Odour of Chrysanthemums

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Chrysanthemums Symbol Analysis

Chrysanthemums Symbol Icon
Chrysanthemums remind Elizabeth of her relationship with Walter, appearing at several crossroads of their shared lives: during their marriage, the birth of their first child, the first time Walter was brought home drunk, and finally, at Walter's death. Chrysanthemums also appear differently to Annie and to Elizabeth, who are in different stages of life. Annie, still a child in her prime, wonders at their beauty, while Elizabeth associates their scent with the cool odor of death. The chrysanthemums themselves also undergo change and upheaval, still alive and growing in the beginning of the story, wilting as the story progresses, and getting knocked over as the story reaches its climax with the arrival of Walter's dead body.

Chrysanthemums Quotes in Odour of Chrysanthemums

The Odour of Chrysanthemums quotes below all refer to the symbol of Chrysanthemums. 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

"…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.

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Chrysanthemums Symbol Timeline in Odour of Chrysanthemums

The timeline below shows where the symbol Chrysanthemums 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
...clothes that are evidently cut down from a grown man's clothing. He pulls at the chrysanthemums on the path, scattering the petals, and his mother tells him to stop because it... (full context)
Mother/Children Relationships Theme Icon
Wife/Husband Relationships Theme Icon
As Elizabeth lights the lamp, revealing her pregnant stomach, Annie catches sight of the chrysanthemums in her mother's waistband, exclaiming on their beauty. She goes to smell the flowers, commenting... (full context)
Part 2
Isolation of Individual Lives Theme Icon
Life vs. Death Theme Icon
...for Walter's body, lighting a candle and taking note of the "cold, deathly smell of chrysanthemums in the room." She shivers and lays down tablecloths to save her carpet. Walter's mother... (full context)
Mother/Children Relationships Theme Icon
Life vs. Death Theme Icon
...causing his mother to wail again. One of the men knocks down the vase of chrysanthemums, and Elizabeth replaces them and mops up the water without looking at her husband. As... (full context)