Critical appraisal of DH Lawrence’s short story, ‘Odour of Chrysanthemums’, making use of stylistic and structuralism principles
- Pages: 9
- Word count: 2242
- Category: Short Story
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The practice of Stylistic and Structuralist principles in literature has been explored since the turn of the century and has been great expanded upon in the latter half of the century by linguists such as Roland Barthes and G. N Leech and M. H Short. Their approaches to textual analysis can be easily applied to the majority of literature and in this essay I will make use of both stylistic and structuralist principles in my critical appraisal of DH Lawrence’s short story “Odour of Chrysanthemums”.
However it should be noted that both these approaches have limitations and cannot be solely used to attain a well-rounded criticism of a text. Many other forms of criticisms often need to be incorporated for analysis depending upon the context and content of a piece. The Stylistic approach attempts to find meanings and style though analysing the actual grammatical make up of a piece of literature. Stylistic thinkers break down texts into their bare forms of diction, grammar and devices in an attempt to locate how through the use of words meaning and style is achieved.
Leech and Short in the book “Style in Fiction” claim that literature can be stylistically analysed through the use of four main linguistic and stylistic categories: 1 Lexical, Grammatical, Figures of speech and Cohesion and context. The Lexical category looks at the use of diction and goes as far as to distinguish how many nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs are used in a piece. It also looks at whether the vocabulary is simple or complex and formal or colloquial. The Grammatical category observes how the words are structured together.
Leech and Shorts sub categories for this area includes sentence types, sentence complexity, clause types, clause structures, noun phrases, verb phrases and word classes. Under the heading ‘Figures of speech’ Leech and Short have chosen to look at devices such as imagery, rhyme alliteration etc. In they’re final category, Cohesion and context, the look more at the actual meanings of the text. They look at how the text is held together through sentences, subtext and the context of the piece.
These categories are a basic template for the stylistic approach and can be used when attempting a stylistic analysis of DH Lawrence’s short story “Odour of Chrysanthemums” DH Lawrence’s descriptions are very detailed in this piece and so a Lexical analysis is relatively straightforward. The piece is noun heavy and is full of concrete nouns such as engine, wagon, gorse, track and wheels. This over use of nouns creates a vivid world as he leaves himself with a lot of objects and beings to describe, which is what gives use his style of long descriptions. His use of verbs is significant in this piece.
His use of dynamic verbs such as licking, clanking, stumbling and trailing make the piece full of movement and life. The use of the verb ‘clutches’ in the line “The vine clutches… ” personifies the vine, showing that even inanimate objects have life and can be created realistically through text. The use of adjectives is central to Lawrence’s style here. He uses many onomapatopoeic adjectives to give the reader a real sense of the environment. Words such as marshy, reedy, ashy, and twiggy all add to his effect. It should also be noted that he uses an unusual amount of adjectives ending in ‘y’.
This is part of the poetic feel that Lawrence creates in this piece, which not only enhances his descriptions but also makes the piece flow like the life in the story is flowing. When analysing the grammatical categories it is hard to generalise for the entire story as the style does change, On the whole his sentences are short, as he needs to keep the action moving. However there are a few long detailed descriptions, which are used to set the scene or to build suspense, such as the long descriptions of the environment at the beginning of the story.
For Figures of speech Lawrence here uses many literary devices. He sets his scene through use of onomatopoeic words. (Clanking, thumped) He also uses many metaphors and similes. (Flames like red sores) He personifies many aspects of nature and certain static objects to make his scene alive (the engine stumbles, the cabbages are ragged) These devices all add to the stories poetic feel and show Lawrence as a poetic writer of prose. He also uses local colloquial dialect (Whimsy, spinney) to enhance the realism of the piece and to show his familiarity with his settings.
This familiarity links in with the last category of Cohesion and context. Lawrence is clearly from the context of his piece and shows he knows his surroundings by the excessive use of the definitive article. (‘The’ small locomotive… ) Also the detail of his commentary, for example down the very number of the engine (Number 4) show a deep familiarity with his surroundings. However Stylistics is not the only way of analysing the wording of a text to find meanings and style.
The Structural approach to linguistics and literature has been around since the turn of the century through the works of Ferdinand Saussure. Saussure pointed out the arbitrary relationship between words and their meanings. He shows how we only understand words in relation to other words and how words have no relations to their meanings. He points out how language is not a reflection of the world but a system quite separate from it. Peter Barry regards Saussure as ” A key figure in the development of modern approaches to language study.
This statement is backed up by the Structural movement that begin in France in the fifties and furthered the work began by Saussure. These thinkers included Claude Levi Strauss and literary critic Roland Barthes. Their main stream of thought was, as described by Peter Barry: “The belief that things cannot be understood in isolation- they have to be seen in the context of the larger structures. “2 Roland Barthes took on these ideas in his approach to analysing text. He identifies five codes, which can be used to successfully analyse a piece of literature.
His five codes were as followed: The proairetic code, (which provides indications of actions) the hermaeneutic code, (which provides suspense or mystery) the cultural code, (which identifies existing knowledge or images in the readers mind) the semic or connotative code, (The code of character or theme) and the symbolic code (This is also linked to theme but looks more closely at contrasts and binary opposites. ) I will use Barthes’ codes to continue my analysis of DH Lawrence’s “Odour of Chrysanthemums”
The proairetic code is the most obvious code to identify in the piece. The action of the piece develops constantly because it needs to move quickly as it is a short story. The action of the piece begins with train (The small locomotive engine… ) and continues throughout with the arrival of her father through to the death of her husband and the washing of the body. When assessing the hermeneutic code it is clear that suspense is a central device used by Lawrence to maintain reader interest in the story. He creates mystery by leaving out details throughout the story.
For example, her relations with her father appear distant and leave the reader wondering what her past with her father is. He also uses a great deal of suspense surrounding the death of Walter. The constant reminder that he has not returned home (“My father hasn’t come,” wailed Annie) And the fact that his friend has also not seen him all add to the mystery surrounding Walter. Even after the release of tension when we hear of Walters death there is still suspense surrounding what Elizabeth will do with her life from now on.
Under the cultural code again it is clear that culture is another central theme and device used by Lawrence. It is clearly an industrial region and as mentioned before the narrator appears to be to be part of the culture or at least be familiar with it. The miners are a key part of the culture and mining seems to be the main occupation. As a result of this the area is not wealthy and people are trying to maintain dignity. The narrator is another clear indiction of the type of society that Lawrence is trying to portray here.
There is also a sense of tradition and ritual in the story especially in the latter parts where the body is washed and prepared. Analysisng the semic code is slightly more difficult as Elizabeth is the only character which is developed upon. There is a lack of strong male characters present in the story as her father and husband appear flawed and weak.
Elizabeth’s father is only protrayed from her viewpoint and her husband is dehumanised as he never appears as a live character and is spoken about more like an animal than a human. ) Elizabeth herself is developed upon and we are left with her feelings of herself at the end of the story. Even though she is the stories protagonist there are areas of her personality that the audience could dislike. ( bThe room needed an apologise) This quotation shows a side of Elizabeth that is present throughout but never actually mentioned. She comes across as if she feels that she is superior to these simple people around her. This is probably because DH Lawrences main experience of miners wives were from his mother who married down into the mining society.
This wearyness of life and the feeling that she could do better is clear throughout and does not make her a likable character but it does createe an air of simpathy for Elizabeth. The Symbolic code can be alaylised throughout the piece as Lawrence constantly contrasts binary opposites and makes use of symbols to represent deeper meanings. Lawrence from the start contrasts themes against each other. In the opening paragraph he contrasts nature with industry. The pit-bank loomed up beyond the pond, flames like red sores licking its ashy sides, in the afternoon’s stagnant light.
Just beyond rose the tapering chimneys and clumsy black headstocks of Brinsley Colliery. The two wheels were spinning fast up against the sky, and the winding engine rapped out its little spasms. This shows the unnaturalness of industry and makes it appear as if it has been imposed upon the countryside. Light and darkness is also a constant contrast throughout the book. The house is getting darker throughout and also Walter is brought out of the darkness of the mines which can represent a kind of rebirth through death.
Rebirth was a central theme throughout Lawrences work and he is often associated with the Phoenix. The death of Walter ties in with a lot of binary opposites in the story the idea of life and death and spirit and body. Thiese opposites give a chritian dimension to the story. The washing of the body like Jesus, and the calling of him as a “lamb” and a “child” as if he has been born again, all link in with these readings of the text. The main symbol in the story is of course the Chrsanthanthesums.
The title of the story ‘The Odour of Chrysanthemum’ is symbolic because it refers to the memories that are stirred in Elizabeth’s mind when she smells the chrysanthemums. Flowers are often sent in death but can represent a number of occaisions in life. The Chrysanthemums were there at every major occaision in her life. It is also symbolic that the vase containing the flowers smashes when the dead body is brought in. “One of the men had knocked off a vase of chrsanthemums. ” This is symbolic of the end of life and is a contrast to the Chrsanthemums blosoming when they were married.
Both the Stylistic and Structural approaches to analysis are extremely useful and give a good insight into how a writer has achieved their meanings and style. However they are very limited approaches and give no room for in depth qualatative analysis of a piece of literature. They are both very scientific and rigid in their approaches and would be aposed by marxist, Fminist and phychological critics of texts. Even though marxists and Feminists are essentially structuralists themselves Marxists would state that stylistic and structuralist approaches give no room to explain the class differences in a piece.
For example in “The Odour of Chrysanthemums” Marxists would put an emphasise on the main them of the story being the oppression of the people in the story under a capitalist regime. Their suffering comes from the life style that is forced upon them and the death of the miner shows the hardships which the working class face. Again Feminists would expect a deeper reading of the texts than the stylistic and structural thinkers provide. They would place emphasise upon the oppression of the women in the story. They would stress the monotonous life that they lead and how it revolves around the men in the society.
Equally psycoanalists would expect a closer look at the psycological meanings and themes of the story. Such as Elizabeth’s feelings that she is superior to her neighbours and why she feels this. Or the mental importance of the Chrysanthemums and why the mean so much to Elizabeth. Overall it is clear that the Structural and stylist thinkers have played a crucial role in the development of literary analysis and their methods can still be applied today however other approaches are also necessary for a deeper in sight into a text.