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Elizabeth Bates in Odour of Chrysanthemums Essay


Ralph Waldo Emerson once said Is not marriage an open question, when it is alleged, from the beginning of the world, that such as are in the institution wish to get out, and such as are out wish to get in?(Brainy Quote). Emersons expressions are all too true for many married people as well as those in serious relationships. It seems that engaging in marriage is a step that many take only to find out it was a mistake. Nothing is ever perfect in relationships as well as in life and in death. D.H. Lawrence similarly illustrates the theme of relationships and their unsuccessfulness in life in his short story Odour of Chrysanthemums. He realistically demonstrates these themes with the pitiless self-discovery sometimes brought about only through the death of another (72).

In the story, Mrs. Elizabeth Bates, the protagonist, realizes the harsh realities of marriage as she waits for her husband to come home from the mineshaft one night. She is bombarded with the thought of him getting drunk at the local tavern and is furious at his inconsiderateness to the children and her. When Elizabeth discovers the death of her husband, she deals with the fact that she never loved him; he was simply a stepping stone for her two children and her unborn child into the world. Through diction in Odour of

Chrysanthemums , a depressing and thought provoking story, Lawrence majestically uses beautiful language and vivid scenes through imagery, foreshadowing, and symbolism to portray the hard times in Elizabeths life. The main theme in the story is that truth and the relationships in life are often difficult and are sometimes not figured out until the ultimate tragedy, death.

Conflict is very strong in Elizabeths life. As the plot thickens, she begins to discover the truths in her life through the events during the day. Realizing that her husband is the root of much of the conflict, Elizabeth takes a deeper look at his own flesh and blood: her son. She saw herself in his [her sons] silence and pertinacity; she saw the father in her childs indifference to all but himself (75). Lawrence characterizes Elizabeth through her sons action. She starts to see traits in her son that she had not noticed before; moreover, the fact that she sees herself as quiet and determined in her sons personality makes her look like a warm nurturing mother. In contrast, she sees a selfish image in the child inherited from the father, characterizing the father as a bad influence to the son. Her thoughts foreshadow to the reader and to her that the marriage is having problems because she cannot even find a moral trait in her husband let alone her son. Her thoughts also demonstrate her feelings of anger towards her husband because she thinks about the negative characteristics that her son possesses from the father rather than the positive. While waiting for her husband to return home from work or the bar rather, she regrets ever moving in with him, what a fool Ive 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 (78). She feels threatened and upset that her husband is so selfish as to not even come home to his family when she has given up so much for him. Growing suspicion proves that Elizabeth no longer trusts her husband, and she faces with the reality of her diminishing marriage.

The conflict in Elizabeths marriage is escalated by the representation of fire.

Throughout the entire story, fire is forthcoming. As the fire starts to dwindle the climax rises and death becomes more evident. The mood is set in the beginning of the story when the miners are described as shadows diverging home (73). A gloomy, lonely emotion is felt by the scene, and fire is the only source of light and brightness. It is quickly obliterated as death approaches. As she [Elizabeth] dropped piece after piece of coal on the red fire, the shadows fell on the walls, till the room was almost in total darkness (77). Elizabeth becomes restless as her husband is no where to be seen or heard. To keep the fire burning all night would be absurd, so she slowly lets the glowing ambers disperse into nothingness in hopes he will return home soon. Her hopes weaken in this ironic statement, what a fool she had been to imagine that anything had happened to him! (79). Whereas she may not be serious; her words will come back to haunt her when she finds out that her husband has died. The strange thing is E [the husband] wor smothered [in the mine]! (83). The fire at the home gradually disappearing, symbolizes the very ashes at the mine that smothered Mr. Bates to death. Deep down Elizabeth feels that it was a long time coming because he was always coming home drunk and inconsiderate, but her feelings of guilt creep onfor she had inadvertently hoped that something had happened to him.

As fire represents the feeling of death, so too do chrysanthemums represent a deeper emotion. The powerful use of symbolism and imagery is evident in the story through the representation of chrysanthemums. The essence of these mums is far beyond their pink, purple, yellow, or white colors. They effectively symbolize the ups and downs in life. It was chrysanthemums when I married him, and chrysanthemums when you were born, and the first time they ever brought him home drunk (78). Getting married and having kids is an exiting time in life but associating mums with the hard times in life, such as drunkenness, foreshadows that the events to come are not so bright and thrilling.

It appears that Elizabeth loves her kids but is very reluctant to her husband. When her little daughter Annie tells her that the mums smell good, Mrs. Bates disagrees immediately, hed got brown chrysanthemums in his button hole (78). To smell the

beauty of the flowers was awkward to Elizabeth because whenever her husband was brought home drunk he would have flowers for her that were like rotted bananas that never got eaten. When her husband dies and is lying on the parlor floor there was a cold, deathly smell of chrysanthemums (84). Through imagery, the desolate odor of dead, decaying mums is tangible to the reader. Just as Elizabeth and her husbands marriage began with chrysanthemums, their relationship coincidentally ended with chrysanthemums. One of the men had knocked off a vase of chrysanthemumsAs soon as she could get in the room, she went and picked up the broken vase and flowers (84).

The braking of the vase that held the mums symbolizes an end to their lives together and hopefully the beginning of a new life for Elizabeth.

While the chrysanthemums symbolized death and a new beginning, Elizabeths

feelings leading up to her husbands death were very expected through foreshadowing earlier in the story and the feelings she had after his death were almost predictable. Is

he dead? she asked, and at the words her heart swung violently, though she felt a slight flush of shame (82). Asking the question makes Elizabeth seem eager to know that her husband is dead. Showing little emotion during the ordeal, Elizabeth grasps that she is not very upset about her husbands death and has cold feelings towards it. At that very moment she starts to realize that she is no longer and never was a part of him. She saw him, how utterly inviolable he lay in himself. She had nothing to do with him. She could not accept it (86). Feeling disturbed and searching for one last hope she seemed to be listeningto get some connection. But she could not. She was driven away. He was impregnable (86). His disconnectedness hit home hard for her. The reality had set in that she never had a connection with this man whom she loved for so long. He was a stranger to her even when it seemed they were so close. Having kids together was the only thing they shared, yet the utter isolation of the human soul, the child within her was a weight apart from herin her womb was ice of fear (86-87). She now has the hinder of his child in her. Finding no love from her husbands dead malicious body, how could Elizabeth find the strength to love her unborn child? The fear inside of her reaches far beyond her child, She was grateful to death, which restored the truthBut from death, her ultimate master, she winced with fear and shame (87-88). It was as she was reborn. Now she has to move on by living rather than dwelling on what had been or rather what had not been in life. Realizing that she had kids to provide for and a home to maintain, Elizabeth found the strength to move on.

Through experience and struggle, truth is found, whether it is painful or not, truth is found. Lawrence successfully embodied symbolism along with imagery and other literary elements to portray the theme of death, life, and relationships. Elizabeth discovered the truth in her own personal relationship through the death of her husband. No matter how they are represented in life, as chrysanthemums or as fire, difficulties are evident in everyones lives. These difficulties might just be in a different form. For example, Jesus had difficulties in his life everyday. From the criticism of his peers to the devils persuasion, Jesus had to overcome temptations to pursue the true calling in his life. In the same way Elizabeth too had to bypass the horrid events in her life and continue existing. A dose of truth did not shut down Elizabeths life. People have to deal with unpleasant circumstances all of the time; it is a part of life. Hiding from problems, running from fear, and avoiding death is only natural but with a truthful understanding of all of lifes stages one can conquer anything.

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