Odour of Chrysanthemums

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Walter's mother Character Analysis

Walter's mother is hysterical when her son's death is announced. She jealously guards her affection for Walter, taking part in washing and dressing the body. Her attachment to Walter as a son is juxtaposed with Elizabeth's detachment to Walter as a spouse, but connected to Elizabeth's own behavior toward her young son, John.

Walter's mother Quotes in Odour of Chrysanthemums

The Odour of Chrysanthemums quotes below are all either spoken by Walter's mother or refer to Walter's mother. 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 2 Quotes

"But he wasn't your son, Lizzie, an' it makes a difference. Whatever he was, I remember him when he was little, an' I learned to understand him and to make allowances. You've got to make allowances for them—"

Related Characters: Walter's mother (speaker), Elizabeth, Walter
Page Number: 87
Explanation and Analysis:

Elizabeth and her mother-in-law, Walter's mother, are waiting for news of Walter, and the grandmother is reflecting on the son that she knew - a man that is to be distinguished from Elizabeth's own experience of him. In this passage, Walter's mother seems to be almost defensive. She recognizes that Elizabeth has had a difficult time dealing with Walter's drinking, but she also wants Elizabeth to understand the "real" Walter behind these problems, and to forgive or try to understand - to "make allowances" for - his actions.

Walter's mother does seem to think that there is a real, good Walter behind and beyond the problems he's caused their family. Having raised him, she treasures him as a child, in much the same way that Elizabeth treasures her own children. Elizabeth, however, cannot bring herself to see Walter in such a way: Walter's mother's entreaties only reveal the gap between the way the two women perceive and understand the man.

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When they arose, saw him lying in the naïve dignity of death, the women stood arrested in fear and respect. For a few moments they remained still, looking down, the old mother whimpering. Elizabeth felt countermanded. She saw him, how utterly inviolable he lay in himself. She had nothing to do with him.

Related Characters: Elizabeth, Walter, Walter's mother
Page Number: 91
Explanation and Analysis:

Elizabeth and Walter's mother are looking down at the body of their respective husband or son. Walter's mother seems to be experiencing a more straightforward, if still profound and painful, grief at the sight of her dead son. But Elizabeth's reaction is different. When she looks down at Walter, she doesn't see a husband with whom she shared some of the greatest intimacy of her life. Instead, she sees a stranger. To "countermand" can mean to revoke or repeal, but it can also suggest, and does here, that Elizabeth feels like she herself is rendered unnecessary and invalid. In death, Walter is revealed as his own person, entirely apart from and unknowable to her.

In some ways, Elizabeth sees Walter as she's always seen him before: she only now explicitly recognizes that she's always felt apart from him, that she's never had any sense of connection or closeness to her husband. But in another way, she does see Walter differently, as a whole, "inviolable" being with his own desires and realities, which she's denied to him before. He is no longer just a burden to her or a source of unhappiness and resentment, but revealed as his own person, complex in all his goodness, badness, and individuality.

They never forgot it was death, and the touch of the man's dead body gave them strange emotions, different in each of the women; a great dread possessed them both, the mother felt the lie was given to her womb, she was denied; the wife felt the utter isolation of the human soul, the child within her was a weight apart from her.

Related Characters: Elizabeth, Walter, Walter's mother
Page Number: 92
Explanation and Analysis:

As Elizabeth and Walter's mother clean Walter's body, the action affects them both in different ways, although both women struggle to manage their emotions. This passage draws one major connection between the women in focusing on their relationships to their children, through the womb that carried them. Walter's mother continues to think back on the years she spent raising her son: the promise of life that seemed to come from the time she was pregnant with Walter now seems to be denied to her with his death.

Although Elizabeth's thoughts are also centered around the womb, her feelings are quite different. Here we learn that she is carrying another of Walter's children. But just as she saw Walter and felt that he was entirely separate from her - and thus that she too was alone and isolated - now she feels that her unborn child, although growing inside her, has nothing to do with her either. The distinction Elizabeth has made in the past between her negative relationship to her husband and her more tender relationship to her children now begins to collapse, as the existential isolation she senses seems to spread out from Walter's body to her own.

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Walter's mother Character Timeline in Odour of Chrysanthemums

The timeline below shows where the character Walter's mother appears in Odour of Chrysanthemums. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Part 2
Mother/Children Relationships Theme Icon
Wife/Husband Relationships Theme Icon
...footsteps at the door. The door opens to reveal an elderly woman dressed in black— Walter's mother . (full context)
Mother/Children Relationships Theme Icon
Wife/Husband Relationships Theme Icon
Walter's mother is upset and keeps telling Elizabeth that she doesn't know what they'll do. Alarmed, Elizabeth... (full context)
Mother/Children Relationships Theme Icon
Wife/Husband Relationships Theme Icon
...thinks of how she might support her children if Walter is hurt or killed, while Walter's mother continues to ramble about her son. Walter's mother says that it's different for Elizabeth because... (full context)
Mother/Children Relationships Theme Icon
Wife/Husband Relationships Theme Icon
Life vs. Death Theme Icon
...bad, and the man responds that the doctor says that Walter's been dead for hours. Walter's mother collapses in a chair upon hearing the news and starts wailing, but Elizabeth shushes her,... (full context)
Isolation of Individual Lives Theme Icon
Life vs. Death Theme Icon
...of chrysanthemums in the room." She shivers and lays down tablecloths to save her carpet. Walter's mother continues moaning and rocking in the chair, and Elizabeth informs her that she'll have to... (full context)
Mother/Children Relationships Theme Icon
Wife/Husband Relationships Theme Icon
...father, and Elizabeth replies that they have. Elizabeth says that he's sleeping downstairs. Annie, hearing Walter's mother wailing, becomes frightened and asks about the sound, but Elizabeth tells her it's nothing, while... (full context)
Isolation of Individual Lives Theme Icon
Mother/Children Relationships Theme Icon
Wife/Husband Relationships Theme Icon
Life vs. Death Theme Icon
When Elizabeth returns to the parlor, only Walter's mother remains with Walter's body. The two women begin to strip and wash his body. Seeing... (full context)
Isolation of Individual Lives Theme Icon
Mother/Children Relationships Theme Icon
Wife/Husband Relationships Theme Icon
Life vs. Death Theme Icon
After the women finish washing Walter's body, Walter's mother begins to reminisce about Walter as a child, while Elizabeth considers how removed she and... (full context)
Isolation of Individual Lives Theme Icon
Life vs. Death Theme Icon
...who he was in life. She pities him as a human now that he's dead. Walter's mother and Elizabeth dress him in a new shirt, and Elizabeth feels a terrible weight at... (full context)