Bates to come home, there is a battle between light and dark, heat and cold. These are powerfully suggestive symbols of good and bad. Entering the scene, “the kitchen was small and full of firelight; red coals piled glowing up the chimney mouth. All the life of the room seemed in the white, warm hearth and the steel fender reflecting the red fire” (Lawrence). The fire is a good indicator of the anger that burned inside Elizabeth as she expected, once again, for her husband to be late. Later in the scene however, the fire began to go out and become a dull red. Annie, Elizabeths daughter, describes it as “beautiful,” and “full of little caves — and it feels so nice, and you can fair smell it” (Lawrence). The fire has become a source of warmth and pleasantness, it is beautiful and it is good. As the coals struggle to maintain their red glow, the reader senses Elizabeths hope that her husband will soon be home, maybe earlier than usual, before they have to “bring him in” (Lawrence). This hope is extinguished as quickly as the fire dies and the darkness creeps in. Elizabeth is soon forced to produce light of her own in the oil lamp above the table.
As a tone of darkness continues to seep into the story, Elizabeths fear becomes greater until, in the very last scene, Elizabeth sits in the cold, dark parlor over her dead husband. Leading up to this point, Elizabeth finds herself wandering through the dark of night to find some trace of her husband. The first place she comes to is the home of Mrs. Rigley, who insists upon fetching Mr. Rigley, a fellow miner. As Elizabeth waits in Mrs. Rigleys kitchen, her state of mind is reflected in the state of the room. The table was scattered with the leftovers of a meal, and “there were little frocks and trousers and childish undergarments on the squab and on the floor, and a litter of playthings everywhere” (Lawrence). The untidiness and confusion in the room illustrated too well the confused emotions, fear, anxiety, and uncertainty that Elizabeth held inside her.
Once, however, Elizabeth was home once again, preparing the parlor for the arrival of her husbands body, the room echoed her sudden certainty and dread.
The room was tiny, “cold and damp, but she could not make a fire, there was no fireplace” (Lawrence). In the room stood two vases with chrysanthemums — the very symbol of her relationship with her husband. It is said early on with her children that Elizabeth did not enjoy the smell of chrysanthemums, nor indeed the flower itself, but in this scene they took on a “cold, deathly smell” (Lawrence), that was reminiscent of a funeral parlor, and indeed that was what that room became. Once the dead body was laid on the parlor floor, where there was barely enough room for it, Elizabeth put herself to the task of cleaning him and dressing him. The thoughts she had during this process were terrifying and suffocating, just as was the atmosphere of the tiny, cold, tight room without a fireplace. There was no warmth in this room; there was no warmth in her heart. There was nothing but emptiness, iciness, and fear for what has been, and what will become of her new family.
In Odour of Chrysanthemums, the author DH Lawrence uses elements of setting to cry out to the reader a description of the protagonist, Elizabeth, and develop her character and her mental state as the story moves forward. Elizabeths loneliness and weariness is introduced with the outside of her cottage, and as the story progresses the reader senses her deepening uncertainty in the flickering fire of the kitchen, and her final cold fear in the darkness of the parlor. Elizabeths realization of separateness from her husband in life as well as death comes as suddenly as the shattering of a vase of chrysanthemums (Lawrence). Elizabeths sadness is in the finality of discovering that their disconnection may never be repaired.
Lawrence, DH “Odour of Chrysanthemums.” The Norton Introduction to Literature. Tenth Edition. City of Publication: W.W. Norton &.