Odour of Chrysanthemums Symbols, Allegory and Motifs
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Written by Timothy Sexton
Clearly the flowers of the title are intended to be the primary symbol of the story. Their presence hangs over the entire narrative and their thematic frame of reference is directly addressed within the story. Elizabeth’s wry recollection that chrysanthemums accompanied so many of the major turning points her life from marriage to births to the first time her husband got so drunk he had to be helped home indicate that the flowers are, above all else, symbols of transition and change.
While trains typically are symbols of progress in stories written during the era in which Lawrence produced this story, the opening scene that pits it in a race against a colt and traps a woman between it and a hedge indicates that this train is symbolic of the negative aspects of progress than the positive. The startling of the young horse and the train’s incursion into the natural world in a way that is cramping humanity are clearly not the typical utilization of the power of the locomotive to forge new frontiers, transport humanity and expand economic possibilities.
Throughout the story, various characters are presented as trying to find their way around in the dark or trying find a way out altogether. John is described as being lost in the hidden darkness of the shadows. The mine is, of course, a hellish vision of darkness as ever-present danger. Even the timeline of the story leads inevitably from the light of the afternoon to the creeping darkness of evening and the tragic outcome that it brings.
Beginning with the woman caught between the hedge and the locomotive, a recurring motif of the story is that being trapped. Walter, of course, suffocates to death as a result of being trapped after the cave-in. In a more abstract way, his wife Elizabeth is also slowly suffocating as a result of being trapped in a disappointing marriage that has forced her to accept a go-nowhere community as her home.
The winding-engine takes on a symbolic significance both as a result of the shrill sound it sends as a signal and on account of its sound not being heard at one point. For Elizabeth, the winding-engine becomes a symbolic death knell capable of stimulating emotional responses to its call or lack of call as the occasion warrants. As the story progresses, the symbolism of the winding-engine takes on substantially more importance; what starts out a minor realistic detail by the end is invested with ominous powers to portend death.
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