Critical Analysis Essay of The Odor of Chrysanthemums
The Odor of Chrysanthemums is regarded as one of the most notable works of D.H. Lawrence (Black 203). First published in 1909, this short story follows the life of Elizabeth, the wife of a coal miner, Walter. She is annoyed by her husband’s constant drinking and resents her life with him. She then discovers that he has been killed in an accident. While cleaning his corpse, the young wife realizes that it was not his husband that made her life full of unhappiness. Rather it was her own mistakes and harshness towards him. Within the narrative are important themes which include the concept of isolation and love. These two themes are embodied by the main characters.
One of the main themes of the story is isolation. At the start of the story, the character of Elizabeth is portrayed as if she is always alone. Although she is accompanied by her children and Annie, it is as if she is all by herself. She keeps everything to herself as revealed in one of the passages:
“She worked at her sewing with energy, listening to the children, and her anger wearied itself, law down to rest, opening its eyes from time to time and steadily watching, its ears raised to listen. Sometimes even her anger quailed and shrank, and the mother suspended her sewing” (Lawrence 45).
This passage suggests a sense of isolation. Despite of the company that surrounds her, it is as if Elizabeth is all herself and helplessly waits for her husband to arrive. She is similarly portrayed as alone as she tries to find help so that she can look for him.
The theme of isolation is further discussed when she discovered that her husband is dead. As she tends Walter’s dead body, the author writes about how the protagonist is feeling. Lawrence writes about “the utter isolation of the human soul” which is indicative of the sense of isolation that Elizabeth is feeling. This sense of solitude is in fact, something that she has perceived throughout the her relationship with Walter even when he was alive. She believes that she was a victim of her husband’s constant drinking. But it was only during his death that she was able to realize that her ultimate isolation is in fact a result of her role that she played in the relationship (Smith 160).
Love is another strong theme in this story. Interestingly however, the author is not presenting a romantic type of love. Rather, it is a dark kind of love that exists between the couple. During their relationship, it is clear that very little love has existed between the two. Instead, it has been replaced by so much blaming, disappointment and resentment. Elizabeth believes that her husband does not love her; and his drinking but a testament of this. She similarly blames her husband’s drinking habits as one of the reasons behind their loveless marriage. But on the death of her husband, she soon realizes that it was her own fault why she was unhappy. This was evident in the lines:
“She looked at his naked body and was ashamed, as if she had denied it… She looked at his face, and she turned her own face to the wall. For his look was other than hers, his way was not her way. She denied him what he was – she saw it now. She had refused him as himself… She was grateful to death, which restored the truth. And she knew she was not dead” (Lawrence 50).
Based on the points provided, it can be concluded that the author made use of two important themes that were central to the story. This includes the themes of isolation and death – both which were exemplified by the character of Elizabeth.
Black, M. D.H. Lawrence: The early fiction. London: Cambridge University Press, 1986
Lawrence, D. The Odor of Chrysanthemums. NY: Penguin books, 2011
Smith, P. Thematic Guide to Popular Short Stories. NY: Greenwood Publishing, 2002