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Odour of Chrysanthemums | Study Guide

D. H. Lawrence

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Odour of Chrysanthemums | Symbols



Throughout the story, male characters are drawn to the hearth. Elizabeth's father, the engine driver, does not want to be a "stranger" at his hearth, little John Bates observes the fire "feels so nice," and Elizabeth observes Walter is drawn to the warmth and light of the public house. The hearth is the center of the family home—"All the life of the room seemed in the white, warm hearth"—and as such, it symbolizes family harmony. D.H. Lawrence indicates such harmony can only be achieved when differences are tolerated: even though Mrs. Rigley's kitchen "needed apology," but Mr. Rigley is easily summoned back home to the hearth because his wife does not deny who he is.

Winding Engine

The winding engine can be heard all over New Brinsley and has replaced the publicly chiming clock bell as the primary means to summon human beings to activities. It symbolizes the mechanized world of which the miners have become part. The miners pass through town "like shadows," part of the newly urban landscape. The winding engine also symbolizes how little control industrial workers have over their lives. When Elizabeth hears the winding engine at night, waiting for news about Walter, she realizes the men are searching down in the mine shafts for him; the symbol creates a foreboding atmosphere.


Elizabeth's garden contains "some twiggy apple trees, winter-crack trees, and ragged cabbages." Often, gardens symbolize nature's abundance and man's harmony with nature. In "Odour of Chrysanthemums," though, the garden is spent and gone to seed, much like the surrounding fields, which are "dreary and forsaken" even by the birds that have "abandoned" them. The garden symbolizes man's alienation from nature.

On a more personal level, it symbolizes Elizabeth's alienation from her husband, Walter. This sense of alienation is present even in the chrysanthemums themselves. Hanging "like pink cloths" on the bushes, the "disheveled" chrysanthemums are associated with women and their work. Although Elizabeth picks bouquets of them to adorn her parlor and impulsively plucks a few to adorn herself, the flowers are overlooked or treated dismissively by the men in the story. Little John Bates shreds the petals, and the miners who carry in Walter's body knock over a vase, breaking it.


At the opening of the story the reader sees "a large bony vine [clutching] at the [Bates's] house, as if to claw down the tiled roof." The vine symbolizes the forces of nature at work and is a largely deterministic symbol; nature is not only indifferent to human beings; it is the ultimate arbiter of life and death. The vine could also symbolize Elizabeth's determined housekeeping efforts, which play a role in bringing down the family. Like the vine, Elizabeth "clutches" at the house as the center of her moral and economic universe; she has nothing else to hold her. But in clinging so closely, she becomes like a raptor, "clawing" at Walter and her children.


When John Bates says he likes the fire because it is red and has "little caves," the reader can easily make the connection between the coal burning on the Bates' hearth and the mines themselves. Walter Bates escapes his unhappy family life by descending into the mine each day. It is so warm underground he needs to work stripped naked to the waist even when it's cold outside. It's also where he makes peace with death, walled up in a tiny airless space. The mine symbolizes the compartmentalized life the coal miners have, the separation between men and women because of gender expectations, and also the tendency of people to be alone with themselves in the moment of death.

Questions for Symbols

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For the final writing assignment in this course, you will write a researched argumentative essay. As a first step, you will identify some possible topics of interest for research. By Saturday, October Questions: (Answer in short sentences) 1. What details give us a clue to the time in which the essay was written? Is the time necessary to the main p
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From the book Confessions written by Augustine, answer the following: What is Austine confessing, why, and to whom? What book by what author does Augustine read at age 18 that changes his life? What m
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