Odour of Chrysanthemums

by: D. H. Lawrence

Walter’s Mother

Characters Walter’s Mother

Although Walter’s mother mourns Walter’s death loudly and dramatically when she arrives in Elizabeth’s home, the Walter she is mourning is not the Walter who lies dead on the parlor floor. Described variously as an “old woman,” “grandmother,” “elder woman,” and “old lady,” Walter’s mother reveals herself to be connected to the past much more than the present. She lectures Elizabeth on what a wonderful child Walter had been, only reluctantly acknowledging how much trouble Walter had brought to his family as an adult. Even her criticisms are veiled with indulgence, however, and she explains that because he was her son, she has always been able to excuse his bad behavior. Elizabeth’s stunned, stoic reactions stand out against Walter’s mother’s loud sobbing, but rather than make Elizabeth seem cold, the contrast serves to make the dead Walter more distant from both women. Walter’s mother knew Walter deeply as a child, but we can assume that she knew all but nothing about him as a grown man. Elizabeth thought she knew her husband simply as an uncaring, difficult burden, but she realizes as she looks at the corpse that she might have overlooked some essential pieces of who he was. Dead, Walter can reveal nothing about himself to either woman, but Walter’s mother’s presence illuminates at least one dimension of Walter that Elizabeth will forever be unable to know.