Odour of Chrysanthemums

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John is Walter and Elizabeth's younger child. He wears grownup clothes that have been cut down to fit a five-year-old. John's behavior throughout the story is surly and stubborn, though Elizabeth is kind to him despite this, and he is said to resemble his father in his desire for more light in the house.

John Quotes in Odour of Chrysanthemums

The Odour of Chrysanthemums quotes below are all either spoken by John or refer to John. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Isolation of Individual Lives Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Penguin Classics edition of Odour of Chrysanthemums published in 2008.
Part 1 Quotes

As the mother watched her son's sullen little struggle with the wood, she saw herself in his silence and pertinacity; she saw the father in her child's indifference to all but himself. She seemed to be occupied by her husband. He had probably gone past his home, slunk past his own door, to drink before he came in, while his dinner spoiled and wasted in waiting.

Related Characters: Elizabeth, Walter, John
Page Number: 77
Explanation and Analysis:

Elizabeth is watching her son John play, and his attitude is reminding her of both herself and her husband Walter. This makes her think of where Walter might possibly be, since he hasn't yet come home. Elizabeth is resentful and angry towards Walter. So many times before he has "slunk" past his house, with a warm dinner lying in wait for him, to spend time at the pub before coming home drunk. Elizabeth's dutiful fulfillment of family duties stands, in her mind, in stark contrast with Walter's dissolute behavior.

And yet at the same time, even as John's gestures remind Elizabeth of her husband, and make her resentment towards Walter rise up again, this resentment doesn't extend to her feelings about her son. John may be "indifferent" to everyone but himself, but this self-centeredness is more natural and forgivable in a child. Elizabeth doesn't seem to fear that John will grow up to be like his father: instead, she concentrates on the fact that Walter doesn't seem to have moved beyond a childhood immaturity and self-absorption.


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"I canna see."
"Good gracious!" cried the mother irritably, "you're as bad as your father if it's a bit dusk!"
Nevertheless she took a paper spill from a sheaf on the mantelpiece and proceeded to light the lamp that hung from the ceiling in the middle of the room.

Related Characters: Elizabeth (speaker), John (speaker), Walter
Related Symbols: Light and Dark
Page Number: 80
Explanation and Analysis:

Once again, Elizabeth draws a connection - explicitly and out loud, this time - between her son John and her husband Walter. She responds irritably to his complaint about not being able to see, but it's not obvious that she really is upset by John. Instead, it seems that her son has tugged her out of her reverie and forced her back into the real world. He's also reminded her again of her husband, whom she fails to think of with any warmth or sympathy. For John, though, Elizabeth does all she can to make him comfortable. She understands his fear of the dark as the fear of a child, and she is quick to assuage that fear as well as she can.

Part 2 Quotes

There were the children—but the children belonged to life. This dead man had nothing to do with them. He and she were only channels through which life had flowed to issue in the children. She was a mother—but how awful she knew it now to have been a wife. And he, dead now, how awful he must have felt it to be a husband.

Related Characters: Elizabeth, Walter, John, Annie
Page Number: 94
Explanation and Analysis:

Elizabeth begins to distinguish her complex relationship to Walter from the lives of the children that they have produced together. It is beginning to dawn on Elizabeth that she failed to fully know or even try to understand her husband. She has no illusions that her marriage could have been a good one, but for the first time she recognizes that Walter, too, must have suffered from being her husband just as she suffered from being his wife. While Walter remains indelibly distinct from her, then, Elizabeth does try to imaginatively inhabit his mind.

And yet, nonetheless, since Walter is now dead he is definitively apart from the life that she must carry on. Here Elizabeth shows a colder understanding of her relationship to her children (even while thinking less harshly about her relationship to her husband): life belongs to them, but this life has little to do with Walter or even with her - she is only a conduit through which life reached them, she says. Even in a family, then, the isolation of the individual is so strong as to render bonds of family or relationships ultimately insignificant.

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John Character Timeline in Odour of Chrysanthemums

The timeline below shows where the character John appears in Odour of Chrysanthemums. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Part 1
Mother/Children Relationships Theme Icon
The woman is attractive, with exactly parted black hair and dark eyebrows. She calls for John, but there's no answer; finally, a child's sulky voice sounds from among the bushes. The... (full context)
Mother/Children Relationships Theme Icon
Wife/Husband Relationships Theme Icon
...table is set for tea, but it can't begin until her husband returns. She watches John, seeing herself in his silence and determination and seeing her husband in the boy's self-absorption.... (full context)
Mother/Children Relationships Theme Icon
Wife/Husband Relationships Theme Icon
...pub. She drops coals on the fire until the room is almost entirely dark, and John complains that he can't see. Elizabeth laughs at him, but lights the lamp that hangs... (full context)