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Odour of Chrysanthemums

D. H. Lawrence


Important Quotations Explained

1. She worked at her sewing with energy, listening to the children, and her anger wearied itself, lay down to rest, opening its eyes from time to time and steadily watching, its ears raised to listen. Sometimes even her anger quailed and shrank, and the mother suspended her sewing . . .

In this passage, just before the end of section I, Elizabeth tries to distract herself from waiting for Walter, and her anger takes on a life of its own. While Elizabeth sews, her anger keeps vigil, resting or rousing itself whenever footsteps go by outside. This description makes Elizabeth’s anger almost catlike, and we can imagine the anger like a restless pet that seems to be watching and listening even as it sleeps. Attributing animate qualities to this anger suggests that Elizabeth has harbored it for so long that it has taken on a life of its own. It is outside of her control, persisting even when she herself would rather quiet her mind and wait in peace. At the end of the story, when Elizabeth understands that both she and Walter were responsible for the disintegration of their marriage, we can assume that this constant, rootless anger is partly to blame for their problems. Walter was far from innocent, and Elizabeth’s anger often had a just cause. It is the animate quality of her anger, however, that makes it more than just an ordinary emotional response. It has become, for Elizabeth, a way of life and constant companion.

2. She looked at his naked body and was ashamed, as if she had denied it. . . . She looked at his face, and she turned her own face to the wall. For his look was other than hers, his way was not her way. She had denied him what he was—she saw it now. She had refused him as himself. . . . She was grateful to death, which restored the truth. And she knew she was not dead.

At the end of the story, as Elizabeth tends to Walter’s body, she suddenly understands that she was culpable in creating the rift that had grown between her and Walter. In this moment, the anger that had been such a part of her life has dissolved, and she yearns to feel a connection to her husband. However, when she looks closely at his body and face, he seems like a stranger. Only now can she see her husband clearly, separate from the anger and resentment that colored her view of him throughout their marriage. Her shame at realizing that she had “denied him” his true self leads to her epiphany. No longer shielded by her martyrdom, she understands the truth: she has done harm to Walter by constantly trying to make him into someone he wasn’t and never embracing the man he actually was. She had let her own disappointments and annoyances overshadow the crux of their partnership. Only now, with Walter dead before her, does she understand the truth, and her realization that she herself is not dead suggests that she will now change her outlook on her life.

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