The Influence Of Absence: Achieving Presence Through Absence In Dh Lawrence's "Odour Of The Chrysanthemums"

883 words - 4 pages

In the short story "Odour of Chrysanthemums," D.H. Lawrence effectively and continually employs a technique of keeping certain entities absent from his story to convey their looming presence and definite importance. Lawrence's omission of Walter, a vastly crucial character, best demonstrates the author's ability and effectiveness in creating presence through absence. Through this method, Lawrence creates a sense of tension and anticipation within the reader's mind. Moreover, Lawrence plays with readers' expectations; he only offers the rather biased and extreme opinions in which the already established characters believe, in order to establish controversial, yet curious views about the absent entity. The reader must negotiate the gamut of opinions and statements set forth by existing characters in order to form an opinion of his/her own. Furthermore, the absence of such a seemingly essential being accentuates the focus around the situation and the central theme as opposed to just around its mere players.Lawrence strategically omits Walter Bates, around whom the protagonist's epiphany chiefly revolves. His voice and mind are never present in the story and his body only appears at the end as seen through the eyes of his mother and Elizabeth, his wife. Walter's absence exerts a strong influence on his wife and children. In section I of the story, the family awaits Walter's return from the mines--and yet his presence seems to haunt the family. The very first entrance and statement by Annie, his daughter, regard the whereabouts of her father: "'Why mother, it's hardly a bit dark yet. The lamp's not lighted, and my father's not home[...]I've never seen him. Why? Has he come up an' gone past to Old Brinsley? He hasn't, mother, 'cos I never saw him'" (877-878). This grows further into a heated discourse between mother and child. Elizabeth thinks of him in frustration and irritation as Lawrence incorporates the title's objective into her statements when she scoffs at the child's inclination toward the chrysanthemum's fragrance: "'It was chrysanthemums when I married him, and chrysanthemums when you were born, and the first time they ever brought him home drunk, he'd got brown chrysanthemums in his button-hole'"(879). The rampant presence of chrysanthemums proves to be an effective device in Lawrence's effort to insert yet remove Walter's presence. The stench of the flowers seems to relentlessly waft through the story, symbolizing the angst that appears to surround and to emanate from Walter. The "odour" of the chrysanthemums serves as a reminder to Elizabeth and the reader that Walter is indeed present. As Elizabeth becomes increasingly incensed and "her anger [becomes] tinged with fear," (880) she attempts to distract herself with sewing and the like; his ever-presence in his absence is apparent...

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