Odour of Chrysanthemums

Pdf fan
Tap here to download this LitChart! (PDF)

Odour of Chrysanthemums Quotes

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.


Unlock explanations and citation info for this and every other Odour of Chrysanthemums quote.

Plus so much more...

Get LitCharts A+
Already a LitCharts A+ member? Sign in!

"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.

"…It was chrysanthemums when I married him, and chrysanthemums when you were born, and the first time they ever brought him home drunk, he'd got brown chrysanthemums in his button-hole."

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

Annie has marveled at the beauty of the chrysanthemums outside and inside the house. In an outburst, in which Elizabeth seems to forget to hold her tongue as a mother, and instead expresses her frustration and resentment aloud, she dismisses Annie's idealistic notion of chrysanthemums. For Elizabeth, these flowers say little about beauty: instead, they're related in her mind to all the major events of her life, events that create a sorrowful trajectory rather than being treasured memories.

Indeed, it is perhaps the contrast between the natural beauty of the chrysanthemums and the negative memories that Elizabeth associates with them that really makes her despair. In this sense, chrysanthemums might stand for lost illusions, the failure of youthful ideals to be fulfilled in reality and over time. (Particularly because the chrysanthemums at Elizabeth's wedding and childbirth were presumably alive, while those associated with Walter's drunkenness are wilted and dead.) The difference between Annie and Elizabeth does suggest that one's view of beauty and natural charm does change over time, becoming subject to the pessimism-inducing realities of the relationship between a husband and wife.

Part 2 Quotes

If he was killed—would she be able to manage on the little pension and what she could earn?—she counted up rapidly. If he was hurt—they wouldn't take him to the hospital—how tiresome he would be to nurse!—but perhaps she'd be able to get him away from the drink and his hateful ways. She would—while he was ill. The tears offered to come to her eyes at the picture. But what sentimental luxury was this she was beginning?—She turned to consider the children. At any rate she was absolutely necessary for them. They were her business.

Related Characters: Elizabeth, Walter
Page Number: 86-87
Explanation and Analysis:

Here, as Elizabeth worries about what may have happened to Walter, she faces for the first time the possibility of his death or injury, and imagines a future that, in either case, might be radically different than their past together. First, when she thinks about her husband's death, her thoughts immediately turn to the practicalities of life: after all, Walter may be painfully troublesome, but he does serve the role of the family breadwinner, so without him Elizabeth will have to find a way to support herself and her children on her own. 

When her thoughts turn to nursing Walter back to health, Elizabeth seems to allow herself a bit of romantic reflection, which she's denied herself up until now. She permits herself to wonder if she might be able to change Walter after all - if the husband-wife relationship that has become a static reality between them might be open to shifting, even if this comes as a result of pain and injury. Still, Elizabeth soon dismisses these thoughts. She recognizes that her greatest responsibility is towards her children - and unlike Walter, she's never shirked that responsibility. Any thoughts of his death or injury, then, need to concern her only insofar as they would affect the children and their well-being.

"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.

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.

Elizabeth sank down again to the floor, and put her face against his neck, and trembled and shuddered. But she had to draw away again. He was dead, and her living flesh had no place against his.

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

Elizabeth continues to struggle to come to terms with Walter's death, distraught not quite because she loved him and is grieving, but because his death has prompted a great deal of contemplation on her part concerning what it means to live and die at all. After having felt that Walter's body underlines the isolation and separateness of human beings, Elizabeth momentarily tries to reduce this distance by embracing her husband's body. But she is only further convinced by doing so that his cold, dead body has nothing to do with her warm, living one. She now finds herself more alone than ever, required to turn towards the life that remains for her, even if it is a life that seems to hold little joy.

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.

Then, with peace sunk heavy on her heart, she went about making tidy the kitchen. She knew she submitted to life, which was her immediate master. But from death, her ultimate master, she winced with fear and shame.

Related Characters: Elizabeth
Page Number: 95
Explanation and Analysis:

Elizabeth has finished washing Walter's body, and after the desperate, profound anxiety of the last few moments, she recognizes that despite all of that there are still chores that need to be done, children that need to be fed. Elizabeth knows that she can't shirk these duties, even while grieving, because soon enough she'll have to occupy life and all its requirements once again. This embrace of life, however, is not a joyful one - it's one that Elizabeth must "submit" to, because it is the only alternative to death. Elizabeth has, however, glimpsed death, and knows that it is lying in wait for her and for everyone else, even her children - although theirs is a greater time of life, presumably. Elizabeth has grasped that the dead are fully apart, no longer relevant to life: but she also must continue to live while fully recognizing death's inevitability and omniscience, and the way in which it forces her to consider things she'd perhaps rather not face.

No matches.