34 pages 1 hour read

D. H. Lawrence

Odour of Chrysanthemums

Fiction | Short Story | Adult | Published in 1911

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The Inevitability of Death and Decay

Death and decay are at the center of “Odour of Chrysanthemums,” apparent in the most prominent symbol running through the text—the chrysanthemums—and the primary event of the narrative—the death of Walter Bates.

Walter’s death is painted as tragic but has an inevitable quality to it: He has been dead for hours by the time Elizabeth and the reader learn of it, and it is foreshadowed throughout the text. One of the ways this is done is through Elizabeth’s growing fear, which illustrates a constant awareness of risk. Mining accidents like this were common in communities such as Brinsley, and Lawrence drew on his own uncle’s death in one such accident. Elizabeth has also experienced another death recently (her mother’s) and is warned about a third potential death by Walter’s mother—that of her unborn child: “You mustn’t let it upset you, Lizzie—or you know what to expect” (14). This shows the fragility of human life and death as commonplace—something expected that one should try to move on quickly, as Elizabeth’s father is doing.

The slow progression of the living characters toward death is also highlighted by drawing attention to the physical changes humans undergo as they age.