrence tells us about a story of Elizabeth, a miner’s wife, who is sitting in her house waiting for her husband to come. Through the narration we understand that the pair has two children a boy and girl. We see how Elizabeth loves her children and how she takes care of them. As evening time comes, and the husband, Walter, doesn’t come home, we see that Elizabeth thinks that he got drunk again and will be later brought by his mates. Finally she decides to go to Walter’s colleague and ask when he saw him last. She gets no new information and comes back home. In 40 minutes Walter’s mother comes and says he died in a mine collapse. Elizabeth though has no emotions. The reader understands that she doesn’t love him and that she felt resentful towards him. In half and hour men bring Walter’s body into the house. Elizabeth and her mother in law begin to take clothes off of him and wash him, and exactly at the moment when Elizabeth touches her husband she understands that she never to understand him and what lies inside of him and why he drinks and so on. This enlightenment brings about grief and shame for how she actually treated him. The story ends with both women preparing the body for the burial.

I think that the main conflict in the story consists in the difficulty arising in one’s own mind, such as fear or nervousness, misinterpretation of other people’s motives and so on. The conflict here is between Elizabeth’s understanding of her own husband and her life with him and the actual state of things. The conflict is represented through further understanding of her own tragedy. In the end of the story Elizabeth sees her dead husband and she understands how distant she was from him all this time and how delusive her seeing of him was. The conflict finds its solution through the death of the husband – finally Elizabeth understands that she treated him in a wrong and perhaps even violent way trying to see only an alcoholic in him and nothing more.

The story is called the odor of chrysanthemums and the image of this flower arises in the text many times. First of all the children notice the flowers in their mother’s apron, but she tries to put them away as quickly as possible. At the end men that come in the house with the body touch the base with flowers and it falls down. Elizabeth wipes the water emotionlessly. It is also said in the text that chrysanthemums were at their wedding and their children were born. It is obvious that the image of the flowers reminds Elizabeth about her husband. So, her negative emotions towards him reflect her dislike of chrysanthemums. Their odor is disgusting for her. It is the symbol of her misunderstanding, or rather nor realizing what her husband is. His death brought shame, fear, pity and depression. From now on the odor of these flowers will be even more heart-piercing.

(by 8davids8)


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